Monday, January 20, 2014

Facebook Ruins Friendships

Several times in my life, when I’ve found myself alone in new situations, I’ve selected a person from the crowd and told myself, “That is going to be my new best friend”.   Being naturally distrusting, I’ve always had a talent for being able to quickly size-up a person – a trait even my most recent supervisor was able to acknowledge.  “You read people exceptionally well,” she said.  It’s easy to remember this compliment, since compliments were actually few and far between from her.  But then, that’s why I loved working for her

Jeff and I met and became instant friends in 1989.  We met one night in a bar when I ran into Matt, an old high school chum, who introduced Jeff to me.  Having just broken up with my first boyfriend, I needed a new best friend.  And I decided right then and there that Jeff would be that person.  He was new to being out and this was actually his first night in a gay bar.  He knew nothing, so I saw myself as his new mentor.  When I had come out a few years earlier, there was no one to show me the way.  I knew no other gay men.  There was no internet.  So I set out by myself to observe, absorb and learn what I could, on my own.  For the first few years – at least in those days – being gay was all trial and error.  And it is only for the fact that I can “read people exceptionally well” that I am still here.

But where previous best friends had eventually gone by the wayside over the course of time, Jeff somehow remained in my life as a constant.  I couldn’t possibly count the number of hours spent in a vehicle driving back and forth from everywhere we went; countless trips to the only gay bar within 100 miles of our homes; driving 300 miles round trip just to be on a gay bowling league; several journeys to Rehoboth Beach in Delaware; two vacations to Disney World; not to mention the hundreds of thousands of dollars we spent on brunches, lunches, dinners and cocktails.  And when the time came for me to move 150 miles away, the unimaginable amount of time we spent on the telephone, talking a few times a week, waxing sentimental on days gone by and planning our next great adventure.

Over the course of one score+ years, Jeff was there with me through my college education, 5 boyfriends, 9 jobs, and 12 apartments across 5 cities – not to mention all the stuff that both goes along with and comes in-between.  I figured we would be best friends until one of us died.

And then we both joined Facebook.

The ruination of our friendship didn’t happen overnight.  And there were extenuating circumstances as well.  But I blame Facebook for showing me a side of Jeff that I had never seen in the 20 years I had known him.  About 6 years ago, Jeff went on complete disability from work, which gave him lots of time to sit at home and watch TV.  And his TV show of choice:  Fox News.  I could write thousands of words on why Fox News is not healthy for America, but millions have come before me already doing just that.   What I know is that Jeff is well-educated in what Fox News espouses.  I don’t have the time to sit and listen to the news all day, every day.  I know the topics, but not the minute details as Jeff knows them.

One of our last exchanges on Facebook took place 2 years ago.  It was during the winter that the Washington, DC area was crippled with several blizzards and snowstorms.   The exchange went something like this:

Jeff:  Well, what do all those global warming enthusiasts have to say NOW?
Me:  Actually, Jeff, global warming is expected to increase heavy precipitation in winter storms, and for the Northern Hemisphere, there is evidence that these storms are already more frequent and intense.
It can’t be freezing outside for months at a time and expect me to believe the globe is getting hotter.
Well think about it, Jeff.  Global warming affects the entire GLOBE.  So when it’s winter here, it’s summer someplace else.  And right now, there are record hot temperatures in Australia.
Well excuse me for having an opinion!
You can certainly have an opinion.  I’m just debating you with actual facts.

There are a few people in my life who I love in person, and hate on Facebook.  When I mention this to other friends, their response is usually something like, “well isn’t it better to know the real person?”  But I have to wonder, then, who IS the real person?  Is it the person I laugh with, drink with, joke with in his company – or is it the person who posts “Obama is a foreign-born Muslim”?

I don’t shy away from confrontation.  I’ll confront a friend who posts “Sarah Palin for President” by telling him that supporting the Tea Party is essentially supporting an organization that wants to put me to death.  And I’ll confront the relative who posts “Mike Huckabee is my kind of people” after Huckabee posts that the cast of Duck Dynasty is just supporting good ol’ American family values.  And when a Christian posts that we should “keep Christ in Christmas”, I tell them that it might be better to start by “keeping Christ in Christian.”  I’ll do all this, but I shouldn’t have to.  And I didn’t have to before Facebook.

Since that exchange, Jeff and I have chatted briefly and even curtly, through Facebook; usually he is responding to a post from me just checking in on him.  But he never initiates a conversation.  And we haven’t spoken on the phone or seen each other since. In some way, I feel like I have failed Jeff.  When we met, he was a sheltered person who didn’t know anything about gay life and I think he looked to me as a guide.  And as time wore on, I think I continued to be the lead in for him on how life situations are handled, how to talk to people, how to get what you want.  And when I finally became so caught up in my own life, I left him on his own to figure things out.  And he did it through a source that I find troubling and surprising.

I wonder when my opinions no longer mattered to him.  I wonder when he decided to no longer trust my advice.  And I wonder how on earth we had even remained friends, let alone best friends, for over two decades if my presence in his life was so disposable.  I wonder . . . and it breaks my heart. 

And I have Facebook to “thank”.