Falling into the Facebook Friend Trap

Like most of my generation, I have spent far too much of the last five or so years procrastinating on Facebook.

What started as a university social network, has grown to affect our lives in a rather scary capacity.

I know intimate details about people I haven’t seen since primary school. At the touch of a few buttons I can find out which boys I fancied as a teenager have turned grey.  Who got fat after university.  Who still lives with their parents.  What my former boss ate for breakfast.  The list goes on …

Facebook and social networking have changed the way we stay in contact.  Instead of drifting out of our lives as they normally would have, people remain virtually in our worlds, and we have access to more information about them than we ever would have before.

A few months ago I went to a university reunion, with people I haven’t seen in over five years.  I knew who was dating whom, who was married, who had children, what they all did for a living … I almost didn’t need to ask any questions.  And everyone knew about my 30 Dates.

Don’t get me wrong, I know the benefits of social media.  If it hadn’t been for Facebook, this blog would have never received the initial few thousand views.  Facebook was how I first came up with the idea for the challenge, and how I first shared the blog with my friends.  It was then how my friends shared it with their friends … and so on and so forth.

However, I wouldn’t be a very intuitive dating blogger, if I didn’t also acknowledge how much Facebook has affected the way we date.

When Facebook was first trialled in the UK, the first universities to test it were Oxford and Cambridge, and so (according to that annoying Facebook ‘movie’), I’ve had Facebook since 2005.

In that time I’ve seen various facets of the effect it has on relationships.  I’ve been asked out over Facebook by a guy I hadn’t seen for eight years.  I worked out one ex was cheating on me when he refused to put us as ‘in a relationship’, and went mental about me using a photograph of us together as my profile photo!

I’ve gagged over people posting ‘I love you baby’ on their other half’s Facebook wall (seriously, do people not have mobile phones in this day and age? Or at least private messaging?!).  And experienced the whole awkwardness of ending a relationship on Facebook both first hand, and third hand – when you watch on and one half is still left virtually hanging ‘in a relationship’ with nobody.

I’ve struggled the post break-up etiquette.  Do you delete him?  Do you block him?  And felt kicked in the teeth when I realised an ex’s mother had de-friended me!  Aren’t parents too old for that kind of politics?!

But if this eight-month foray into the world of online dating has taught me anything, it’s that there is a whole new angle of Facebook and dating, when it comes to dating someone you don’t really know.

In the past, all of my exes have been friends, or friends of friends.  People who were in my social circle already in some way.  I got to know them first as friends, then a relationship developed.

With online dating, it’s different.  All cards are on the table from day one.  If you’re talking to each other, then you’re both romantically interested.  You never experience the friend stage.  The foundation laying.  You don’t hear the proper backstory before you go on the date.

I’ve spoken tens of times about how misleading online profiles can be.  How easy it can be to form an impression of a person from his online dating profile, and a few selectively chosen photos, only to be disappointed when you meet up in person.

In a lot of ways, Facebook is the ultimate dating profile.

I love the satirical series ‘Black Mirror’ by Charlie Brooker, and one of the most clever episodes focussed on just how different our online persona is to our real life character.  Think about it – think carefully about a close friend of yours, and then check out their Facebook.  Is the person you see the exact same as the person you know in real life?

Most people like to post themselves in the most flattering light online.  Aware that people they haven’t seen for years are watching them from afar, and that primary school friends want to know if they’ve got fat, or if they’re still single, people often use Facebook to glamourise their lives.  They carefully select which photos can be seen by others.  They post statuses which rave about how exciting life is, and only mention the good bits.

When I first did a ski season, I travelled abroad with a good friend.  For the first couple of months, to be completely honest, our lives was shit!  We were broke, worked all hours of the day, and didn’t use our ski passes once, because we were always working.  Every day, all my friend would do was moan to me about how awful it all was.  And yet, I remember looking at her Facebook one day.  The picture of our season she was painting online was like another world.  A glamourous, hedonistic non-stop party of alcohol, snow and sex.  It was completely unrecognisable to the reality we were living!  But who was to know?!

The reality of Facebook, is that it’s not real life.  Yes, it can be a good way to stay in touch with people, particularly when you live far away from each other.  But a lot of people use it to feel better about their lives, and to gloat about their successes.  A carefully edited, photoshopped trophy cabinet of life.

And a source of insane amounts of everyday data about someone’s life, and their history.  Which makes it a very dangerous territory when you’re first getting to know someone.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m no saint in this department.  I’ve fallen into the Facebook trap on far too many occasions before.

You want to know all about the guy you fancy.

You want to remind yourself what he looks like, because you can’t quite picture him now that it’s been a week since your first date.  You want to show your friends, or see if you have more in common than you realised over drinks.

But adding a new love interest on Facebook too early is a recipe for disaster.

Because it gives you access to information about his or her entire life.  You can see photos of exes, and even messages from them (if they were of that vomit-inducing online PDA variety!).  You can see photos of his or her family, details of holidays and hobbies.  You can see the way he interacts with other women, and jump to unnecessary assumptions.

Basically, Facebook opens up a whole minefield of issues for an early relationship.

In the early days of getting to know someone, it should just be about you and him (or her).  You shouldn’t have to contend with pictures of exes, and visual images of his past relationships.

The stories you hear about his life should come from your date himself.  Not from your interpretation of his photos, or from posts on his wall.  Surely an anecdote means far more if someone has chosen to tell it to you, rather than you interpreting it for yourself from photos or updates?

The more you know, the more chances you give yourself to slip up.  To mention something you shouldn’t know yet!  And whilst yes, in this day and age, most people understand a preliminary Facebook-stalk, and are even flattered by it, it’s still pretty awkward if the anecdote you accidentally mention is something that happened to your date years ago.  No one expects a Facebook deep dive mission!

The more you see, the more you will also imagine.  The reality of Facebook is it lets us put faces to names.  So that people your date talks about, are no longer faceless people, but people you can see interacting online.  And that again is dangerous territory, because it’s too easy to get away with yourself.  To imagine yourself in aspects of a person’s life which you don’t yet have access to.  Or you shouldn’t have access to.  Or to compare yourself to exes … forgetting again, that the photos online will always be the most glamourous and best ones.

Unfortunately, Facebook undoes a lot of the groundwork.

And in the same way that online profiles can undo some of the romance and mystery of meeting a stranger, Facebook can give you far too much of a story, when really your relationship with that person should be filling the blank pages.

One of the things I love about a first date, is the feeling that you both start as a blank canvas.  Or as close to a blank canvas as today’s dating world will allow.

You get to choose what information you present to that person.  What side of you he or she sees.

There might be something which your friends have defined you by for years, but which deep down you know is outdated and no longer relevant.  A nickname, an old hobby, an annecdote.   And yet this new person need never know that side of you.  Or he or she can get to know the rest of you, before they hear about something you did or said ten years ago that no one else forgets!

On a first date, you can just be you.

Or as unlike yourself as you want to be.  A version of yourself just for that possibly special person.

Actually, maybe a blank canvas isn’t the best metaphor.

Maybe a jigsaw is better.

When you start dating, it’s like you’re giving the other person tiny jigsaw pieces of yourself.  And allowing them to build the final picture, slowly, without yet knowing the final end result.

In that way, you can choose which parts they see first.  Which parts define you.

But by letting someone access your Facebook, you give them access to your entire virtual world.  The whole big picture (no matter how edited and unrealistic it may be).  You’re handing them the photo on the box, before they get to piece together the jigsaw.

When that exciting stranger access your Facebook, suddenly you are handing him or her complete control.  They get to decide which parts of your life they see, and in what order.

And whilst that might seem really exciting … because when you fancy someone, and they’re all you can think about, all you want to do is connect with him or her more.  In reality, learning about someone’s life over Facebook isn’t a true connection.  You won’t see the full picture properly, or appreciate it as much as you would, had that person drip-fed you jigsaw pieces of himself over a series of exciting first dates.

So if you can, don’t rush to add that new guy or girl in your life as a Facebook friend.  Wait to form your own picture.

And then, when you feel like you properly understand the picture, decide whether you want to see their virtual life as well.  But remember, the virtual picture will never be as real, or as personal, as the one you put together when you first met him or her.

It’s those jigsaw pieces that really count.

Miss Twenty-Nine xxx

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