In mid-September, I turn 40. There are plenty of memes about turning 40 that are pretty terrific, not to mention I have contracted pneumonia in my final days of 39. A dear friend offered to bring “birthday soup.” Nothing quite signals old age as much as birthday soup. And to be frank, I turned the kind offer down because hubris exists for a reason.
But what many people enjoy on their birthdays, beyond the freebies and celebrations with loved ones, are the Facebook greetings, where random friends and family, some of whom are markedly absent until a birthday, write sticky-sweet congratulations and notes of “I hope this revolution around the sun is your best yet!” I will admit, I loved the little notes and upvotes as much as the next person. Adoring fans, sweet hellos and congratulations, and serotonin boosts charm most of us.
Yet, eight years ago in April 2010, I left Facebook for good. My departure was not for moral objections or concerns about privacy, though those concerns are valid. No, I left because I broke off a wedding engagement to a good man, but not the right man. And when you decide to leave someone you love, going through a real-life and virtual break-up becomes more than fraught. It becomes a messy and heartbreaking process with the very real re-alignment of friends, observing others go down a path you have left, and a host of concerned “what happened’s?” Nurses and social workers deal with compassion fatigue, and those of us experiencing social media fatigue know that comparison (perhaps even more than desire) is the root of all suffering.
Letting go of what my “social network” thought about my broken engagement was liberating, even though some of my friends and acquaintances thought I had defriended them or died. Suddenly, I had more time on my hands. I planned a birthday trip to Austin, Texas with my bestie, got my nose pierced, rented a sunlit apartment in St. Louis’ Southwest Garden District, a quick walk to the Missouri Botanical Garden, slept on my couch far longer than I should have, and finally learned how to roast a damned chicken and enjoy being alone. Who is to say whether these life lessons would have come about with Facebook in my life? Yet, not worrying about writing status updates, checking in on folks I would otherwise not see, or stressing over someone tagging me in a photo I could live without, freed me up to do the personal work necessary to reimagining myself in my early 30s.
As I say goodbye to this decade, leaving Facebook was one of my better decisions. Sure, friends have nagged me to get back in the saddle, and I have always declined, sometimes to their frustration. I am not a social-media recluse or snob, but I do expect my involvement in any current or future site to be useful, enriching, and fun. Truthfully, Facebook is just as temporary as MySpace, Friendster, and a host of other defunct social media sites. There is always something better, brighter, more enticing on the horizon. Perhaps that is one of the best lessons of my 30s—while I am committed to self-improvement and -awareness, I am less concerned about keeping up with superficial connections or someone else’s definition of success. As for birthday wishes, if I know you, we will hang out once I feel better, minus any birthday soup.