A year ago, I moved from a city that was loud, bold, bright, anxious, and sometimes dangerous for the quiet of a home in the country nestled between a Mayberry-esque community and a small college town. Ten yards from my home, cable is not available. I have to travel down a quarter mile gravel road to get to both my mailbox and the main road. I am surrounded by the woods. I love it. (I love it all except for the snakes.)
Because I work from home, it can sometimes feel lonely, though because I have an incredible group of friends online that have seen both the worst and best of me and still manage to like me anyway, I was never really alone. Some are friends from childhood, others from old writing groups, some are friends from online groups, some are sources for work, some from my former life in my former city, and others are friends of friends.
Earlier this year, a community that felt like a family to me fell apart when a member left and an ultimatum was given by the group admin, someone I loved and respected very much – if you want to be friends with her, then there is no place for you here. That didn’t sit well with me, so I left in hopes of being able to remain friendly with everyone. These were my people and this was my tribe, but I wasn’t going to cut someone out of my life because someone told me to, especially when that someone happened to be one of my best friends and she spent hours holding my hand as I was going through difficult things in my life. It also didn’t sit well with me that admins of this community sent messages inquiring about my friends list and scolded and attempted to guilt me when community members were not on it. To me, that overstepped boundaries. The community was apart of my Facebook life, but my Facebook life was not only the community. To have my friends list monitored felt both controlling and nefarious to me.
The upshot of this experience is that it really made me question my relationships with people and the connections that I have with them. Are they real? Are they convenient? Do I trust them? Can I trust them? Do they only come to me when the chips are down and they need someone to talk to or is our friendship based on life’s highs and lows? When I left the city, one of the promises I made to myself was that I would find community here for me and my daughter. While my daughter has found her place, I had yet to put any effort into finding mine.
There was another shift I noticed about how I was connecting with people – or not connecting with people. I used to talk on the phone a lot. I stopped doing that unless it was work related. Even then, I dreaded it. My friends and I used to send each other long emails sharing with one another our thoughts, our hopes, and what was happening in our lives. Though it was still electronic communication, we really connected with one another in a way a few text messages a day just doesn’t allow. And, when I am around people, I’m rude. I get a notification chime on my phone, and I am distracted by it. I am not in the moment and in the present.
I take responsibility in this shift of connection in my life. In this, I failed. And in this, I’m a hypocrite. I discuss the importance of connecting with those around us. I truly believe that we all are more alike that we are different. I truly believe that we all want the same things at the end of the day – love, friendship, security, kindness, happiness, contentment – despite the things that divide us like location, politics, religion, or socioeconomics. I call them the common threads of humanity that run through each of us. But, here’s the thing: I’m rarely connecting at all. In fact, there are some people I have entire relationships with only in the comments of Facebook statuses. By saying this, I in no way mean that online friendships aren’t real. They are. I just know know I need to do better and be better. I know I need to be more engaged. I know I need to disconnect in order to find that. Facebook makes it easy. Everything in one place. But, I don’t want easy. I want real.