31: Friends Less

31: Friends Less

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less

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Friends Less

A friendship that can end never really began.

~Publilius Syrus

Delete. Delete. Delete… Oops! I’d accidentally deleted my mother. I was going to hear about that one! It had taken me a good six months to work up the courage to delete all but six of the nearly one thousand “friends” I had collected on my social media account.

I was addicted and I didn’t even try to hide it. I carried my social media friends with me everywhere I went via my smarter-than-me cell phone. I took them to work with me, we went grocery shopping together, and all one thousand of them were my “plus one” at a friend’s wedding. They even tucked me into bed with their “goodnight” posts after each long day. They had become my second family, which at first, didn’t seem like such a bad thing. Actually, for a time, it was a very good thing.

In early 2009 my mother began sending me posts from a social media site. They were sweet, and often funny, stories about my daughter Kyley as told by her friends. Kyley died in December 2008, and these memories being shared by her peers were precious to me. I created an online profile so I could join the group and read them for myself.

I began receiving friend requests and even sent out more than a few myself. I felt a tinge of excitement whenever someone accepted my invitation to connect. I’d always been a pretty private person, but I found myself pouring out my heart to this new body of friends. I shared my heartache over the loss of my child. I shared amazing stories of signs from Heaven. I shared the humor I sometimes used as a way to cope with my pain. I shared the joy that crept back into my heart as I began to heal. I shared it all in very raw, often very long posts on my social media page. I received incredible feedback in the form of “likes” and encouraging comments. I even created an “author” page after eight of those very long posts were converted to story form and published in seven different Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

For several years my social media page, with all of those “friends,” was a lifeline. It provided a sense of community and kept me connected to the outside world during a period of time when my grief kept me confined to my home. The interaction it allowed was therapeutic and I believe it was instrumental in my healing. That’s why it’s difficult to admit that what had once given me the freedom to connect with others was now the very thing keeping me from feeling truly connected.

It was a gradual process. I’m quite sure I didn’t even realize it was happening… that I was becoming addicted to social media. There were signs, though, plenty of them. My phone was never more than an arm’s length away. I checked my social media accounts several times throughout the day, even at work. I didn’t want to miss an important status update like how one of my friends ordered a hamburger for lunch and she received mustard instead of the requested mayonnaise. And then there was the grocery cart incident…. I’d been checking my social media account for more important breaking “news” when my cart collided with another. I apologized profusely and tried to pretend I hadn’t been looking at my phone. I felt a little better when I noticed the lady I’d crashed into had been doing the same.

When I missed the toast at my friend’s wedding because I was “checking in” with my social media friends, I had to trust the eyewitness accounts of others that it was absolutely “perfect.” And I had been sitting right there in the same banquet hall!

One evening as I sat on the couch, phone in hand, I looked up from the small screen to my husband and I was suddenly nostalgic. He sat there engrossed in something on his laptop monitor as a television program neither of us was watching played in the background. I found myself longing for the nights when we’d lie on the floor of our living room and play a mean game of checkers, laughing and sharing the events of our day after tucking our children into bed. We had a good marriage but it seemed like we were missing out on more and more opportunities to be truly present with one another because of time spent on the Internet. And I missed my friends, too. Not the thousand online friends, some of whom I didn’t even know, but the flesh-and-blood ones, the ones I used to share long phone calls with just to catch up on life.

It seemed the majority of our interactions now consisted of “liking” each other’s pictures on various social media accounts. When I did manage to get in a lunch date with a girlfriend, it was painfully obvious by the numerous glances at her phone that she, too, had brought along all five hundred of her online “friends.”

My self imposed social media blackout was met with gasps of disbelief but those gasps were almost always followed by wistful confessions that my friends, too, longed for the days of less social media and more heart-to-heart interaction with family and friends. “You know you don’t have to actually delete all of your friends, don’t you? You can just ‘hide’ them and then you won’t be able to see their posts,” a relative offered. I knew. And I also knew that desperate times called for desperate measures. With each click of the delete button I became one social media friend lighter. I was so light that I nearly floated into my friend’s home when she invited me over for coffee one day. I left my phone in the car and something surprising happened — I didn’t even miss it!

I’d be lying if I said it was easy at first but as time went on I came to realize I was benefiting in ways I had never even considered. My adult ADD improved significantly without the 24/7 bombardment of information. I reconnected with my husband over dinners where no social media guests were invited. I even became more mature in my spiritual life in the absence of those one thousand voices, and I used this new quiet to draw closer to God.

It’s been a year since I first hit the delete button and while I may be “friend poor” on the Internet, my relationships with those who really matter are richer than they’ve been in ages. And that, my friends, is pure joy.

~Melissa Wootan

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