I used to be a very solitary man. I envied authors like J.D. Salinger and Thomas Pynchon for their anonymity. “The Invisible Man,” by Ralph Ellison was my favorite novel because no one else was able to see the main protagonist. The French Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s dictum, “hell is other people,” rationalized my isolation and made me feel good about not having any friends. I spent my time on my own. I went to movies alone, dinner alone and spent the majority of my nights either walking the dark, windy and lonely streets of San Francisco or sitting in my small apartment, alone, drawing pictures with my mind while floating through the pages of a book.
For as long as I can remember I was alone. I disliked school because it forced me to be around other people. I played tennis and jogged because it allowed me to not have to be a member of a team. After school I rode my bike around and around the lonely cul-de-sac until the sunset. I talked to myself in mirrors like I was having an in depth conversation with someone else. When my mother would ask me how my day was I would always reply the same laconic way, “fine.” I went to my room, did my homework, listened to music and only came out when tempted by the smell of food. When my father took me on a rafting trip and we passed an older man sitting outside a log cabin in the middle of the woods, I asked my father “what is that?” My father responded in an uninterested tone, “That is a hermit son.” Much to my fathers consternation- I replied, “that is what I want to be when I grow up.”
Solitude does not suit an older man. As I was getting closer to the age of forty I had been feeling the weight of my solitude like a potential crucifixion or a head cold that would never go away. In the back of my mind lingered the awareness that I was living in a bubble without any community and something felt oddly wrong about this. For years and years I had existed in a spiritually satisfying solitude that never caused me to feel defective or psychologically unstable, but know as my biological clock was nearing the midway point of my life- being alone just felt wrong.
My wife (who does not read my writings, so I do not have to worry about her reading about me telling you that even though I had been married for a few years I still felt alone. My wife is very independent and engaged in her work, which was one of the qualities that initially attracted me to her, because I knew I would get a lot of alone time. I just never realized how much) suggested that I join Facebook. My first reaction was similar to the reaction I had when as a child my mother offered me an avocado or when my dad took me to visit his dying friend and the dying friend reached out his jaundiced arm to offer me a date. I was repulsed and wanted to have nothing to do with such dehumanizing social platforms. But my dreaded feeling of isolation continued to persist and I became desperate enough to try just about anything.
I joined Facebook with the caution of a cat taking food from a stranger. I did not jump right in but rather smelled things out and licked the edges. I took my time going on-line and submitting friend request and investigating profiles. I still spent my days and nights alone and considered a social gathering to consist of me wondering the streets of San Francisco alone at night and maybe stopping in at a few seedy bars. Facebook was a new level of social engagement for me. I wanted to make sure I did not expose myself too quick.
My wife continuously sent me suggestions for new friends. Everyday when I would go on-line there would be one or two new friends that my wife thought I should have. I was fascinated by the concept of adding a friend. All my life I had never really trusted friends. Newton’s third law that states- that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction summarized the story of my friendships. Every friend I had ever had seemed to require a great amount of challenge and heartache. Making friends was a tumultuous effort and keeping them was even harder. Now, with Facebook all I had to do was request to add a friend and wait to see if my request was granted. I did not have to see them or talk to them. There was something liberating about this new form of friendship that drew me in. It seemed so easy to make and keep friends. Possibly Facebook could offer me the same appeal that I found in my wife- the ability to have a good relationship but still remain alone.
Looking back on the period of my life right before I joined Facebook, I realize that I was in a dark space. I have matured enough as a human being to be able to look at my past self and be truthful about what I see, even if I do not like it. I was on the verge of death. The word suicide was circulating through my mind at an illegal speed and the only thing that kept me from drinking Draino or climbing up a tall redwood tree and then jumping was that I lacked the courage to take my own life. My depression was affecting my health and I was drinking enough booze to keep reality far far away. I was a sinking ship inside and the notion that my solitude was the cause of all this was as distant from me as a falling star.
Facebook took a desperate man and made him a member of a community. It has allowed me to have more than one hundred friends (which, is more friends than I have had in my entire life) without suffering the tormenting symptoms of social anxiety that I normally suffer around people. My friendships are as easy to maintain as leaving a few status updates a day and commenting on a few of the status updates of my friends. Where once I dreaded getting out of bed in the morning now I look forward to joining my Facebook community. I get my yoghurt with nuts in it and pour myself a glass of apple juice. I then sit down at my computer and review Facebook in the same way that my father would read the newspaper in the mornings many years ago. I leave a status update first thing in the morning that I make sure makes me feel moderately good about myself (even if it is untrue) and I then look forward to the comments I will receive later on in the day. Finally I feel apart of something greater than myself. Finally I feel alive.
I have connected with old friends that I have never thought I would talk to again. I have improved my communication with my wife by reading her status updates and leaving a comment while she does the same for me. The sense of dread that followed me around like a feeling of impending doom is gone. I laugh more and am more aware of what goes on in what used to be a narrow world. My friends are not a burden to me since it takes little effort to keep them in my life. It is safe to say that I have outgrown the dictum that “hell is other people” and replaced it with the knowledge that,” happiness is only real if it is shared.” I can safely say that I have grown into a happier man now that I know Facebook saved my life.