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How Facebook left me feeling used, abused and confused

dominic mckenzie The Globe and Mail

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I finally succumbed to the lure of Facebook a year ago. I had avoided it like the plague for the first few years of retirement, being used to the anonymity required by working as a senior public servant.

I eventually got tired of being the last person to know what was going on because I wasn't on Facebook, so I decided it was time to make the first move.

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Our relationship held great promise at the beginning.

I "designed" my page, added all kinds of information about myself, loaded up photos, things I liked, hobbies. I charted a timeline of my life, wrote the odd essay, commented on current events. I watched the number of my friends grow, and generally felt quite included, even basking in the glow of others' "likes."

In the early months, I couldn't stay away from my Facebook page. As with all new relationships, the thrill of the unknown fascinated me.

I could open my page two, three, even four times a day and find something new: a pithy quote from a friend, suggestions for books or music, a thoughtful reaction to a news story. Every day I had my curiosity aroused, my emotions tapped, my understanding of the world enhanced. Or so I thought.

As time went on, the novelty started to wear off.

First, the number of new friends slowed to a trickle, and I found myself checking their pages only to be taken aback by the huge numbers of friends they had, compared with me.

What did that say about me? Perhaps I'm more of an introvert, I thought. Then I began to worry about what was wrong with me. Was I unpopular? Unlovable?

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Facebook seemed to be sending me signals about my value. I thought relationships were about mutual trust and support, not anxiety, fear and rejection.

But that was only the beginning. I then noticed that the ads sidling onto my page seemed to know more about me than I had originally disclosed. My Facebook page nudged me to try the latest wrinkle cream, retirement home and debt-management plan, to blast my belly fat (hey, who told FB about that?). Ah, the naiveté!

Facebook told me odd things about the interests of others, as well. I found out that my friends liked butter, certain department stores, animal sanctuaries, chocolate manufacturers, acne removal creams. Many of them seemed to play online games obsessively.

I felt even less socially engaged, less connected to the world. What was wrong with me?

It got worse. Postings by young moms who were into preparing organic baby food and offered ever more gorgeous photos of their children doing ever more amazing things came to my page each day.

FB never hesitated to remind me that some parents are so focused on their kids that not a day, not even half a day, goes by without some complex craft being completed, some adventurous experience being celebrated, some marvellous milestone being reached.

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I found myself lamenting the catch-as-catch-can mothering I had given. I began to watch my adult daughter closely for signs that she had been permanently scarred by my maternal bumblings.

How could I not have made all the extra efforts FB showed me every day? I felt as if it was taunting me about my ineptitude as a parent.

This affair was beginning to feel abusive. I can guilt myself quite nicely, thank you very much. I don't need my Facebook page rubbing it in.

It also became clear to me that I was quite a stick-in-the-mud. I seemed to be one of the few people I knew who was content to be home.

Hardly a day went by without one or more friends posting photos of their travels: Greece, Nepal, Italy, Russia, South America, the Caribbean. I had thought I was content to look out at the river, watch the birds and relish the day-to-day of my home. Omigawd, perhaps FB was telling me I was secretly agoraphobic!

I know that honesty in relationships is important, but I don't like being reminded every time I opened my FB page of my boring obsession with being just where I am.

Many of my Facebook friends seem to be far more spiritual and committed to self-improvement than I am, and that does nothing for my sense of security.

Almost every day, I get suggestions for building my personal awareness, finding the power of prayer, learning to meditate, going to my place of happiness, living my life more fully and being more attuned to the electrical fields that surround me. Perfect living is only a chant away.

Frankly, this affair with Facebook is threatening to transform me from a blissfully happy, middle-aged homebody with some minor talents and penchant for taking long naps into an angst-ridden, insecure, needy bumbler totally overwhelmed by the boring nature of my existence compared with everyone else's.

The bloom is definitely off my Facebook rose. Maybe I will shut down my site. Will FB miss me?

Damn, the fact that I'm even asking that question makes me worry about my mental health. I bet there's something on FB that can help me with that.

Cathy Lyons lives in Golden Lake, Ont.

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