“[Insert Female Name]: Great friend; greater lover.”
The text above was featured in the AIM Away Message of a friend of mine several years ago. Upon reading it, I remember wondering why he would want to broadcast his sexual escapades (with a mere “friend”, no less) to such a wide audience. Isn’t that the kind of thing guys are supposed to tell their friends over beer in a barroom? Apparently, not anymore. Since that message, I viewed many updates over the years that followed. My friend is now married to the woman referenced above. They have children. And a dog. I’ve seen photos of their family vacations. And it’s kinda funny, because I’ve only actually seen my friend in person about five times in the past decade.
That brings me to the current topic that’s on my mind: sharing the details of one’s life via social media. Methinks this is going to be at least a 3-part series.
While I was married, Facebook wasn’t open to anyone but college students, and Greg and I had “graduated” from the use of Instant Messenger. There was no login code for people to find out what we were doing on the weekends. We enjoyed a very traditional existence, one in which secrets were shared via hushed voices and photos were printed on glossy paper and then either framed or stashed away in a box. We had a close-knit group of friends that we actually hung out with and if something needed to be said, we used our voices instead of our fingers (whoa, I suddenly feel so old). I had no idea that I was experiencing the end of that era.
Ex-BF and I were already together for a couple years before we both signed up for Facebook. At first I got caught up in the constant sharing of status updates, photos, videos, comments, etc. In the beginning, I posted several photo albums featuring myself, ex-BF and the boys. And then I realized, those aren’t my kids and I don’t actually “know” most of my “friends” all that well. At that point, I went on a friend-deleting spree (this was before I had grasped the power of alllllllllll those privacy controls) and I stopped posting pictures of the kids.
As time wore on, I became increasingly sensitive about what I fed my Facebook page. At one point, I read an Eckhart Tolle book and became disgusted with the validate-my-ego nature of the FB Beast. I halted all status updates for a decent period of time and when I did return to posting, most of what I shared was cause-related.
As a couple, ex-BF and I did not publicize our relationship. Neither of us listed a relationship status in our profile. We didn’t post lovey message on each other’s walls. We usually didn’t interact with each other’s threads. We didn’t have to, because we lived together and we talked face-to-face. We even talked in person about what was going on on Facebook. I felt good about the fact that we didn’t publish all of our family or our life activity online. Sure, we were present on the network, but we weren’t all in-your-face about all the details of our lives, especially our relationship. Our Network didn’t know when we had sex, how often we disagreed or what we had for dinner. I liked that. It felt… mature.
Then the relationship ended. My family was obliterated. And now my eyes see things very differently. While it’s true we didn’t flaunt our lives on Facebook, we were still present on Facebook… and we are still present on Facebook. When my marriage broke up, the framed photos were packed in boxes and now they live in my attic. Not this time around. I can’t pack up those images- they’re all out there in a Timeline. Several Timelines, actually. Even if I deleted those memories from my account, there are many others that remain accessible by merely a few clicks and some scrolling. And I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’d rather pack a bunch of keepsakes in boxes and stow them away.
On one hand, I get the fact that the whole point of a timeline is to depict that which is past. But…does it have to be so public? Does everyone have to see that? Do I have to see that every time I log on? There was a time when it was just my life- and it was normal. Right now it’s evidence of a life I no longer have and that sorta hurts (interestingly enough, the stuff here on the blog doesn’t bother me so much because it was used to illustrate issues larger than myself). Later, the time will come when it’s no longer painful but simply irrelevant. Perhaps then I’ll wonder why my new partner has to share the same spotlight as the old one. I wouldn’t display my wedding pictures again, especially not if they were going to share wall space with images of my new family. In a way, it seems disrespectful to the past as well as the present. (…Not to mention the fact that I’m feeling somewhat possessive of that which is gone. I don’t want to look at it right now, yet I do harbor a desire to keep those memories as mine. I want to reserve the right to visit them on a rainy day…just me. Not my hundreds of friends and friends of friends.)
Is anyone else considering this to the degree that I am? If you’re separated/divorced, how public was your “intact family” (i don’t like that phrase)? Did you set intentional boundaries regarding the publication of images and family details? And how do you feel about that now? Do you prefer to have those outdated images out there? Or would you rather they be hidden from the public view?