Life after Facebook

It’s been about two months now since I deleted my Facebook account — not just disabled, but really and truly deleted. On my end of things, there’s nothing left for me to access. On Facebook’s side of things, it will probably be another few weeks before all of my data has been completely purged by their systems, but it’s coming. I hemmed and hawed for weeks before making the decision to do this; now that it’s done, I’ve been thinking lately about how it’s affected my life. What have I gained? And what have I lost?

Because there have been both: some clear gains, and some clear losses. First and foremost, getting rid of Facebook has drastically opened up my time. When I turn my computer on or pick up my phone during the day, I check my email and a few other things, and then… I’m done. There’s nothing else to do, so I put it away. It’s amazing how much of your day opens up when there isn’t an infinite scroll available. Now, could I have achieved the same effect by being more disciplined with my online habits? Theoretically, yes. Experientially? No.

Another gain is that I feel much less mentally… buffeted, I guess you could call it. There’s no predicting what you see when you’re scrolling through the newsfeed: it’s a mishmash of whatever your friends have posted (as curated for you by the almighty algorithm). Everything appears without context and leaves no context behind it. News is mixed with fundraisers is mixed with baby pictures is mixed with jokes and political opinions and anecdotes and rants and all the rest of it, not to mention the hoaxes and misinformation and flat-out lies, coming at you relentlessly. And everything implicitly (or explicitly) demands a response: like me! share me! respond to me! be happy with me! be angry with me! agree with me! correct me! Frankly, it’s exhausting. Leaving all of that behind has been refreshing. When I want to read the news, I open up a news app. If I want to respond to something, or to learn more about it, it’s easier (and, now, more natural) to take the time to find the context, digest what’s happening, and formulate a response that’s not just off the cuff.

But there’s a price to this temporal and mental freedom, isn’t there? Leaving Facebook has meant reconciling myself (well… sort of) to being out of the loop. I don’t know what’s going on with my friends, not the way I used to. I’m not seeing pictures of their kids — and I’m one of those strange people who actually enjoys seeing pictures of other people’s kids. For some of my friends, Facebook was really the only connection point we had, and when I think about some of those connections I feel a real sense of loss.

But it’s a strange thing: what I’m grieving is maybe not the loss of those relationships, but the loss of the illusion that they still existed. As long as our profiles were linked, there was hope: “Sure, we haven’t talked in ten years — but we could!” And to be completely fair, sometimes this did happen, we did reconnect. I got in touch with a friend from undergrad to return a book I borrowed from her about twelve years ago. I was able to apologize to someone from my past for something that happened when we were young adolescents. But those moments, if I’m honest, were few and far between. I wasn’t using Facebook to connect with people; I was using Facebook to feel as if I were connecting with people. Those are, in the end, very different things.

And so this last comes from a loss but is really a gain: ditching Facebook has reinforced for me the fact that friendship is an active pursuit. There was no real friendship behind most of my connections; there was, at best, a passive acknowledgement of a shared past. But that’s not a friendship, or enough to sustain one. I do miss being in the know. I do miss the ease of the connection that I did have with the people with whom I am really friends. In that case, though, what have I really lost? Just the ease; not the thing itself. In the weeks since quitting Facebook I have been sending and receiving more emails than I have in years. And I’ve been picking up my phone not to scroll through a feed but to actually, you know, call people. It’s been a good change. Yes, I could have done all of this without needing to delete my account — well, maybe. But if that’s what it took to remind me of the work and worth of actively pursuing friendship, then it’s a price I am willing to pay.

A response to “What’s a Body to Do?”

This post is in response to a guest post by Deanna Briody over at SpiritualFriendship.org, entitled “What’s a Body to Do? The Place of Beauty and the Body in Non-Sexual Loves“.  Briody opens by recounting her experience of “noticing [herself] noticing women” and trying to find a way to understand that experience outside of the paradigm of sexual identity/orientation, which didn’t seem to apply. She writes,

I assumed for a year or two that this meant I was bisexual, but I admit the word never sat well with me. It tasted wrong in my mouth, not because I didn’t believe it was an authentic description of certain people’s experience, but because it felt inaccurate when applied to myself. I wasn’t sexually attracted to women. I was physically drawn to them. I didn’t want to sleep with them, but I did want to know them. There was no category for that.

This resonates with me. I also notice women; sometimes when I’m surrounded by women I feel like I can bask in their beauty as in sunshine. But I’ve never felt sexually attracted to another woman. In today’s culture of ever-more-nuanced definitions some might say that I’m a heterosexual bi-romantic. But that doesn’t fit the bill either. The attraction I can feel towards other women doesn’t feel romantic to me; I don’t want to date them, I don’t want to hold hands, I don’t feel any jealousy of their partners or have any desire to supplant them. And yet, there’s something there, something for which, as Briody points out, we don’t seem to have a category.

She concludes her piece by looking at beauty and the desire for beauty as a sort of signpost for us, pointing us back to the original, unfallen beauty of God’s creation, and ahead towards the redemption of all things:

I’m coming to think it is right and good to notice that someone is beautiful (whether female or male, both body and soul), and to be drawn to them because of their beauty. It is, I think, a sort of entranceway into the truth, for though our ancient rebellion has drastically marred the bright visage of humanity, it is not altogether destroyed. Human beings still are beautiful. We retain the faded memory of our created glory, imprinted in skin and soul alike. When I notice a person’s beauty, therefore, I’m recalling, in the very act of noticing, the most ancient truth about her or him. I’m acknowledging the rightness of God’s first declaration over humankind. I’m echoing his original “very good” over creation; desiring as a creature to join in communion with what remains of the “very good” around me, as I should; and coming alongside the saints and angels and all the earth, in longing for the full and final restoration of that first “very good.”

This is a helpful understanding. I would suggest, however, that there are other things that our attraction to beauty does in the context of non-sexual love. I believe that the things that attract us are clues for us as we think about the type of people we desire to be. In a non-sexual, non-romantic context, our longing to possess the beloved object — to somehow possess their beauty — is about wishing to possess their beautiful qualities for ourselves. A good example of this is in the common phenomenon of a young girl developing an “emotional crush” on a classmate, or perhaps more commonly, an older girl or woman.

The first crush on an older woman that I remember was on my third-grade teacher, Mademoiselle M, a young Québequoise who had given up figure skating for teaching after a bad accident on the ice. I don’t remember a lot about her now, except that she was beautiful and kind, and that I simply adored her. My friends knew not to look for me at recess on days that Mademoiselle M had yard duty, because I would be stuck to her side, too preoccupied with my lovely teacher to play. Another was Elissa, a woman who taught Broadway dance classes at the music camp my family went to for a few years when I was a pre-teen. Elissa was warm and funny and confident, and somehow managed to convince a room full of gawky adolescents that it was actually okay to engage our hips while dancing. I’m not sure if I also followed her around — I probably did — but I remember devoutly wishing that she and my single uncle would fall in love and get married, so that she could be in my family forever. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t happen.)

What was the common thread here? I was definitely drawn to both of these women in part because of their physical beauty — both of them possess the dark brown curls I have longed for ever since I can remember — but that isn’t the whole reason. Along with their physical graces, I believe I was responding to the beauty of their characters: to kindness, to humour, to confidence, to wisdom, to grace. The things that attracted me revealed something about me as well as about them: they pointed to qualities I desired for myself. When I saw and loved them, it was in part for their own sakes, but also because I too wanted to be kind, funny, confident, wise, and graceful.

Noticing the beauty of another invites us to introspection. What is it about that person that draws our attention? What do our attractions reveal about our personal goals and desires? What we love — what we value in another person — shows us what, and who, we desire to be.

Thankful (a non-exhaustive list)

  • Light interstate traffic
  • Frozen pizza and sparkling apple cider
  • Neighbours who pick up packages
  • Anselm’s recent 3rd birthday (astonishing)
  • Perpetua’s language explosion this past week or so (new words incl: baby, puppy, all done, ding ding, Perpetua, Anselm, bye-bye, shoes, yes, no)
  • Yoga pants, woolly socks, and hoodies
  • Friends who are family
  • Those who practice anonymous generosity upon us
  • The finding of lost items
  • Play-doh, Candyland, new books, and puzzles
  • Clean sheets on a made bed in a tidy room

Longing for Heaven

When I was in my early twenties, I spent about a year living in-house at a Christian mission organisation; I was an intern for the first three months, and returned after Christmas break to stay on in a somewhat more nebulously defined position. There were about ten of us interning during those first three months, and we shared the mission house with another eight or so members of the on-site team, as well as many others who came and went during the day. We were a tight-knit group, and even after the rest of the interns had gone home for Christmas and not come back, we kept in contact, at least for a while. Gradually, though, the group skype calls ended and the long email chains stopped appearing in our inboxes. While individual friendships have certainly survived the intervening years, the cohesion that we felt as a group of interns has long since been lost. I am in sporadic contact with a few people from those days; others seem to have dropped off the face of the earth.

In a way, living in the mission house meant that we all became very adept at saying goodbye. Most weeks of the year, teams of visitors would come stay with us from across the country, most often from churches but also from Christian schools and other mission organisations. We interns would take them around the city, introduce them to the work of our organisation, run teaching sessions, eat meals with them, and otherwise simply hang out. There was a typical pattern to our relations: on Monday we would all still be feeling each other out, by Wednesday we would have gelled as a larger team, on Friday we were friends — and then they would get back in their vans or on the plane and we would say goodbye under the assumption that we would, in all likelihood, never see them again. The weekend would be spent cleaning rooms, changing linens, and otherwise getting ready for the next visiting team. Rinse and repeat.

When my husband and I went to seminary it reminded me of those first months in the mission house: we fell into a tight-knit, ready-made community, whose shared purpose lent it a certain intensity as well. And, as before, it was a community where we constantly found ourselves saying goodbye as friends and classmates graduated and set off for parts unknown. It was only twice a year, generally, rather than every week — but there it was, all the same. My best friend’s husband got a job on the other side of the continent from where we’re living now. Our kids’ godparents range from 4.5- to 12-hour drives to a six-hour flight away. Now we’re reaching the point where some of us haven’t met each other’s youngest children. We are a scattered people.

This past Christmas, Anselm’s godfather, the Engineer, sent him a present of a few books. The package also contained two letters: one for Anselm, and one for us. The Engineer wrote that he was beginning to understand what it meant to long for heaven — for that time when we would all be reunited, never to be separated again. I know exactly what he means. To me, the promise of eternity with not only God, but with other believers as well — it seems too wonderful to grasp. But back when I was living at the mission house, I wrote these words:

So when I think of heaven, I think in part of these three things which will finally be allowed to fully flourish: God’s love for us, the perfection of our nature and characters, and our great glorious happy mess of relationships. What joyful reunions there will be: not just our friends and family, but also those semi-strangers who came into our lives, changed us, and disappeared again. We shall have untold millennia for those wonderful things that friendships are made of: for talking and laughter and a good day’s work accomplished side by side. And we shall never run out of time: we shall have all the time we need, with every single other person, because we will be in eternity together. Together! — what hope that word gives me: together.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, St Paul writes of what will happen when perfection comes. Now, he writes, we see but a poor reflection in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. He speaks of Christ: one day we shall see him face to face, and know him face to face, as he now knows us. But I think that the promise is even greater than that. One day we shall meet, all of us who know him, and then we shall know each other fully, there in all the company of heaven.

Amen and amen. So let it be.