It happens so quickly I frighten myself: one moment I’d be checking the weather, the next – I’m on Facebook, typing your name. My cursor is hovering over the messaging function, the temptation to reach out stronger than ever. What harm could a simple, ‘Hi’ do? A little check-in? Congratulations on an achievement, a wish for happy holidays? A funny meme?
I saw this and I thought of you.
It’s simple. It’s innocent. Nothing that friends wouldn’t say to each other.
Maybe. But you and I are not friends, are we?
We used to be. Some days, we pretend we still are. We see each other’s missives and flood them with stars and laughing emojis, but we both know, it’s not the same. When we used to talk for hours, sharing pictures and thoughts and triumphs and private miseries, public connection meant very little. Now, rather than showing connection, our juvenile shorthand of likes and hearts highlights what’s missing.
So I let go of it.
First, it was hiding your feed, then – unfriending completely. For a while, I jumped every time my phone pinged, expecting anger or sadness. But if you noticed, you never said a word.
For a time, your silence was a blessing and a kindness. But not for long. Your profile was still there, still public, and I could peek in on your life within a few keystrokes. Not having any updates from the source, I rely on your postings to know how you are and interpret them in the most favorable life possible. See how better their life is now? It was a good thing I left. They’re flourishing, now that they are free of me.
If that was not the truth, I was afraid to find out. I was afraid to ask.
When I had to pull the plug on social media for a spell – not because of you, and not by choice – I confess, I kept thinking you might come after me. I thought, surely they would say something. Surely they would try to keep in touch.
But no. Not a word. Not even a 2-D tear to mark my departure. Nevermind—I cried for both of us that night, and then every day after.
We like to tell ourselves that the connections we make online are the same as those we forge in real life, but that’s not really true, is it?
You can’t know somebody who never shows up. You may tell each other your deepest fears, you may trust each other with your secrets, but that doesn’t mean anything if you view each other as nothing more than a character. You might as well be writing letters and setting them on fire. It’s the same thing with real life “friends” – it’ll never work out if they only see you as a space between two ears (or between two legs).
I used to think online was where I had my chance to shine, mind before body, intellect, before surface attachment. I had yet to realize there was more than one way to objectify someone, to turn them into a character. I had done it to you, just as you had done it to me, yet the reciprocity didn’t stop it from hurting. If anything, it made me cry more – to know I had given so much power, to someone who was little more than a figment of my imagination.
Was any part of you real? Or were we just following each other’s cues?
That’s what I want to ask, behind the “Hi”, and “How are you”, and “I saw this and thought of you.” I type the words, then erase them. I shut my phone down or log out of the browser, sick with shame. I was so close this time. What if the next, I don’t stop myself? What if I hit ‘send’? And what will that mean?
Nothing is innocent, not even this piece. As a writer, I operate under a very specific contract – even when it hurts me, my emotional shitshow has a Higher Purpose. (In this case: warning other readers from making the same mistakes as me.) It’s too late to pretend that I’m cool or dignified about any of this – but maybe someone else can be.
And that is how I find my meaning now.
That is how to stop the pain from missing you – a person I loved, and a person I never really knew.