It happened again last night.
I lost a half hour crawling through Facebook. Which actually, comparatively speaking, isn’t actually that bad. It used to be worse. It could have been hours.
It wasn’t just me checking status updates. Because I can justify that. I need to know what’s going on, right?
Instead, I got sucked into a vortex of sentimentality and memory.
In bygone days, every once in awhile, we’d run into a kid from high school. And we’d sit and gossip—um, I mean, catch up—about classmates. Oh, damn, Jimmy became a born again father of five? Bob’s brother went to prison? And, oh no, Marika died? Holy crap! And then of course there are the marriages and divorces and important news such as the best looking kid in elementary school is now bald as a cue ball.
Catching up like this, maybe standing in the mall food court or on the street, we were transported back to the days of being 14, or 15, or 16: when life was fresh and visceral and emotional. The ties we made felt like they’d last a lifetime.
For those moments, we were brought back to days of adolescence, vivid new experiences and insecurities and all. And then we said goodbye, and slipped into each other’s pasts.
Until we’d run into another friend, or have a class reunion, our sentimental urges were held in check.
But the Internet and, yes, Facebook in particular, has changed that equation, hasn’t it? Now when I get a little nudge in my brain because I see a photo or smell a familiar scent, I can go hunt down that girl who I secretly had a crush on my senior year, or that friend who I heard had a drug problem, or maybe even a teacher I actually liked—without ever having to tell anyone.
It’s all so damned easy.
I can basically stalk people. It’s the Internet way. Except sometimes, I actually find them.
For example, oh wow, there’s Cynthia, my first love and first heartbreak. She looks happy. And wait, what’s that on her timeline? Oh, she entered a contest to win a new iPad.
Now, imagine a puff of smoke.
Because that’s what is happening, in real time, to my dreamy, perfect memory of her.
In my head she holds a special place where no flesh and blood person belongs.
In the past, I might have hit the friend button, hoping for the best. I did that back in the days when my real life friends started streaming onto Facebook. In a rare case or two, I really did reconnect, glad of renewing a friendship. But most of the time, I haven’t. Because well, we’re adults. We’re different people. We’re busy.
I realized in that moment that I don’t want Cynthia to be real. I don’t want to see that she entered an iPad contest, or found great strawberries on sale, or that her family went on vacation to Aruba, or how she feels about the senate’s latest shenanigans.
It’s not that I don’t care. It’s just that she belongs in my past—in my head, a foggy, inaccurate, beautiful memory.
If I connect with her again, she’ll become just another Facebook friend. The gloss and sweet sentimentality will fall away.
So Cynthia and Tina and Mary and David, I saw you tonight.
I’m glad you’re there and having a good life. I’m glad for your joys.
And for now, that’s enough.
I won’t be friending you tonight. Maybe another night, I will. Maybe after we run into each other on the street, if there’s some connection still there. But for now, I will leave you be. Because sometimes the past should stay in the past.
Janet Kornblum is a media trainer, writer and sentimentalist. If you knew her back when, send her a note. Or maybe not.
Photo by Janet Kornblum