Just when I thought I'd jumped every online hurdle, I answered a calling from a higher cyber-power. Facebook.
I live in the South Suburbs of Chicago - my best friend is on the Main Line of Philadelphia. Even though we talk or email daily, who was I to thwart another way to keep in touch? But Facebook? Wasn't that for teens to collect friends the way we once collected shells at the Jersey shore, filling the bucket with not only the best but the broken?
And if it's not just for teens and the partying twenty-something crowd, why was I so put off? After all, I am a writer already in the public eye with old blogs and new blogs; essays and articles online and in print. For the past six years I'd been on JDate, JMatch, Match, JCafe, eHarmony and other current and defunct Jewish or non-denominational matching sites.
So what was the big deal about putting my 44-year-old face on Facebook? For one thing, these people knew me long ago. I'd shared my life story with strangers, let blogging pals into my life -- yet this for some reason was daunting. People on Facebook are real even before you make any connections.
But not wanting to be left behind on anything sweeping through my demographic, I signed in. Or signed on. Or signed up. Or did I join? Whatever I did, I found myself with a Facebook page. And then, as if by magic, I found myself with Facebook Friends and my own personal Big Bang. The past and present collided and the result was something both catastrophic and amazing.. It wasn't long before I found the little girl (now 41) with whom I shared a bedroom wall in our Philadelphia row homes for most of my childhood, the girls I played Barbies with on our cement patios along with the boys who played wall-ball, who were now men with families. I found sorority sisters from college and elementary school friends found me. I discovered you can peruse others' lists of friends, further closing the gap on degrees of separation. I found two of my second cousins on friends of friends friends lists -- and added them to mine.
But before I knew it, I had a virtual bone to pick. Everyone was married. And thin. And I, being neither, was having a fundamental issue with this. I have come to terms with everyone being married when supposedly the divorce rate is upwards of 60%. After all, I live in a picket fence suburb outside Chicago. Everyone IS married. But on Facebook? It not a single's site but statistically I was certain to find a plethora of single old friends and acquaintances. Wrong again.
And not only that, but everyone looked so...good. And so happy. I knew enough people in the real world to know it wasn't so. Could it be that the once destination neighborhood of Northeast Philly was the breeding ground for successfully married, happy and thin adults?
Not likely. The answer came in posting my own photo. It's like online dating - which I've done for six years. No one intentionally posts a bad photo of herself or himself -- or of a spouse. No one posts pictures of a messy house or fighting kids or the boring part of a summer vacation where the kids' noses are buried in video games. The revelation came with a sign of relief, and I posted my picture and my story, and more pictures, old and new.
Facebook for the mid-forties me is a living yearbook of my life.
But it created an insatiable desire for more. I logged on and looked and read and posted. I knew who went to the grocery store and who was excited about the weekend. I racked my brain. Who else had passed through my life in any of the five states I'd lived in since 1990? College? High School? Which online acquaintances were real enough to warrant a friend request? I even "friended" one of my favorite authors.
And that's when I realized that Facebook lends us a false sense of familiarity. Facebook Friend or not, even though we are both admittedly not-so-thin Jewish moms and writers from Philadelphia, much to my chagrin - it is not likely that I will ever really be friends with Jennifer Weiner.
I've tempered my relationship with Facebook to stay cemented in real life. I receive fewer notices and announcements; I've opted out of Facebook "stories." When I have the time and ambition I do scour the site for photos, threads of conversation between people who knew each other in 8th grade, where I learn their vacation plans, their favorite gifts and their kids' report card grades. I have friends who post from cruises when a spouse is doing limbo. I like to think if that was me, I'd be getting a massage, not updating my Facebook page, but you never know.
Strangely, old friends don't make me feel old. They make the rope that connects the past to the present, taut instead of loose, the way my real-life friends and I look when we pull back our necks and cheeks . But like those momentary, martini-induced facelifts, chances are these most connections are also temporary.
If I logged off Facebook forever, I wouldn't miss it -- but I do enjoy it. It's the same way I feel about fat free chips -- delicious, but the real thing is better.
I was just about to sign off for the evening when the name of an old friend popped into my head. The search field beckoned me. Type, type, type, find. And there she was. I wrote a short note and clicked the box for a friend request. She replied within hours with a jubilant note full of multiple exclamation marks. Of course she remembered me!!! She, too, had many fond memories of our friendship!!! She was thrilled to reconnect after 27 years!!! She remembered everything I remembered!!! Seeing my 44-year-old face on Facebook made her smile!!!
Whether we ever correspond again or not, the ability to make someone smile and share happy memories may be a reason in itself to stay connected any way we can - at any age.
Follow Amy Sue Nathan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@AmySueNathan