The False Intimacy of a Facebook Friend
On the awkwardness of an encounter where you are "friends" but also strangers.
“Well hello Dannielle Blumenthal,” she said to me, a complete stranger.
I stood there for a moment, bewildered. Am I supposed to know you? If I am, I can’t remember your name.
“Hi, uh…” I replied, trying to buy time and avoid having to say her name in return. But before I had to say anything else, she said something else to me.
“I loved your post on the donut,” she said.
“Uh…” Who is this woman? What is the post she’s referring to?
I tried doing an internal Google search of my brain of all posts on all media with the keyword “donut” somewhere inside.
Not an inkling, and it showed.
“We’re Facebook friends,” she said, which made me turn red as I obviously did not know who the hell I was friends with on Facebook whatsoever.
“It was your post on the struggle not to eat the donut. How you Googled ’emotional eating.’ You must know that one, it was just the other day.”
She looked a little worried about me, or maybe she was suspicious. Who the hell are you again?
Suddenly I did remember, “Yeah, yeah. Oh yeah!” I said brightly. “Oh that post. I know. What a struggle. Yeah.”
I really wanted out of that hallway conversation. And fast.
It reminded me of another time I was sitting in a Starbucks, late for a meeting.
The place was jammed that time of day, and I was grateful to have gotten a seat in the corner. I plopped my bag up on the little circular table.
It took a few minutes to get my email off the phone because reception was bad, but when I looked up I saw an acquaintance I’d known for many years. I guess we were sort of “close,” you could say, the kind of “close” where you act like you’re great friends when you see them, even if you never go out of your way to make plans.
She was sitting in the far opposite corner from me, also with her bag plopped on the table, also checking her phone.
I thought she saw me, but then I guessed she hadn’t, because wouldn’t she catch my attention if she had?
What is her name? I knew I knew what it was, but at the same time I’m one of those people who remembers a face faster than a name.
Quickly and surreptitiously I looked her up in my Google Contacts, imagining a thousand deaths of embarrassment over her stopping by and me not knowing her name. Her, an acquaintance of more than fifteen years!
The clock struck five to three and I had to go. Figuring she must have been really preoccupied, but determined to be friendly and say hello, I purposely made my way toward the side where she sat.
At some point, it seemed, she’d picked up the phone. Was she on the phone the whole time and I missed it? I asked myself. That’s strange.
Yes, she saw me. I gave her that smile, that big phony smile you force out when you see someone whose appearance should make you cheerful.
I paused thinking she’d wave me down, and we would sit and chat for a couple of minutes.
But when she waved, it was a wave of goodbye, a wave of get the hell away from me, I’m pretending to be on the phone, and I felt it in my shoulders. Like a push with two hands, like being shoved facedown into the snow.
I pushed the metal doorframe out and felt the freezing air all around me.
It was a cold day in D.C., and it wasn’t just the single-digit temperatures.
I realized all at once that of all the interactions we have in a day, maybe half a percent of them – like 1 out of 200 – are actually real, with people who’d come running in the middle of the night if you were stranded and needed fifty dollars.
The other 99.5% percent are social media friends you don’t really know, or other.
Good for keeping you out of solitary.
Bad for substituting for the real thing.
Copyright 2015 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Dr. Blumenthal is founder and president of BrandSuccess, a corporate content provider, and co-founder of the brand thought leadership portal All Things Brand. The opinions expressed are her own and not those of any government agency or entity or the federal government as a whole.
Photo by Nguyen Hung Vu via Flickr (Creative Commons)