A few days ago, I was scrolling through my Facebook News Feed when I saw a post that said, "Here's my Facebook movie. Find yours at https://facebook.com/lookback/ #FacebookIs10," above a collection of thumbnail photos. I thought it was just a fluke, so I continued to scroll.
The next day, my news feed was filled with "Here's my Facebook movie" posts, and comments like, "Your Facebook movie made me cry!"
I clicked "play" on my younger sister's Facebook movie. First, there was the dramatic music. And then, the titles slides: "A look back," "Your first moments," "Your most liked posts." My sister's video told the story of her meeting her now-husband, their dates and vacations and their wedding. It showed the announcement that she was pregnant with twins, belly bump pictures and her adorable newborns.
Right below her movie was that of a former colleague. I clicked "play" again, and pictures of her life for the past several years floated by: Cute, quirky images of her and her new boyfriend, her in her wedding dress gazing lovingly at him as he became her husband. A baby announcement. Baby bump pics. Her adorable newborn. Her smiling family, complete with dog.
It was like their standard dating-marriage-baby trajectory lives were meant for The Facebook Movie. It made me think about what my Facebook movie would look like.
Since I joined Facebook on December 15, 2007, I've been single. I have no pictures with my smile-stretched cheek pressed up against a man's face on a beach or mountaintop. No wedding dresses. No baby bumps. I scanned my own photos on Facebook. What would my story say?
There are photos of me alone, where I look pretty, poised in front of a candle on a piece of birthday cake, or at a bar. There are pictures of me smiling -- snapped at a moment when I was truly happy, or otherwise just trying to mask the sad. A series of professional photos of me doing yoga -- a high-arching bridge pose in front of the Brooklyn Library, a Warrior Three in the middle of a Park Slope street. A few food photos. A particularly delectable brunch. An especially refreshing iced coffee. There are a handful of pictures from work events, and a couple more from parties with friends. There are photos of me with the celebrities I met -- Gavin DeGraw (at the bar he owns after his concert) and Maxwell (on the street in NYC). There's my 20th high school reunion, me meeting my newborn twin nephews and falling in love with them at first sight, one summer Hamptons vacation, three New Year's Eves.
My sister's and former colleague's posts about being pregnant and giving birth and baby bump pics got hundreds and hundreds of Likes. I don't remember any posts about myself getting that many Likes. My most-liked post got 98 Likes, and it was about my sister having twins.
In the light of The Facebook Movie and its epic soundtrack, this -- my life -- looked meager and pathetic.
This is my true story since I joined Facebook:
On December 15th, 2007, at 32, I joined Facebook at the suggestion of one of my boss's clients. I was still in love with an emotionally unavailable man I'd been dating on and off in 2005 and 2006. In 2007, we'd sporadically hang out for a few weeks or a month, ostensibly as friends but with a strong flirtatious undertone, until it got too painful and I had to tell him not to contact me.
A few months after I joined Facebook in early March of 2008, he sent me a friend request and I ignored it. He followed up with teasing emails that said, "I see you still haven't accepted my friend request" and I ignored those, too. I loved him but I knew, somewhere far beneath my hoping and denial, that we weren't going to wind up together. I somehow had the foresight to know that if I accepted his request, I'd have to see posts about all the other women he'd date, and I'd one day have to go through the painful ritual of un-friending him so news about his life wouldn't haunt my feed.
One night around the time I was ignoring his friend request, we went out for drinks to celebrate getting my taxes done early, and kissed for the last time in a banquette at a Park Slope bar. We emailed back and forth for a little while after that, but he was skittish about getting involved again, and I'd run out of the energy to try to convince him to be with me and prove how fun and wonderful and lovable and worthy I was.
I spent two and a half years after that still in love with him. There are no pictures or posts about this on Facebook. Even though I'd ignored his Facebook friend request years before, I became addicted to compulsively checking his Twitter feed every day, where I eventually found out that he got married and had a child.
In the years since I joined Facebook, I've suffered from intense anxiety and crushing depression. I've felt core-piercing loneliness. I've hit dark, low bottoms, lying on the floor of my studio apartment heaving in hysterical tears, howling in desperation and pain in bed in the middle of the night, completely lacking the will to get up.
A month before the professional yoga photos were taken, with the cute one of me in a meditative seat sipping on an iced coffee, I was diagnosed with OCD after having a debilitating panic attack brought on by thinking I had bed bugs and obsessively checking my mattress and body for signs of them (I didn't).
I went on a low dose of Lexapro thinking that it would save me, and wound up having a bad reaction the medication that rendered me spaced-out and devoid of thoughts, unable to sleep at night and lying in bed all day.
In the summer of 2010, I found out that a man I'd been involved with in my late-20's died in a tragic accident.
A few months later, after almost a year of being unemployed and isolated and almost four years of not having had sex, I started having an affair with a married man who aggressively pursued me and made me feel alive for the first time since I'd kissed my ex on a Park Slope bar banquette two and a half years earlier. I did not change my relationship status.
After a six-week whirlwind of excitement and declarations of feelings and bliss, he abruptly ended things following a trip to his childhood home over Thanksgiving, his boyhood bedroom reminding him that he "didn't want to be that guy who cheats."
When he told me that he'd decided it was over between us, I lost my ability to function, crying for a week, not eating and struggling to get out of bed.
While I was involved with the married man, I became obsessed with checking his Facebook profile during the periods when he was out of touch, wondering why he had time to post a New York Times article but didn't have time to return my text. After he broke things off, I was assaulted with happy images of him and his family in my News Feed, and when he "wanted to be friends" and Liked one of my posts about my writing, the sight of his name bringing up waves of hurt at the same time as a deep longing for him, I had to go through the painful ritual of un-friending him.
A year and a half later, I wrote an essay about my affair with a married man. I posted it on Facebook. Seven people Liked it. Would this show up in my Facebook Movie?
Since I joined Facebook on December 15, 2007, I've tried to make it as a writer, teacher and entrepreneur, and I've teetered so close to the edge of running my bank account balance down to zero countless times, waking up in the morning to a suffocating heaviness pressing on my chest and my thoughts racing to figure out how I was going to pay my rent. Through the years, I've kept at my writing, and worked in fits and starts at my teaching, and have had several accomplishments, but have not yet achieved any sort of breakthrough success, despite that quote that I'm sure has been posted by someone on Facebook that says, "Do what you love and the money will follow."
My Facebook Movie would tell me: You started alone and you're still alone. You started out trying to succeed in your creative pursuits and you're still just trying. Nothing. Has. Changed. (And it never will, is the subtext of that argument.)
Since December 15, 2007, my life has been hard. Since long before that, really. But Facebook, and even the events that I've described above, don't and can't tell the full story.
Since I've joined Facebook, I also finally got over my ex, the one I kissed for the last time on a Park Slope bar banquette. I mourned the man I'd been involved with who died, and that brought me closer to the hopeful, passionate, creative younger self I was when I knew him. I moved on after the married man ended things with me, and swore off my pattern -- dangerous to myself and my well-being -- of becoming involved with any degree of unavailable man.
I found a great therapist and a spiritual practice that soothes and heals me. I've lost friends, and made new friends, lost those friends and made more. And in the process, I've learned about what I need in friendships, how to be myself and express my feelings and not get lost or disappear.
Last year, I got a hip injury, and I can't practice my beloved yoga anymore, at least for now. But I'm slowly rebuilding my strength by going to physical therapy, through the diligent self-care of doing my PT exercises at home and taking a beginner Pilates class.
I climbed my way out of financial chaos, have stable income and can tell you to the penny how much I earn and spend each month, and the earning is always more than the spending.
I've taught classes that my students told me changed their lives. I've been published on The Huffington Post, The Frisky, Psychology Today and more, written posts on my main blog, and started a yoga blog.
I've had hours and sometimes days strung together of joy, and been surprised by quiet moments of contentment. I've become skilled at being with what is, accepting the treasures and disappointments that are woven together to form my life, beyond what a video montage could capture and convey.
I've discovered that I have strength far beyond what I thought was possible, to show up for my life every single day, even when I didn't feel like getting out of bed. To face the days and months when I have lost the will to live, and keep walking anyway, trusting, even on days when I have no hope, that if I keep going, I'll make it out of the despair.
I've discovered that I can bear the pain of being 38 years old and never having had a healthy relationship, spending most of my life since I've joined Facebook and long before that really, single. I can accept that I truly have no idea what the future will bring -- whether it be a wedding dress and baby bump pics, or never meeting a man I connect with and spending the rest of my life alone -- and still hold onto hope, and keep walking, through OkCupid profiles and disappointing first dates, and on and on. Just cozying up to what is, and living my life day by day.
If my self-esteem isn't rock solid, which it rarely is, Facebook and the compare and despair it inspires can make me feel bad about myself. And the Facebook Movie is a news feed jacked up on steroids and set to music when it comes to compare and despair.
I briefly considered creating my own Facebook Movie, out of morbid curiosity mixed with radical self-acceptance.
"Go ahead, Facebook," I imagined saying to this imaginary thing. "Show me what you got! Show me just how pathetic you can make my husbandless, child-free life look! Show me just how bad you can make me feel. Gimme all you got MOTHERF**KER!!!"
But in the end, I decided not to create my Facebook Movie. Because I'm going to write my own story, motherf**ker.
Photo: My 1st Facebook Cover Photo: Warrior Me in Warrior Three, June 2010
Photo Credit: Mark Manne Photography