There it was. The tiny, innocuous red circle, perched off to the side of the ‘Requests’ category. I stared at the glowing dot as if sizing up the red numbers on a giant Vegas roulette wheel. “Come on baby, make it a good one!” I hit the ‘Requests’ category and watched the name and face come forth.
I was a late-comer and reluctant joiner of Facebook, long after everyone I knew had lost the ability to lift their heads during gatherings, except to smile for a photo tag. I eventually gave in since there was no one left to talk to in person. I wasn’t even going to join at all until a writer I revere said, “If you ever plan to get published, then you should start your online platform now.” Platform? The only platform I ever knew was the one my college professor said needed to be lit on fire in order to change points of view.
None the less, I succumbed to starting my platform on Facebook. I picked a photo, twenty years younger; how else would anyone know who I was? I filled in a profile with as little information as possible. Then, after nearly throwing up, I hit the ‘Go’ button. Next on the list of humiliating prospects was begging for friends. I started with my boyfriend. Surely, he would be my ‘friend’. After he accepted my ‘friend request’ I was thrilled. One friend was enough- Right? “You need more friends,” he said. “No, I like having just one- thanks,” I replied. For weeks, he would mock me through emails containing screenshots stating: “Melanie has 1 friend.”
At last, after being teased by my real, live, heads-down friends, I accepted more people into my anxiety riddled Facebook world. Beyond my closest friends I couldn’t imagine who would care what I had to say or what I was doing. Does anyone care where I ‘checked in’ at 6:42 pm? My boyfriend offered me a tinfoil hat and recommended I loosen up; pretend to be social and see what happens.
The real roulette game started after I became ‘friends’ with the queen bee; my high school girlfriend who knew every face she ever met and remembers amazing amounts of dirt on everyone. After linking to her on Facebook, the ‘friend requests’ started rolling in. Many of the early requests were from people I actually remembered from college or high school, but others were remote names I recognized from some distant, other life that I could not place in time or space.
My greatest surprise was learning the real meaning of social media: Anyone can say nearly anything without regard for decorum, wit, intelligence or couth, and it will shoot out into the universe and land just inches from my face. I was utterly shocked to learn that the bubbly athletic girl who had had public hot-tub sex at a kegger party was now a bible-preaching gun advocate. And worse were the frequent ‘likes’ that pushed Walmart into my ‘Newsfeed’. In contrast, I was pleased to learn that my first boyfriend, fifth grade kiss behind the school, was now an advocate fighting for gay rights in a deeply religious small town. From there, the game of roulette commenced; deciding who to ‘accept’ and who to ‘ignore’ and then see where the roulette wheel would land.
There were ‘friends’ who popped up pretending to know me (or perhaps were just building their own platform) despite the fact that I had zero recognition of them. Or the ‘friends’ whom I truly enjoy but who post something new approximately every 20 seconds. Why did it seem like everyone was doing cool stuff except me? I was fortunate to connect with some very interesting friends who travel and post pictures of cool cultures and rare plants, or those with a wicked sense of humor who share great jokes and fabulously written New Yorker pieces. My cooking friends grace my ‘Newsfeed’ with golden, crusty bread and oozing berry pies hot from the oven.
So, with trepidation I hit the red dot indicating that I have one new friend request and spin the roulette wheel, not knowing whether my new friend will be a hilarious photo bomber or a raving Fox ‘news’ lunatic. I guess that’s what makes it all the more interesting. So, on those occasions where the gamble turns out to be an utter, terrible mistake, I am grateful for the ‘unfriend’ button. Now where did they move that thing?