I’m not one of those social media haters. I love it for one good reason: I get old friends back that I thought I’d never see again. People I knew a long time ago who slipped away when one of us moved, or graduated or “accidently” made out with a “friend” of mine over Spring Break. Years passed. Children were born. Weight was lost and regained. And then, out of nowhere, I’d see someone with a widow’s peak or a crooked penis and wonder: What ever happened to….
But this is the privilege of the middle-aged person. Young people don’t get to drift away from friends and wonder if they’re still hot only to find them bald on facebook 20 years later. Today you take all your people with you wherever you go. The kid who picked his nose in second grade, the lab partner who showed up stoned to mix chemicals, every single person in high school, even the ones who hated you — in fact, especially the ones who hated you.
Why is this? Why do people who hated you, who terrorized you, who asked you to prom and then changed their minds, suddenly inexplicably want to be your facebook friends now? Are we supposed to pretend they didn’t try to impeach you as class president? Are we going to just look past the “No Fat Chicks” sign they spray-painted on the roof of the gym? Not that I would know anything about this.
I actually got a friend request from the meanest girl in elementary school. The same girl who flipped me off in 4th grade, who called me a fag at recess because I didn’t wear Kissing Stick lip gloss, now wants to be my friend. I can’t tell you why I accepted the request. I have nothing to say for myself. But I do have excellent news: She’s a manicurist in Scranton, Pennsylvania. See? Just when you think you hate facebook it wins you back.
But here’s the problem: it’s not just the haters that come back through facebook. It’s the ones who loved you or who you loved or at least liked a lot before everything went to hell. The world is full of stories about marriages lost and old loves found online. But I’m not talking about these people. I’m talking about the ones you’d duck behind the cereal aisle to avoid, the ones you cringe just thinking about. They come back too. Thanks facebook.
Not long ago, I was sitting in the stylist’s chair getting highlights when the facebook notification chimed on my phone. It was him, my cereal aisle guy. I actually gasped when I saw his name. Naturally, my stylist and the clients on either side of me pumped me for info. So I told them: It was college in New England. It was the 80’s. He wore soccer shorts and a mullet and still I found him attractive. This was saying something considering my loafers-no-socks preference in men.
To be fair, I wasn’t his type either. Large floral prints were having their moment and all of us, every girl in school, had at least one pastel Laura Ashley dress we loved. On special occasions when we all dressed up, you could easily mistake us for sister wives on our way to church. But this was the style back then. And despite the fact that it made me look like a sofa, I wore it anyway. I’m not proud.
Yet somehow, love bloomed. He took me back to his dorm to meet his ferret (that’s not a metaphor. He actually had a pet ferret.) He took me out with his friends. He even took me home to meet his parents. And then, without the slightest warning, he took up with some girl with windshield bangs while I was away for the weekend.
Apparently, I was supposed to be cool with this. But when I wasn’t, he let me down the old fashioned way — snail mail. After ignoring him until summer break, I returned home to find his letter. A single sheet of loose leaf paper with one line scrawled across the middle: “Have a Nice Life.” It’s the modern day equivalent of break-up by text.
I wish I could tell you I didn’t care, that my heart wasn’t broken or anything. But I’d be lying. Not only was I officially dumped but by a cheesy cliché. “Have a Nice Life?” What self-respecting English Major uses expressions like this? And loose leaf paper! Wasn’t I worth at least a decent piece of stationery?
So right there in front of the mailbox, I ripped up the letter just like they do in the movies and proceeded to sulk for way longer than I care to admit. But there’s good news here. I never had to face him again. He mercifully transferred to another college and this embarrassing chapter ended. That is until facebook, until that day in the hair salon 20 years later.
At this point, the ladies at the shampoo sinks were furious. “Some nerve he has contacting you after all these years!” I clicked open his message and read it aloud:
Nina, if you’ve made it this far into the message, I’m actually quite surprised. I wanted to tell you that I am sorry for the way I treated you. I keep coming across your profile as I look for friends from college and every time I see it, I cringe a little inside…
I understand if you never want to forgive me. In fact, you’ve probably forgotten all about me and don’t even recognize who is sending this to you. I just needed to at least send my apology.
Too little, too late.
Probably forgotten about him? Is he nuts? I can’t hear an 80’s song without thinking of ferrets. My stylist was less moved. “Where are we? In a freakin’ Lifetime movie?” she sneered while wrapping my hair in foils. “Nobody gets an apology after this long. All because of a stupid letter.”
And that’s just the thing. It wasn’t the letter he was sorry for, it was his recklessness. It was the fact that he didn’t care enough about my feelings to talk to me. But that’s not the part that got me. It was this: he cringes too. Just the thought of me embarrasses him. I’m his cereal aisle girl.
A Lifetime movie, indeed.
If I’m honest, I feel a little bit bad for the millennial generation. They’ll never know the thrill and horror of moving on without 700 or so of their closest friends looking over their shoulder. How will they ever dye their hair pink or go goth or change their name to Chantel without everyone from grade school weighing in? “You’re Binky. You’ll always be Binky. Chantel, my ass!”The truth is, they can’t.
But for me, for those of us who came of age when we lost people for awhile, facebook’s a friend who reminds us who we once were and that we mattered to others as much as they mattered to us. Even if they hated us. Even if they make us cringe. Even if they were jerks. At least they’re our jerks and if we’re lucky, we’ll get them back.