Friday, November 19, 2010

Little Red Hearts

We live in a curious age, and I have questions. Not in a weird, steampunk sort of way - although some of those girls can be mighty sexy, the men generally come across as pervy and slavering - but in the sense that our time gets ever more complicated, and the boundaries and expectations aren't clearly defined.

To wit: Facebook. Web 2.0 has its own grammar of etiquette, and not unlike email 15 years ago, or the more recent texting revolution, we're still learning the capabilities of what it can do...and what it should do. In an era when so many folks are putting so much about themselves online, it definitely helps to have some boundaries.

Especially when it comes to romantic and friendship entanglements, and the murky waters between the two. I remember the first time I was "in a relationship with" someone - I mean, not someone's girlfriend, which had happened before then, but had the chance to show it off on Facebook. A little heart icon appeared next to the news item (!) It was adorable. Conversely, I remember the end of that relationship, and the heart-wrenching moment I went from "in a relationship with" to "single." I'm not kidding when I tell you that the little icon was, at that point, a little broken heart. (I think Facebook has since wised up, and now accompanies any relationship updates with a heart.) It sounds ridiculous, and it sort of is, but it's now a part of the young-person break-up process to have your friends get in touch with you via Facebook to commiserate your newly ended relationship.

And after the breakup, there's all the uncertainty: do you stay friends? Do you "hide" the person from your newsfeed? (for the non-Facebooked among us [hi, Mom!], your newsfeed is what shows up on your main page - it's all the stuff your friend have been doing and saying, their photos, their posted links, roughly chronologically. "Hiding" people means they don't show up there, so their incessant updates about their angry politics or engagement showers are blissfully out of sight for you.) Should you delete altogether? Is there a cooling-off period before you start interacting with them again?

I personally like it when people are "in a relationship" with someone on Facebook, if they are in real life, too: newly friended Faceook pals are often snooping around looking for deets on one's relationship status, and a firm statement that you're off the market is nice to see. I know it's awkward if/when folks break up to change it to single - that can feel very abrupt and frankly, horrible - but it's nice while a couple is together. Likewise, if folks are married, they don't need to be all OMG I'm totes hitched or whatever - one of my very favourite couples went from "married" back to "in a relationship" on Facebook because, as she put it, "I'm puking at married- buy a house - live all alone - have a pack of kids. That's not what I signed up for!!!" - but some acknowledgment of your girlfriend, boyfriend, wife, husband, whatever they are to you, is important.

I'm torn about the best post-breakup strategies, though. Nobody likes seeing their ex jumping around the city, gleeful and hilarious, while you sit at home surrounded by bourbon-filled chocolates (from which you've sucked all the liquor) and the evidence of your sad, lonely life. On the other hand, many breakups are mutual, non-heartbreaking affairs, and it's nice to keep in touch. Facebook is great because it's exactly as invasive as you make it: you can obsessively go through photos and comb their wall, or you can be like, "Huh!" when your ex posts that they've started a catering company and are generally doing awesome, and then go back to thinking about what kind of sex noises Al Gore would make, based on his Futurama guest spots.

I asked my friends about this issue last week - what do you do with a Facebook ex? - and most folks erred on the side of caution. If you hate her, they counseled, then delete her. If you're ambivalent, hide him. And if it was amicable and friendly, then stay friends. Facebook sort of mirrors real life with this strategy, and cuts down on the number of stomach-churning digital run-ins you'll have with an ex-lover. And deliberately checking in, on the internet, on an ex, feels really invasive. Never mind that you're still friends, or that all that information is there because s/he put it there - I end up feeling like I'm spying. Deleting them can help curb that impulse, since most people don't have viewable profiles, but it can still be a challenge.

And no matter how much distance you put between yourself and an ex, there are always going to be emotional ties that bind - do you really need digital ties as well? Facebook, like email and stored numbers in your phone's memory, can be nasty or nice, sweet or bittersweet. I'm not saying that folks have ditch all their exes, but distance, in time and cyberspace, is good.

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