This is both a confessional and a personal account of how deeply intertwined I was in the complex ritual we all know as “Facebook stalking”.
One lonely summer day, in late August of 2008, I logged onto Facebook. My obsession with the social networking platform had just started to grow as I headed into my senior year of high school. I was no stranger to the online world, as I had been a frequent AOL Instant messenger, a Myspace addict and an obsessive compulsive Livejournaler. These outlets were the perfect place for me to bury my anxieties and hide from the real world. Facebook drew me in, because it was a no thrills type deal. You couldn’t customize your profile, you had to use your real name, and instead of befriending strangers that you’ve never met in real life, it was a tool for me to virtually keep in touch with what little friends I had left. Slowly but surely, my presence on the other sites dwindled away, and I was consumed by Facebook’s simple charm.
My boyfriend of over a year was headed to college, and I spent many nights alone at home with my computer to fill the void. In his absence, I felt compelled to constantly update my status and take pictures of all the fun I was having (sometimes I left the house) and share them with my 600 “friends”. I also constantly checked certain people’s profile pages just to see if they had anything new to say. My online persona was shaped around what I thought made me cool. I carefully crafted a list of my favorite bands – a task that I would perform at least once a month. To avoid looking pathetic, I made sure there was at least a 3:1 ratio of comments from other people to my own status updates.
With all of this time spent perfecting my profile, I also discovered the thrill of checking up on my ex-boyfriends. Although I had moved on (or so I thought) from one relationship in particular, looking at status updates and pictures of his new girlfriend were amusing to me. I also played that game that many teenage girls play, where we compare ourselves to other girls; my goal was to convince myself that I was somehow better than her.
My own relationship was suffering because of the distance. His university was a solid 8 hours away and I didn’t have a car or much money, so the time we spent together was rare. I knew it wasn’t going to work out, but I felt like I had something to prove to my imaginary internet rival and the rest of the people on my friends list by not breaking up with him. I lied to myself constantly about this, and in turn I was miserable.
Now that I’ve introduced the antagonist of my story, I think I’ll name her Kayla. I shadily decided to friend her, knowing how awkward it would be for her to receive that friend request, but I couldn’t help myself. I needed to know about all the mundane shit she was posting to feel satisfied. I decided she wasn’t that pretty without makeup, her music taste resembled mine from 8th grade, and I was convinced that she was just an overall total downgrade. Except for the fact that she was a seemingly talented dancer, had a lot more real friends than me, and definitely didn’t spend as much time online as I did.
What I didn’t realize was that none of my internal comparisons did anything but harm my psyche. Kayla was not in any way affected by the amount of time I spent analyzing my body in the mirror, comparing it to hers. I pretty much stopped participating in life by the middle of my senior year. I rushed my college applications and did the bare minimum to maintain my good grades. I knew I had a problem when I asked my best friend if she thought Kayla was pretty as I went through my blackberry to find a decent picture. When she said that in fact, she was pretty, I was crushed. What was worse was that I always wanted more of her. I Google searched, asked my friends that knew her what she was like, and when I found out where she lived, I indulged in driving past her house a few times. That’s about the time I lost touch with reality and my priorities.
I had been in therapy for years for my depression and anxiety, but I was never able to admit this particular obsession to anyone, not even my therapist. By not mentioning it to anyone, I was allowing myself to think it was normal. What I was doing was damaging whatever self-esteem I had left, and I constantly sought external validation just so I felt like I was still good enough.
It got worse, and after high school my life fell apart. My relationship finally ended, my parents went broke, and I ended up dropping out of college because I was having panic attacks on the regular. I also couldn’t hold down a job, and went from one rebound relationship to the next. Constantly checking Facebook was my escape.
In 2011, three years after that first lonely summer, I made some major life changes and moved out on my own. It was a big but necessary step for me. Although I had gained some self confidence in the process, checking Kayla’s Facebook page was now a ritual that had worked its way into my daily routine. Without that routine I felt empty. I didn’t care about the ex-boyfriend, or what he was doing, or what any of my real friends were posting anymore. The second Kayla had a new picture, status, or link to some benign YouTube video I was all over it, analyzing the significance of it all.
Now, two years later, I’m finally getting over her. Why? Because I realized that I am enough. I am a good person. I am beautiful. I’ve worked really hard to become independent and I am in a very loving and committed relationship. I don’t need a reason to be over it, but I have many. Kayla is just another person in the world, although I know much more about her than I care to admit. I think her life was just something I could gawk at because I didn’t have a life of my own. It’s just unfortunate that it took so long for me to realize all of this.