I love Facebook.
My page—part diary, part cocktail party, part think tank—has become a place where friends, acquaintances and complete strangers come together and joke, flirt, share stories and have really smart and often tough conversations about everything from sex and love to gender and race.
I also love that I’m never sure who is going to pop up in my feed and when I’m bored or avoiding doing something more important, I scroll through my “People You May Know” box on the off chance I’ll bump into someone from my past or find someone I might want to be a part of my future. But mostly my friend suggestions involve people I don’t know and fall into one of these four categories: Guys who look like models, guys who look like porn stars, drag queens, and guys who look like models that do drag porn.
At least that was true until last night. And then everything changed and all of a sudden I noticed that my “People You May Know” box was overrun with a decade’s worth of guys that I’ve dated or hooked up with and then promptly forgot about (or actively took great pains to avoid).
There was the guy who was so arrogant that despite him having one of the prettiest dicks I’ve ever held in my left hand, I couldn’t make it past a second date with him. There was the guy who didn’t get any of my jokes and lived in what I imagine Freddy Krueger’s basement bachelor pad would probably look like. And there was the guy who literally chewed on my tongue while we were making out (and not in a good way).
At first I thought I must be on some kind of low budget cable access hidden camera show or maybe my roommate had spiked my chili with PCP, but when I mentioned the horror show that was unfolding on my page to my Facebook friends it became clear that I wasn’t the only one being haunted and/or hunted and my feed immediately filled up with comments like, “OMG WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?!?” “I thought I was going crazy” and “I noticed the change. Suddenly my vague work contacts were side by side with people I’ve seen naked. Memories…”
So, why is this happening and how do we make it stop? Facebook is infamously cagey when it comes to explaining their algorithms (and didn’t immediately respond to a request for a statement) but it appears that the social media site is using our contacts in our phones to put us (back) in touch with people we may have (purposefully) forgotten about.
Someone in my comments section mentioned that you can go to this page and see the imported phone numbers and delete them. However, he also noted that “even if you didn’t sync your phone book, if you provide your phone number to Facebook, you might get matched with other folks who have you in their phonebooks. So if you want to completely opt out, you need to take your phone number off Facebook. Also keep in mind that your phone book will be continuously synced so any new numbers you add might show up in People You May Know.” (This may not actually solve the problem, though, as some are reporting that people they’ve chatted with on Grindr and Tinder but never swapped numbers with are now popping up.)
After my initial hysteria wore off I started to wonder if maybe—just maybe—there was some good that could come out of this nightmare. And, of course, there is. It’s always a good idea to (re)consider how often and how easily we offer up personal information about ourselves and how often and how easily corporations can make use of that personal information. And on a very practical level, it’s a good reminder to clean out my phone book (something I haven’t done in years—if ever) more often.
But beyond that, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that not every hook up or relationship was awful and a few of the faces that I saw in my “People You May Know” box were guys I actually had a really nice time with and, for one reason or another, we just never hung out again. I’m not saying that I’m going to contact all (or any) of these guys or that I’m having (or at least indulging) fantasies about finding my husband in the ruins of a once forgotten one-night stand, but I like the idea of remembering—of memory—and honoring those experiences (even the terrible ones) as being part of building who I am today. In our culture of the quick fix and the even quicker orgasm, when we’re often so ready to flee from something that feels scary or challenging, being confronted by our failures can reveal how much we’ve grown.
That doesn’t mean I really want to be reunited with mister arrogant pretty dick or Freddy Krueger or the tongue chewer. Some experiences and people belong in the past and that’s an important lesson too. But I am going to take Facebook’s lead and consider that maybe I judged some of those other guys a little too quickly and they might deserve another chance or—at the very least—a Facebook friend request.
UPDATE: A representative from Facebook said in an email, “We don’t take data from Grindr or Tinder to inform the people you may know feature.”
This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post and has been reprinted with permission.