Disconnecting

It’s an old saying that you can’t go back home again. But I think that’s true of more than just places: I’m finding that it’s also true of social connections and habits.

Facebook was once a huge part of my life. I posted on it several times a day for many years, regularly maintaining friendships through interactions on the site. That peaked almost exactly five years ago, when a significant number of my FB friends helped me raise money to move back here. I’ll be forever grateful for that, truly. I count it as one of the luckiest blessings I’ve ever received.

But–and there’s always a but–it couldn’t last. About a year later, I tried going off social media for Lent and sort of missed it. I went back but that had planted the seeds for discontent with shallow social media friendships.

Then, I had my weird evangelical phase, which caused several of my old friends to leave me. I replaced them with new evangelical friends from church. While having in-person relationships was far more satisfying than strictly online ones, they were also temporary, contingent on shared circumstances. When I left the church, they left me, too. So then I lost most of my online friends and my church friends.

Somewhere in there, I also deactivated my FB account and was completely off most social media for more than nine months. Now, I’m back on the site, but it’s never again been the same. I lost the ability to maintain online connections so most of the ones I still have are just based on history.

I don’t know how to maintain friendships online without face-to-face contact anymore. I don’t know how to build community through blogging or social media, both of which I used to be very skilled at. I just can’t seem to do it anymore.

When I do post something where I hope to engage with people, it just kind of falls flat. I then feel self-conscious and stupid and often end up deleting what I posted.

The truth is that I need real-life friends. But it’s harder than ever to meet them in your mid-40s, when you no longer have little kids in school and the corresponding situational mom friends.

I do have a handful of friends but they either live far away or are busy with their own lives. I don’t have the energy for high-maintenance friendships but it would be nice to have someone to go to coffee with once in a while.

A Catholic church is not the kind of friendly place to make friends, not the way evangelical churches are. I really don’t know how to meet people in person. And I really don’t like the fake emptiness of making connections online anymore; I need more.

I don’t like the way that even if you’re trying to be genuine, online participation is still essentially a performance. We tell ourselves those are real friendships but most of them are just words on a screen.

Those friendships can be real. But they’re still a poor substitute for friends you can see and hug on a regular basis.

Staying home all day just amplifies the sense of loneliness. I find that I’ve turned to my phone a lot as a substitute for human company, just looking up stuff to distract myself. But I feel like this is deeply unhealthy.

I read this really interesting article in the New York Times about disconnecting from your phone in search of a more mindful life, staying connected to the present moment. About not using your phone as a distraction from boredom.

Yes. That resonated so much with me and is what I wish I could do. I thought about trying to do some kind of “digital detox” for Lent–I’m still considering it but am not sure yet if I can do it. The biggest concern that presents is that I realize how incredibly lonely it would be.

I need a job. I need places to go. People to have random conversations with. I was thinking earlier about some silly, inconsequential conversation I had with someone, and tried to remember who it was. Then it occurred to me that it was my hairstylist, whom I saw two weeks ago. Other than my husband and kids, that’s pretty much the extent of my social contact.

I’ve always been prone to social awkwardness. I don’t keep up with pop culture and don’t know what most people talk about. But I’m becoming more withdrawn, more isolated, as time goes on. I know that I desperately need to get out of the house, see more people, disconnect a lot from my phone and the internet.

It makes me sad to think about how much of my life I’ve wasted on the internet. I just don’t know how to do anything different, especially now at this stage of my life. I’m in limbo until my kids graduate and I can get a job. Even if I get disability, I’ll want a part-time job once the kids don’t need me for transportation anymore. If I don’t work day shift, it will be better for my health but take away time from the one solid relationship I have, with my husband.

I have to do something else and I don’t know how or what. But I do think I have to be done with Facebook and most social media. Nothing good has come of it since I went back after my nine-month break from the site. My life was much better overall when I was gone.

The internet in general and social media in particular is like an addiction, distracting a lot of people (including me) from just how lonely our lives often are. May I have the strength to leave it and the courage to find healthier alternatives.

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