BY BOB SMITH
I recently got a Facebook friend request from my ex-wife. Isn’t that oxymoronic? We couldn’t be friends in the real world, so why is it okay to be electronic, virtual friends? Christ, if we didn’t have to actually spend time together we might still be married. Maybe it’s the nature of electronic friendship. In the pre-Internet world I grew up in, real-world friends were people who were there for you, as in physically proximate; nearby – not just out there somewhere. With virtual friends, on the other hand, it doesn’t matter a bit where they’re physically located because most of them don’t have a real-world relationship anyway. And friends actually like each other, don’t they? That was the main reason my ex-wife and I split up – we didn’t. But virtual friendship doesn’t require sharing any true affection; each “friend” just has to be curious about what the other person’s up to. If you post enough facts and photos on your Facebook page, your “friends” can peruse your entire life without making contact at all – apart from stroking the keyboard.
What do we get out of these remote non-relationships? I just went through Facebook and took a tour through the lives of a number of my electronic friends. I saw the following:
- Snapshots of my two-year-old grand niece playing with a cuddly cat, visiting Santa at the mall, wearing mommy’s shoes, smearing pudding on her face, etc. (the supply of cute photos of this kid appears to be endless).
- A Christmas-themed cartoon depicting a dog peeing on a fire hydrant, and looking over his shoulder with a worried look on his face. A guy in a wool cap is looking at the dog, saying “And I thought getting your tongue stuck on a frozen flag pole was bad.”
- A twenty-second cellphone video of a vivid rainbow against a stormy sky, shot by one of a group of people outside a bar. The jiggly shot alternates between the amazing colors and the sidewalk hijinks of the half-drunk observers.
- A photo of one of my high school classmates and his wife at Disney World, in which the Magic Castle in the distance appears to be sprouting from the middle of his scalp.
- A picture of Lilly, a girl who used to live at the end of my block, now roughly my age, and holding what I assume is her infant grandchild. The photo was unremarkable, but seeing her reminded me of how she used to make me and my two buddies act like dogs. Desperate to impress, we would crawl on the floor and bark, beg – the whole nine yards. Whoever did the best job got to eat a real dog biscuit from her hand. We were nine years old so it wasn’t kinky; just silly (and yes, the dog biscuit tasted like crap – fishy sawdust, to be precise).
Is knowing that kind of stuff worthwhile? Let’s see – I could have done without yet another collection of super-cute grand niece pictures (sorry kid), the peeing dog cartoon, and my classmate’s poorly composed vacation photo. On the other hand the rainbow video, while partly inane (the chortling tipsies), did capture a beautiful slice of nature. And recalling my pre-adolescent dog days was remarkable because I had utterly forgotten that game; that time of life. I didn’t start to salivate, but my inner tail absolutely wagged when I saw Lilly’s face.
So maybe being Facebook friends is generally worthwhile, but I still can’t digest the sense of being electronic “friends” with my ex-wife. Maybe I’m just being unkind, refusing to let go of the pain and bitterness that still bubbles to the surface more than 30 years after the divorce. Maybe this is her way of making amends. Or maybe it’s a set-up. She friends me, I accept, and then we start treating each other badly. She says something unkind and I respond with the sad emoticon, a clownish semicolon tear running down its face. Then I man up, SHOUT SOME HOSTILE NONSENSE!, log off in a huff, and go get drunk. Again. Just like old times. In the sober light of morning we agree it’s best we unfriend, at least for a while. Maybe try friending other people. And all is right with the world.