I’ve been online almost every day since 1995. My earliest use of the internet for social contact was listserve groups. I was a very early adopter of Facebook since I joined when I was in college and it was only open to students at that time.
I think I had a much stronger online persona then. Certainly, it was polarizing. Some people really liked me and some people really didn’t. I was unconcerned with the people who disliked me and just said whatever I wanted to say.
But somewhere along the way, everything changed. I stopped being able to form new close online relationships and to this day my online friendships are people I’ve interacted with for more than 15 years. I can’t really pinpoint one specific reason why it’s harder for me to make those connections now–I can actually point to several.
First and foremost, my former friendship really damaged my self-esteem and I am still working through that in therapy. I’m afraid that new friends will be as vicious to me as she was.
Related to that, I also care a lot more now about what people think of me. I don’t have as much confidence to be truly myself, even if I provoke polarizing reactions. I now fear polarized reactions, which has made me shut down and feel unwilling to really express whatever thoughts are in my head. I am still so mad at myself and at her for fucking with my head so badly.
The political landscape has changed significantly. The nature of Facebook itself has also significantly changed and I greatly dislike the tone it has taken. I’m much more conscious that I will piss people off if I express my true thoughts there. I didn’t used to care about that.
But when my own mother-in-law blocked and unfriended me on there, it made me hyper-conscious of the fact that we’re now living in an age where having the opposite view of someone is intolerable. I’m often guilty of the same intolerance, as I tend to negatively judge people on the far right end of the spectrum and Trump supporters (who are often the same people.)
Things changed when I moved down here, too. I once made my struggle and my low socioeconomic status a big part of my identity. I’m still a diehard defender of the lower class but I’m no longer a member of it. That’s a big shift that I haven’t yet been able to reconcile–although I may return to the lower class whenever I’m widowed.
But things also really changed when I attended the evangelical church for two years. A lot of my old friends distanced themselves from me then and haven’t come back. I wish I could tell them that’s not really who I am now and that I cringe with embarrassment when I see posts from that time come up in my user history. But at the same time, if they were really my friends, wouldn’t they have stood by me or at least be open to giving me another chance? The fact that I explored religion is part of who I am but so is the fact that I’m no longer in that mind space.
Sadly, explorations with religion are another one of those issues about which some people are intolerant. Many of them claim they’re so non-judgmental but religion is the exception. But again, religion was just something I explored and found that it didn’t work for me anyway.
More than anything, I still feel like I’ve lost my true voice and maybe that’s what people are really reacting to. I have my views and they’re actually very strongly held but for many reasons, I don’t feel safe to express them. So now my internet persona is boring, middle of the road, out of sync with my real self. No wonder that doesn’t attract anyone. I guess that’s another thing to discuss in therapy–along with how to get my true voice back and where to express it.