I just went through a big breakup. I ended a relationship that lasted just shy of four years, and actually, thanks to Facebook, seemed much happier and whole than it truly was. It was a relationship that was slowly bleeding out, dying from a thousand tiny cuts that couldn’t be patched. Ending that relationship was easier than I think it would be to breakup with the ever-charismatic Facebook, and it wasn’t truly easy.
My relationship with Facebook has been rocking steady since 2008. My “friends” total has climbed to 500+, although I’d guess that the real number of my true friends is barely a fraction of that. I’ve tried breaking up with Facebook in the past, but as with all addictions, the seduction of losing myself in its posts drags me back. There is something strangely hypnotic about scrolling and searching for some part of myself among the postings. When I see some meme or a quote that really resonates with me, I feel seen, known and understood all at once.
Getting back to relationships though, I remember when my recently-ended relationship first began, and how important it was to me to be able to share it with my Facebook family of friends. It was after all, my first legit, and mutually monogamous relationship since my 2002 divorce, and my only one since joining the social networking giant in 2008. I wanted very much to be seen as whole and complete, and this included being publicly acknowledged on Facebook, by my new guy as his new girl.
The danger of Facebook is the temptation to gloss over all that is wrong or incomplete in our real-life relationships and focus only on the photo opportunities that are full of happy, smiling faces. There were no pictures of the moments where love and affection was withheld, and requests for time together were dismissed, ignored or suppressed with anger, hostility and passive aggression. I knew the end was near when a colleague recently hugged me and gushed about how happy I always look in the photos that I posted of me and my guy. It stopped me in my tracks because I realized that I wasn’t happy at all. I was wagging the dog by creating an illusion that was not accurate.
Yes, there had been moments of love, moments of tenderness and affection unlike any I’d ever experienced before, and that is why it took so long for me to realize that even though I loved him, I was not happy. My needs were not being met, and no amount of communication seemed to make a lasting difference. I finally admitted to myself and to him that I wanted more than he was willing to give. I wanted a life of togetherness, a life of blending our families and growing old together. I wanted someone to wake up to and grow old with. I wanted to heal the dysfunctional habits of my family of origin, and I wanted him to do the same.
If you’ve ever tried to “break-up” with Facebook, I can assure you, it isn’t easy. You will be asked more than once, “Are you sure you want to leave Facebook?” What they don’t tell you is that they are so sure that you will doubt yourself and have second thoughts, that they will make it very easy for you to re-activate your account whenever you are ready. It’s not uncommon at this point to start doubting yourself. Do I really want to leave? Do I want to end this? Do I have the strength to let go completely? It’s like Facebook is “gaslighting” us!
And so it went in my life, as I asked myself the same questions of my own fraudulent relationship. Do I have the strength to let him go? Do I trust my own mind, my own heart? As Facebook continues to ask if am I sure, I ask it myself, and just like with Facebook, I doubt myself. Somewhere along the way, I stopped trusting myself, and I also stopped valuing myself and my needs. I got lost in perpetuating the illusion of my perfect relationship. I convinced myself that things were okay with us because my audience believed it, so why didn’t I?
I know people who jump off of Facebook when they end a long-term relationship. It’s as if the shame of admitting to everyone that their relationship wasn’t as bullet-proof as they thought it was is just too much for them to bear. Some people are very subtle and just disappear for awhile. Other people are very public about it and announce it to everyone, as if we didn’t already notice. I fall somewhere in between these two extremes. I didn’t disappear, but I waited a few weeks before I told my close friends and family. I changed my relationship status privately, and then I let my friends see it. Then I started writing. That is where the healing truly began for me. I realized that I would have to expose myself and my failure in order to heal.
Ultimately, I was able to say goodbye to the illusion of my seemingly perfect relationship. It has been difficult, and sad mostly because I wanted so very much for it to succeed. I miss the way his hand felt in mine and the way it felt to lean into him when he was near. I wanted to believe the story of us, as much as everyone else did. I wanted the feelings that we started with to still be present, and the story that we were telling to be authentic. Once I knew that it wasn’t, I couldn’t keep pretending. I thought that if I refused to give up, things would magically change. I was half correct. Things in my life are magically changing, but its not because I refused to give up; it’s because I finally did.
I finally let go of something that wasn’t serving me any longer. I stopped expecting someone else to make me a priority and I started doing it myself. Some days, that means that I log off of Facebook and forget about keeping up with the world. And some days, I am a posting freak and loving every minute of it. I’m learning to put Facebook in its place, and I am rediscovering myself without spending hour after hour obsessing about it.
To answer my own question, I cannot break up with Facebook because I enjoy it too much. I can, however; set healthy boundaries with it. I can hide and unfollow the people and posts that irk me. My relationship with Facebook appears to be salvageable. I don’t have to cut it out of my life completely. I can limit the amount of time that I spend scrolling and staring, and I can enjoy it for the gifts that it gives. For me, that includes the hysterical videos and posts that make me cry from laughing, memes that inspire me and the ones that make me feel normal.
I have learned that I don’t have to have an “all or nothing” attitude with Facebook. Like it or not, if I made that choice, I would never see or hear from too many of my real-life and far-away friends. My relationship with my guy didn’t make it, but it taught me so much, and it gave me hope that I will recognize the right relationship when I am open to allowing another one. My relationship with Facebook is safe. I don’t have to break up with it. I am willing to do the work needed to keep its place in my life healthy, happy and fun, and the next relationship I am in will remain private. I won’t require it to be validated by Facebook or my friends. I will let my heart do that instead.