Saturday, March 13, 2010

Why I Love and Hate the Internet

After eight months or so of indecision, I recently accepted the moms of three of my former students as friends on Facebook. I had very mixed feelings about this decision. I miss my students, and being friends with their moms is a way to maintain some kind of connection with them; I can see photos once in a while, and possibly hear some updates. It may even mean that I will still know what they are up to five or ten years down the line. On the other hand, it means that these moms will be able to see photos of me, beer in hand, hanging out with other former teachers from the school, and they now have access to very personal information about my life. While Facebook lets users control how much information each friend can see, I may not remember to block these women from seeing something I post, or a friend might put up an embarrassing picture of me that they can see. I also don't feel exactly the same about all three of them. One of the three made her disapproval of me very clear – each time we had a conference it ended with her saying, “I just feel that you could be doing so much more with these kids.” I once spent an afternoon bawling after she told me she intended to switch both of her kids to a different school because she didn't feel I was challenging her daughter enough. I was a bit shocked when I received her friend request.

Immediately after accepting them and writing each mom a quick note to say hi, I got the following message in return from one of the moms: "shes doing well as of right now her teacher says she on level t. shes so excited abt u on fb she says too tell u hi and she wishes you were still her teacher." (Please note that level T is quite impressive for a 2nd grader. I know some 6th graders she could tutor.)

It made my day. Given how little positive feedback I got last year, kind words like these mean an enormous amount to me, and help me to feel that my hellish year last year wasn't a complete disastrous waste.

The Internet is, in my experience, full of difficult decisions like this. The same day as I accepted the moms, I got another friend request, this time not from Facebook but from another website (Goodreads). The request came from a woman named Libby, who is married to one of La Moustache's former co-workers. The four of us were friends and occasionally spent time together: they once took care of Green Bean when we went away, and they invited us a few times to events at their community garden. Libby introduced me to my all-time favorite Brooklyn bar when she celebrated her birthday there one year, and brought me a beautiful purple plant and two delicious bottles of wine for my 30th birthday.

I was happy when Moustache told me that Libby and her husband were dropping by to bid us farewell on a warm Saturday in early November. They inspected the Monster, Moustache's Land Cruiser, took a picture of the four of us together, and then we sipped beer on the porch. Libby told me she was sorry to hear what had happened with my job. Then she asked, “You have time since you ended up without a job this year. Why don't you go with Moustache?” I felt like I had been punched, but I kept my calm and answered, succinctly but honestly, “I wasn't invited.” She gave me a little hug and told me again that she was sorry.

A couple of days later, the Facebook postings started. She began posting updates from La Moustache's blog with comments about how great she thought his trip sounded, that she and her husband hoped to join him for part of his trip, she was so proud that a friend of their was doing this, etc. It only happened a few times, but each time I felt nauseous and betrayed. I don't know if she even remembered that I would read them when she posted them, but I thought that she should have considered that. After a while I made her invisible to me so that I could no longer see her updates. But what can I say, I liked the woman; by the time I moved to Boston I assumed she was done writing about Moustache, and I made her visible. The next day, she posted a new update from Moustache's blog, accompanied by words of encouragement and love.

That's when I lost it. It was around the same time that a glowing article came out in Metro newspapers across the country entitled “Globe-Trotting Man” by another woman we used to spend time with. I reached the breaking point, and I (publicly) commented on Libby's posting, telling her in a few words what a schmuck he had been, and that there were many, many aspects of his trip that were not gaining mention on his blog. Then I defriended her. It was not my proudest moment.

The following day Libby sent me a thoughtful e-mail, telling me how sorry she was this had happened to me. “For what it's worth, I've been there. You are a strong, beautiful person, and you will get past this,” she wrote. She told me I could call her anytime if I wanted to talk; I never responded, and I hope she understood. I think about her often, and wonder if I should call her and ask her to get coffee the next time I'm in New York. I have lots of amazing, supportive friends, though, and I'm not sure if there's a point in spending time investing in a relationship with someone who is connected to La Moustache. Since I'm no longer friends with her on Facebook, I have no way of knowing if she continues to post about him or not, and if she and her husband still plan to join him for part of his trip.

So now we are Goodreads friends but not Facebook friends, and I am sifting through status updates from my students' moms about their sleazy ex-boyfriends. I now know that, as of about an hour or so, the mom who once hated me is "bored out of her frickin' mind!" It is a complicated, weirdly public world we live in. At the end of the day, though, I continue to believe that the opportunities and connections made possible by technology are worth the awkwardness and even heartbreak it can cause. And I say that knowing that the Associated Press will soon release a second article about La Moustache which will surely be posted all over the Internet like graffiti on a subway car, accompanied by adoring, sycophantic comments.

No comments:

Post a Comment