Remember the little black book, that clichéd prized possession of the womanizing man who, much like Happy Days’ Fonzie, could instantaneously procure a date with the mere flip of a page?
Today, the little black book is all but obsolete, replaced by a newer, digital, and even more pervasive book we know commonly as Facebook. An obvious technological advance in social efficiency, its usage does, however, createproblems for daters that never before existed.
Sir Francis Bacon tells us in his Religious Meditations, Of Heresies, 1597 “knowledge is power.” That statement holds especially true for Facebook users. For cyber stalking girlfriends, ex-girlfriends, and girlfriend wannabes, Facebook can either be manna from heaven or a sharp thorn in the side as women use Facebook to eagerly peer into a love interest’s life, analyzing and potentially misconstruing what they see. For the single guy who now, with the quick click of a mouse, can peruse headshots of his collection of current and former sexual conquests, it can also serve as a public forum to display his manly prowess.
A player’s wet dream.
Or nightmare, as it becomes on that one fateful day when he finally meets his game changer. And she, balking at his long list of beautiful female friends and the copious escapades chronicled on his Facebook wall, categorically wants nothing to do with his playa ways.
Of course, the temptation to cyber stalk is a two-way street, not exclusively limited to women.
Social media has contributed to creating the voyeuristic society we are today. We are naturally drawn to pictures and short blurbs that offer us a few second’s glance into someone else’s once private life. We compare it to our own. Is it better? Is it worse? Can we compete?
So we do. We act and perform for others, posting our own snapshots and presumably witty comments so the world knows that we, too, are worthy of recognition, even if for only a few seconds. And we judge ourselves based on our audience’s response, for better or for worse.
But that glimpse does not necessarily represent the truth. It’s not always reality. More often it’s not. It’s, at best, only an accurate depiction from the poster’s vantage point for but a fleeting moment in time. With no context, no story to provide meaning, the potential for misunderstanding, insult, jealousy, and resentment by the viewer is real.
Yet that moment remains, lingers for posterity, until we have enough foresight to hit the delete button. But such vision only comes with knowledge, the understanding of what will irritate or upset a person whose opinion we come to value somewhere down the road. And, by then, the damage may very well have already been done.
I joined Facebook in 2008. Since that time, my use of Facebook has been comparatively limited based on today’s standard of documenting what often feels like every minute of one’s day for the world to judge. As an example, I cite the Facebook habits of a platonic friend who I see only every few years. Though we seldom spend time with one other, I can tell you with what I believe to be almost absolute certainty on many days what he consumed for lunch based on real time pictures he posted of, say, a Reuben he was about to eat.
But what happens if, just as he was about to take a bite, he realized the meat smelled rancid? What if this friend decided to instead eat a turkey sandwich? I would never know the difference. Never be the wiser. Yet my perception of his day, his truth, would now be markedly incorrect.
Yes, this is a rudimentary example, but a valuable one when it comes to the information we portray to potential or current romantic interests. Up until recently, I have altogether resisted the temptation to become Facebook friends with men with whom I have been involved, anyone, from an isolated date to acasual relationship to a boyfriend. Ironically, I am Facebook friends with people I haven’t seen or spoken to in over 30 years, as well as with people I barely know. Yet I was never before Facebook friends with a man with whom I had been sexually intimate.
My choice was a deliberate one.
Non-platonic relationships engender a natural curiosity about the person with whom we are involved. Facebook removes much of the intrigue we can enjoy while learning about someone new. At the same time, Facebook inescapably raises questions as we see the object of our affection add new friends of the opposite sex to his or her friend list. Who is this person? What is the nature of their involvement? Questions abound and so do the possible answers, many of which, in the abstract, may not make us feel very good.
Group photos, comments, “likes,” and the occasional or not so occasional status update may similarly give rise to inaccurate or incomplete portrayals, and the accompanying insecurity that inevitably arises.
Today I am unclear about the role and value of Facebook in a developing relationship and what happens if that relationship is ultimately nipped at its inception. Do we unfriend that person, or do we become everlasting modern day entries in that little black book of old? Here I navigate in uncharted waters.
We each have the power to choose the boundaries we enforce. Historically, one of mine happened to be Facebook. If I wasn’t yet worthy of that relationship status change, that upgrade from friend to something otherwise, I didn’t want to be immediately relegated to one of many in a narcissistic harem. Call me old-fashioned. I always coveted that high school varsity jacket and that class ring of yesteryear, each formerly cherished proclamations of exclusivity.
In a new era of ambiguous titles and undefined relationships, Facebook status is the contemporary equivalent of going steady. But unlike in the past, when going steady was a relatively private affair confined to a limited social circle based on physical proximity, it is now a universal declaration of sentiment and, for many, the perception of a bigger step than it ought to be credited. Perhaps that is why Facebook created the relationship category, “It’s complicated.”
With good reason because, these days, it is.