Friend Is a Verb
To friend or not to friend?
When I left my job as a self-loathing soap opera writer, I felt unmoored. After nine years spent working my way up a script assembly line, I’d lost touch with most friends from my old life as actress and playwright. My stint as an edgy peg trying to squeeze into a sentimental hole had left me exhausted and disconnected. I e-mailed my final soap script into the ether, and, for the first time in nearly a decade, I had time and brain-space to write about whatever I wanted. Panicked, I sat down at the keyboard and promptly threw myself into a Google-loop, falling down rabbit hole after rabbit hole of random information. Anything to avoid the empty Word document waiting on the other screen for my brilliance to scroll magically across it.
That’s how I found Facebook.
I’d never warmed to Myspace: too chaotic, but as I moused around Facebook, it was easy to find people I knew, virtually hanging out together in a spiderweb of e-relationship, waiting to be “Friended”. Reconnecting no longer required a lengthy mea culpa. Apology was implied by the click of someone’s inviting royal blue “Add as Friend” button, which faded to a patient grey request-in-waiting until said person clicked “Confirm,” completing the link: the millennial version of the secret handshake. Until “Confirmation”, the button remains expectant: colorless and un-selectable, obsessive clicking not allowed. One finds Friend-bait by typing names into the “Search” box or checking out Friends’ Friends and Friending people you know in common. It’s not procrastinating; it’s “networking.” It says so on my profile.
After my initial manic Friending-frenzy, I felt as if I belonged again, back in the social stream. I hadn’t managed to get dressed or leave the house, but I was out there. There was, however, a lingering undercurrent of anxiety: what if the friends I’d reached out to rejected my requests? All they had to do was click “Ignore.” I’d just spent nine years being ignored by people who didn’t ‘get’ me at a job I disliked. I wasn’t sure my self-esteem could withstand any more sideswipes.
For someone whose family had, early on, installed a rudder called guilt in her psyche, a behavior remote control, there was an uglier possibility: what if someone I didn’t like tried to Friend me? I’d pull up my e-mail and there would be some frenemy inviting themselves into my newly reclaimed life. Is it cruel to say “No?” Is cruelty necessarily a bad thing? Tied in knots, I clicked Facebook’s FAQs for guidance. Good news. Someone else shared my selective misanthropy:
Q: If I ignore a Friend request, will they find out?
A: No. When you ignore someone, his/her friend request will leave your list of friendships to confirm, and they will not be notified.
When confronted, blame the technology. Not likely to happen, though. Any clueless, desperate loser who wants to Friend someone who hates them will probably assume I’m too intellectually elevated to check my Facemail more than twice a year. I wish.
I quickly collected over a hundred Facebook Friends from all phases of my life: high school, college, plays I’d been in, plays I wanted to be in, classes, dog run, picket line, Weight Watchers; even yogis Facebook. My profile became a crazy quilt of my existence.
I avoided Friending all but a few from the soap world, but when I spotted Aida’s profile, I eagerly requested her Friend-ship. Aida and I wrote together at the soap formerly known as my job, and I genuinely liked her. Her work was fresh and fearless, and I appreciated her low-maintenance manner. As script editor, I was forced to appear at the writer’s office once a week for what I called the Monday morning “beating;” the posturing around that conference table was so elaborate it would not have seemed out of place in Cirque du Soleil. Lucky scriptwriters like Aida got to write from home, working the virtual commute. Located on opposite coasts, we never met, but we shared lively e-talk, both of us daytime writers with primetime dreams. The burgeoning friendship meant a lot to me, even after I left the show. Although we’d never laid eyes on each other, I felt I’d found a kindred spirit.
As the weeks wore on, however, the fact that Aida still hadn’t “Confirmed” my Friend Request gnawed at the edges of my self-worth. The occasional click of her Facebook profile revealed “Add as Friend” still grey: she was taking her sweet time deciding on my Friend-worthiness. I chose to believe she was too intellectually elevated to check her Facemail more than twice a year.
Soon, though, Aida’s indecision began to seriously irk me. I mean, it was just an “Add” request, not matching tattoos. Facebook is the lazy person’s way to stay connected, but it suited my lifestyle. Shut up in my writing cave, I could be in the world in a virtual sense; all it required was a daily “Status Update” like “Leslie Nipkow is sleepy,” “is an Obamaniac” or “is upset [NAME HERE] got voted off last week.” But Aida’s non-Friending made me feel as if I was the one who’d been kicked off the island.
There had been one uncomfortable incident: I’d unwittingly passed along a juicy tidbit of workplace gossip to a former colleague. Aida had an opportunity unfairly blocked by a jealous boss, and I was outraged on her behalf. In my defense, she never said it was a secret. I assumed people knew; if I’d been in her shoes, I would have told CNN, but she was a more political creature than I. When the story got back to her, she sent me a brisk e-mail, dressing me down. I apologized profusely, and thought she’d forgiven me, that we’d handled ourselves like adults, but maybe not. I dug through old e-mails, Talmudically parsing her ex-communications to suss out the hate, but couldn’t, even on third and fourth readings. Aware that I was slightly whack about the situation, I resisted getting a reality check from a flesh and blood friend. I knew I was overreacting, but was powerless to stop. Why had she left me hanging? What about me was so ignorable?
Fed up with the soap opera in my own mind, I decided to confront the situation head – or rather-e-mail-on. I composed a breezy, oblivious missive. “When you get a chance, Friend me on Facebook, so I can keep up with you!” She replied chattily that the Facebook thing skeeved her. “Too many worlds colliding. xoxA.” She’d had virtual strangers reaching out online. I felt inadequate. I’d only had two unknowns seek my Friend-ship: a young woman with the same last name and a hungry realtor. I ignored one of them.
I was relieved to know the problem was Facebook, not me. Aida just wasn’t into Friending. Or so I assumed until the next time I clicked on her profile to see the “Add as Friend” button resurrected: bright blue and once again clickable, as if my Request never existed. Hmm. Back to FAQs, where I found no answer for: “How do you know if somebody secretly hates you?” Ridiculous. Aida signed her e-mails “xox.” My request probably just expired. Needing to know, I wrote the Facebook powers-that-be, explaining that I was taking my non-Friending personally; that, yes, I was insane, but not clinically, and, on the Worldwide Web scale of things, certainly not dangerous. As promised, they responded within 48 hours with a cryptic message that I should be reassured, when “she” next logged on, she’d see my Friend request. I read between the lines: “Chill. The woman clearly has better things to do with her time than social networking.” Whatever. I was grateful to still be in the running for Aida’s Friend.
Feeling better, I clicked back to her profile and re-requested her Friend-ship, in case it had slipped her superior mind. Of course, she’d want to be my friend, right? I’m cool, successful, and I used to be her boss for heaven’s sake. I’m no loser.
Or so I thought until my next click-by, when a sizeable banner popped up: “ERROR: There is already a friend request with Aida pending.” Subtext: “What are you, a stalker?” The sight of the banner worked on me like a red cape in front of a Spanish bull. Something was not right. Just to be sure the Facebook m.o. hadn’t changed, I clicked on another profile, someone I’d Friend-quested that morning. No banner. My heart sank. Having Ignored the hungry realtor, I knew there was a steroid-fueled Ignore option: “Block This Person.” According to Facebook FAQs, doing so removed you from said pathetic loser/stalker/blocked person’s “Search Options,” Facebook’s version of a Restraining Order. Had I been issued a Friendship Cease and Desist? Only one way to find out.
I typed Aida’s first and last name into the Search box, where previously I’d found her profile. The program responded: “There are no results for Aida. Make sure all words are spelled correctly.” Vaporized. My last hope was that she’d made good on her e-mail and quit the ‘Book. On fire now, I clicked a colleague’s profile to check his Friend list, and there was Aida smiling back at me, as if she hadn’t unfairly branded me a virtual stalker in the eyes of the Facebook gods. The rejection hit me so hard, so personally, it was like Aida had casually booted me off a cliff at the climax of my own grand opera, drowning my screams with the sound of her diva-tastic high C.
My safe zone had been breached. I no longer needed to leave the house to be branded not good enough. I was confused. I had no idea Aida disliked me. Or maybe she didn’t want to appear on my Friends List in case her boss punished her for our continued association. It wouldn’t be the first time for him. But why would she lie? And where, exactly, was the subterfuge? In her Facebook behavior or her e-mailed “xox”? Which was the fake Aida? How would I know? We’d never had coffee. Never spoken old-school on the phone. What grounds could she possibly have for taking out a TRO on my Friend-ship?
My lower self wanted to fire off a note: “I see you’ve blocked me on Facebook,” I’d write with a virtual toss of the head. “Message received. It’s been real. I won’t bother you again.” But that would bolster her stalker theory. A pen and ink “how could you?” letter wouldn’t work, either; I didn’t know her address. Would it really have been so unreasonable to “Add” me? For heaven’s sake, it’s just a website, albeit one where you’re beamed back to the diaspora of middle school. Even then I never asked anyone to be my friend unless I already knew the answer. Kindred spirit, shmirit. I’d been deluded, and now I was hurt and ashamed; I felt like an uncool fool. The freakiest freak on Facebook.
I tried to stir my chi by plotting revenge, but my hands were tied. I couldn’t block Aida because she’d already blocked me. And would she even care? I couldn’t call her up because I didn’t have her phone number. Besides, already devastated, I couldn’t afford to add pathetic to the mix without upping my Zoloft. The only thing to do was to become intergalactically successful, and then, when she crawled to me for a job, shove her off a career cliff to the tune of my diva-tastic high C. Normally, a sadistic revenge fantasy would light my fire, sending me to work spinning pain into prose, lifting my spirits in the process, but not this time. I was Carrie at the Prom.
Like a lonely puppy, I couldn’t resist one last glance at Aida’s profile. In case she’d changed her evil ways, I typed her first and last names into the Search box. ERROR. I clicked our colleague’s profile to confirm Aida was still his Friend. But this time, looking at her, something struck me as strange. I stared for a long moment and then realized: she uses three names: first, middle, last. OMG. I carefully typed Aida’s revised handle into the Search box and…up she popped, complete with tumescent grey “Add as Friend” button-in-waiting. I’d been neither Blocked, nor Ignored. I took a deep breath and realized: the answer was obvious: Aida is too intellectually elevated to check her Facemail more than twice a year.
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