Yesterday in a moment of sheer boredom, I found myself typing in the name of the “man who got away” in my life—the man who broke my heart, convincing me I would never love again. Several years later, we are both happily married, to other people. I do not miss him. Yet, there I was typing in his name, wondering what I may discover.
Why? It has absolutely no bearing on my life anymore. But it doesn’t make me crazy, either. I would venture to guess that everyone with a Facebook account has, at some moment in time, typed in the name of a former lover, friend or estranged family member, curious what the resulting page may reveal to us.
I have been thinking more about my online interactions, specifically when it comes to “creeping” on Facebook, and I have two theories as to why this is such a popular activity. (I could be horribly off the mark, and I hope I am because neither answer makes me feel good about the current state of our hearts.)
First, I think we all need to take a deep breath and collectively admit the following statement: "I am a drama queen"—or king, if your gender so dictates. This is not a gender-specific social networking phenomenon. I have it on good authority that my husband has also innocently typed in the name of his ex in the Facebook search field as well.
No one wants to admit it, though. Being obsessed with drama ended in high school, right? But if that were indeed true, the high school where I taught for two and a half years would not have come with as many cliques in the teacher’s lounge as it did in the nearby cafeteria. In my last semester of teaching, I went through some difficult times.Not one of my colleagues lent a hand to help. The day I resigned, several pretended to be shocked and claimed they were going to miss me. But Idon’t believe they weren’t going to miss me—rather, I think they were simplygoing to miss the drama and intrigue surrounding my last semester withthem. This season of my life was the first time I took stock of my online life and why I chose to keep up with the people I do. Was it because Ilegitimately treasured that relationship? Or was there another reason?
We thrive on drama, whether it is between ourselves and another, or because we simply watch it from the sidelines while someone we know, or even a celebrity, is having a colossal meltdown. When drama is not our own, it can make us feel better about own messy lives. We like to know and feel reassured that we are OK. If we’re not, it’s often easier to find a new target to examine when a closer look at ourselves makes us too uncomfortable. Sadly, the more twisted, dark and depressing our neighbor’s story is, the more we are tempted to relish in it.
My second theory about why we take so much interest in the online lives of those we no longer speak to in our real lives, for whatever reason, is even more cynical. Putting it as bluntly as possible: we hope their lives are not going well. Now, that doesn’t mean we hope they are in jail, homeless or ill—but it could mean we hope their lives didn’t turn out as they hoped when our relationships with them ended. If it was romantic, we hope they are single. If she was a sorority sister, we hope she’s not as pretty as she used to be. If it was a family member, we hope she’s developed Aunt Millie’s cat-hoarding tendency. It’s difficult to want someone to be better off without us—and we stalk them online to validate our theories.
As I said, I know this is a pretty bleak assessment of the human condition and I do hope I am wrong. As a professing Christian, it hurts to think about these realizations because I know I am called to a higher purpose and mission to love and serve all. Being fascinated by a former colleague’s divorce does not encourage praying for her and lifting her up before my God. But if there is some truth here, how do we change our “Facebook creeping” ways?
Let’s start by gulping down a big dose of humility. Someone from your past probably doesn’t like you. They have probably searched for you on Facebook. What will they have found? What does your profile say about you? The answer is not to rush to your computer and edit your profile to glam up the good and play down the bad to present a dishonest version of yourself. The answer is merely this: live your life, both real and digital, with intention.
Who are the people in your life? Are there burnt bridges worth rebuilding? How well do you know your peers? How can you get to know them better? Very rarely is that last answer going to be, “Keep up with them on Facebook.” No, the answer is to call them. To meet them for coffee. To experience your life in all of its beautiful, three-dimensional glory. To be so full of new memories, new conversations, new encounters, that you forget about Facebook entirely. You are too busy living your life and loving the other people in it, you forget to share the details with a "friends" list of 400-plus.
Amanda Salmon is a high school librarian who lives in Nashville, Tenn., with her husband. She loves teaching students about the role of pop culture in their lives and how it can shape them—and how they can shape it in return. Follow her on Twitter @mandaellen.