When I was in high school I dated an older, more popular boy for about a month. Let's call him Joe. Initially I was a confounded by his interest in me, but that soon gave way to the giddy delight of being desired. The gratification of simply being acknowledged can be a powerful force. However it soon became evident that I would have to work for his adoration and compete for his attention. I changed the way I dressed and talked and I started listening to The Grateful Dead because that's what he listened to. I...wore hemp. I also had to do things to make myself attractive to other guys, because I sensed that he liked having something that other people wanted.
Here's the kicker. I didn't like him. At all. But in some weird, high school way I felt like I needed to in order to stay relevant. Like if I lost his affection I would go back to being insignifigant. So for a month I gave myself over to this effort of constant vying to keep his eye focused on me. It was exhausting.
I don't really remember what ended it. Maybe I got tired of caring so much about things I didn't actually care about or maybe I just couldn't listen to Truckin' one more gaddamn time. Whatever it was, I do recall the immense sense of relief I felt when it was over. Like I'd been wearing a dress that was two sizes too small and I finally got to take it off. I went back to being me and though I'd like to say he was devastated without me, when I saw him a few months later he referred to me as "Mindy."
I thought of Joe and I can't help but draw parallels between that doomed pairing and the relationship so many of us have with social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter; they're all Joe, and Joe has created a perpetual cycle of pining for that illusive more. More likes, more friends, more compliments, more shares, more connections. And don't get lazy. The recognition and adoration don't come free. Yes, we have to work and compete for it, but isn't is worth it when your phone lights up? Yet even as we get more online, we feel less satisfied with our real lives. Go to a bar sometime. Look around at people on first dates and watch as one or both parties periodically check their phones, making sure there's not something better waiting for them in that little black rectangle. How do people make real connections anymore when it is so easy to dismiss one for another?
I'm not saying Joe's a bad guy. I'm just suggesting that maybe we've all invested a little too much in someone who won't even remember our name.