Scorched Earth. Will I Rise from the Ashes?

The morning of January 1, 2018 I turned on my computer and logged into Facebook.  I read a few posts, and then went into my account settings.  When I arrived at the right page, I took a deep breath, hovered for a moment, and then hit "Request Deletion" button.

It was easier than I expected it to be.  I didn't even ask to download the archives first.  I burned the whole thing down.  No one but my mother and my husband knew I would be doing this.  I had over three hundred friends sleeping off their hangovers who had no idea they wouldn't see me when they logged into their Facebook accounts that morning.

There is a good chance if you're reading this right now, you noticed my absence and are wondering what happened.  You came to my blog for answers.

It is also possible you are here for any other reasons.  Maybe you are just a Red Dwarf fan who came here by accident.

Whether you want the answer or not, this post is here to provide one for you.  What were my issues with Facebook and why did I take such drastic measures to deal with them?

The first reason is the same reason many users abandon their Facebook accounts.  I was addicted.  Facebook doesn't only provide entertainment and interaction.  It provides validation.  I admit I sought that validation.  I wanted that burst of approval on my posts.  I wanted the attention.  It's just part of my personality.  My childhood consisted of being coddled, adored, and admired at home, but brutalized and rejected by my peers in the outside world.  At home I was conditioned to expect adoration and praise.  At school and other areas, I was told I was worthless, ugly, uninteresting, and abnormal. (I admit I had atrocious social skills growing up, but I was not properly taught to face difficult situations, and that created a perpetuating cycle, because my poor coping skills brought on more bullying, which caused me to interact less, and thus my coping skills continued to degrade.)  Facebook provided me a place where I could show off what I have become, and let the world know just how witty and interesting I am now. In my virtual world I had three hundred friends. On any given day I might receive positive feedback from as many as twenty of them.  I became dependent on this feedback and the need to have something new to show off.   Seeking this feedback was ruining my productivity.

I left Facebook more than once.  Once I just logged off and didn't log in again for three months.  Another time I deactivated for almost a year.  During those times I read more books, wrote more blog posts, did more housework, and was more attentive at my job.  Facebook addiction doesn't happen to all users.  Some people log in once a day or once a week and get what they need from it and move on.  I am not one of those people.  I was always checking at every free moment.

Why would I do something so radical as delete my account when I could deactivate for a while and try to come back with a clear head and a fixed schedule?

Assuming I will come back (and I don't know if I will yet), I know deleting the account will prevent me from taking a  "peek".  I did my share of that during other breaks.  Sometimes the visits were harmless.  Other times I would find my feed full of inflammatory posts that would only put me in a bad mood and cause too much emotional stress.  It was putting me back into the same state of mind I wanted to escape.  The need to lash out and respond was interfering with my need to stay out of the fray and be more productive in other areas of my life.

After I returned to Facebook from my last break, nothing changed permanently.  In fact, I found myself wanting to speak my mind no matter what the consequence.  I thought time off would make me more likely to want to stay above the fray.  I found it had the opposite affect.  I was tired of being nice and trying to avoid hurting people when it seemed no one else felt the same way.  I said what I wanted to say and decided to let others decide if they could handle it or not.  This would become my other reason for deleting - the passive-aggressive reason.

I don't think I lack empathy, but I have always lacked filters.  I often want to speak my mind come what may.  I will argue my point to the figurative death.  I'm stubborn that way.  Unfortunately, I also have a thin skin (see above regarding my social skills).  I won't stay out of the kitchen, but I can't take the heat.  (I have something in common with Donald Trump after all.)  In my last year on Facebook I began seeing my friends fall away.  At first nobody unfriended me, however it was clear some friends were unfollowing me.  Friends I interacted with regularly no longer responded to my posts.  I couldn't even get a "Happy Birthday" on July 16th.  They even ignored the likes and comments I put on their posts. Most of them wouldn't unfriend me, since that would make them the "bad guy", but they could still pretend I didn't exist.

A few months ago I decided to be the "bad guy" myself and began unfriending the friends who no longer seemed interested in interacting with me.  I didn't use politics, or religion, or musical taste or whatever silly reason we unfriend each other is.  I merely unfriended  people who had not given me any sort of contact for six months or more.  I defined contact as a simple like on a post or a photo or an acknowledgement (including a simple like) on one of their posts.  I also unfriended the friends who had been sitting on my friends list for years with no interaction at all.  I unfriended people who had interacted with me regularly prior to my flight from Facebook, but quickly disappeared once I returned.  I unfriended more liberals than conservatives (it seems some of my liberal friends were irked by my stance on pseudoscience, quackery, vaccines, and GMOs and stopped following me).  I unfriended people I have known since childhood even though I hold no animosity toward them.  My view was, "We will always be friends, but Facebook is not the place where we conduct our friendship."  I didn't unfriend everyone I had ceased interaction with,  but I had a list of people I planned to unfriend at the end of the year if I didn't hear anything from them.

It wasn't until I was unfriended by someone I had once considered a dear friend that I finally decided to shut the whole thing down.  I was unnecessarily angry that someone who cared about me could no longer bear to look at my posts or let me look at his.  I know it was over politics, but this is a guy who used to send political emails directly to my personal email.  (We're talking stuff like comparing welfare recipients to pigs or saying 9/11 happened because Americans did not give proper due to his God.)  How dare he unfriend me!  I was even more miffed because he remained friends with my husband - a man he has never met and only knows my friend as my college friend who blew off our wedding.  I decided to do him one better.  I blocked him.  He wasn't not entitled to stay in touch with me through our mutual friends.  He was never going to see anything I posted anywhere.   I admit it was vindictive.  It was a symptom of just how much I had let Facebook affect me emotionally.

That's when I realized I needed to take a "scorched earth" approach.  I couldn't just leave Facebook.  I needed to destroy it.

Facebook does serve a purpose.  Even though I wish this wasn't the case, it is the only way I regularly keep in touch with some of my far-flung friends.  I have written before about how it makes me feel guilty that my friends who use Facebook as a primary way of staying in touch now have to make an extra effort to stay in communication with me.  Also, I have a lot of fun with some of my Facebook friends.  I enjoy the banter and camaraderie I have with certain people who may not be close friends but are part of my daily Facebook encounters.

There are also friends whom I only know through online interactions.  There are friends I met through online forums I used to be a member of, or through online games, or through MySpace.  Facebook wasn't just a way I kept in communication with them.  It was the only way.  I will miss them and hate to lose them if I leave Facebook forever.

I worried about leaving more than I should. I was thinking about returning in the spring in time to promote the Harrison Players production of Mame.  As a board member don't I owe them the publicity?  I rationalized this by saying Harrison Players have a Facebook publicity machine of their own (and I'm thinking of leaving the board anyway).  I have many mutual friends with the group.  They will find out about the show and decide to go or not.  The non-mutual friends who aren't my family will not likely come see the play.

I also worried about my friends who use Facebook as a support network, but I eventually decided that was a poor reason to stay on.  I know I have friends who are going through tough times right now.  I would like to help, but I'm not sure if my putting likes and words of encouragement are my best means of support.  I don't do thoughts and prayers.  I tell my friends who need help to let me know what I can do offline.  If you need my help, you will receive it, but you don't need Facebook to ask for it.

When will I return - if I return at all?  I can't answer that question right now.  I need several solid months of being off Facebook before I know if the benefits outweigh the negatives.  I am online in other capacities.  I have these blogs.  I am on Google+ and I am on Instagram.  If I ever find a new job, I'll return to Twitter.  (I shut down my Twitter because I couldn't figure out how to limit who saw my posts without making it totally private the way you can on Facebook.  I didn't want to turn off any potential employers with my posts.)   Please note I will NEVER be on Snapchat.  I hate those hideous filters.  Leaving Facebook means I have one less place where I have to look at another one of my friends wearing dog ears or bug eyes.

If I return, I will be starting over completely fresh.  I will not collect friends.  I will not make friend requests to people just because I know them.  I want an edited list of friends I can have fun interactions and intelligent discussion with.  I will not make friend requests to people who made it clear in the first go-around that they weren't going to talk to me online anymore.  I will accept friend requests from others, but if you're going to be my Facebook friend, I need to know you're going to actually keep me in your feed.  I don't need constant comments and discussions.  I only ask for a "like" now and then - even if it's just on a photo, and an occasional acknowledgement (again, it could just be a "like") of comments I make on your posts.  We will always be friends, but we can conduct our friendship on places other than Facebook.

Happy New Year to all of my friends.  Maybe one day I'll see you on Facebook again.  If I don't, I look forward to seeing you elsewhere.  Remember, you can always contact me by email, phone, or (*gasp*) seeing me in person.


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