On a recent Monday evening, my husband came home from work to find me stretched out on the couch, reading; prior to that, I had spent the whole day cleaning. The big clean, I mean. Vacuuming, mopping, dusting. Moving furniture and lifting rugs. Lying on my back on the floor, using detachable vacuum parts to get under beds. When I finished, I felt the way I did after fasting on Yom Kippur, like I deserved a big reward. My husband and I sat and talked, relishing the quiet, my feet on his lap. When the talk tapered off, he got up to change out of his work clothes and I returned to my book. Soon I grew restless and went to join him in the computer room, where he was playing a game of hearts.
For several days I’d been feeling apathetic, lethargic, low-energy. Why? I should have been in a better mood than I was. After all, I knew what August could be like — I’d been to the mall a few times over the course of the month and seen frazzled mothers trying to entertain bored children. I didn’t have to do that anymore! My kids were on the path to independence: My oldest hadn’t lived at home for a while, my middle had just moved out, and even my youngest was away now, camping on the Jordan River with friends. Wasn’t an empty nest something to enjoy? I sat on top of the hamper — the computer room doubles as a laundry room — and watched my husband play hand after hand of hearts. But then he grew restless too and switched over to Facebook.
“Let’s see here,” he said. Quietly, evenly, in his way, he examined the page before him. Then, after a few minutes he said, “Well, I won’t be saying yes to this friend request.”
“Why not?” I said, peering over his shoulder. “Who’s _____?” I tried saying the name, though it didn’t exactly roll off the tongue. It was an Arab name.
“A patient of mine,” he said. “I don’t say yes to friend requests from patients. Isn’t it enough they have my email address and cell phone number?”
Right beneath the friend request was something called “People You May Know,” a feature I’d never noticed before — during my somewhat often stalkings of my husband’s page, since I didn’t have my own — but now he started scrolling down it.
“Wow, this is creepy,” he said. “How do they know so much about me?”
He was referring to the fact that Facebook seemed to have at its fingertips a certain amount of information regarding possible acquaintances of his. We understood the contacts that said “one mutual friend” or “six mutual friends.” It was the ones without those connections that piqued our curiosity.
“How do they know that you would know ____?” I said, referring to a neighbor of ours whose name was listed there. “Do they have our street address? And if so, why aren’t all the people who live in our building on it?”
He shrugged and continued scrolling down.
Suddenly I perked up, hopped to attention, wondered if my eyes were playing tricks on me. For whose name should I see there but Ronit’s?? Not only her name, but her face too! A picture of her!
Ronit was on Facebook? That was the first shocker, even though I knew that almost everyone was. But how had she appeared on my husband’s “People You May Know” list? My mind went off in a thousand directions, and landed on an option both unsettling and appealing: had she looked him up? Admittedly, I knew very little about the mechanics of Facebook, but hey — couldn’t it be? With the viral nature of things, there was a kind of logic to it. Also, it made me happy to think she might be as curious about me and mine as I was about her and hers. It was certainly more tantalizing than the banal idea that perhaps via my being in email touch with both her and my husband I had virtually introduced the two.
I walked out of the computer/laundry room, feeling the way I had as a teenager with a borderline eating disorder. Back then, constantly on diets, there would be times when I would go completely berserk and do things that would make me feel horrible. At those times, it was as if an evil inclination had overcome me, an inclination way too big for me to fight. One memorable occasion was on a family vacation to Florida: after a week of depriving myself of amazing-looking desserts in fancy restaurants, I devoured every single family member’s key lime pie on the return trip home. That’s right: six pieces of bad American Airlines pie. No doubt that was only the beginning of a binge that had filled me with self-loathing.
So what would it be this time? Would I eat the key lime pie? Would I click on Ronit’s name? My understanding was that by doing so I wouldn’t see everything; in order to see everything I would have to be her Facebook friend. Still, what might I see? What information might be attainable even in this skeletal abbreviated form? And did I want it? And would I have to confess it at my next session if I got it?
I held out. I stayed away from Facebook for the rest of the evening, wouldn’t let myself go near it. It wasn’t as difficult as it might have been — there was dinner to be had, and wine to be drunk, the pleasures of an empty nest — but then Tuesday morning, I awoke to the temptation anew. What was it that I was so afraid of? It was almost as if, in the heady context of the psychotherapeutic relationship, seeing Ronit in whatever casual pose I might see her in — with family members, with friends — would feel as forbidden as witnessing the primal scene.
Reader, I looked. I clicked. Heart pounding, I gave in to the evil inclination. Before me, at a flick of the wrist, my eyes half-shaded with my left hand (I want to see! I don’t want to see!), appeared two pictures of Ronit. I was riveted. Fascinated. I couldn’t, in fact, stop looking. The pictures were of her alone, engaged in quotidian leisure-type activities, the kinds of pictures that stirred very little in me when they accompanied other people’s Facebook pages. But of course she was not other people. According to Freud, “for the patient, the doctor should remain opaque, and, like a mirror surface, should show nothing but what is shown to him.” Had Ronit perhaps been a little too successful at this? In response to her blank slate, to her general lack of self-disclosure, I had endowed her with godlike qualities, and now found I had trouble viewing her as a human being with regular human being-like features.
But then a strange thing happened. A binge of sorts began, but not a bad binge. The combination of “People You May Know” and the simultaneous real-life meeting between my sister and an old high school friend of mine — in Denver, Colorado! — led me to start searching for other long-lost friends. People I hadn’t thought about in years. People I might be interested in re-meeting. I proceeded to spend quite a bit of time studying them.
Could Facebook be another way out into the world for me? Ronit had always said that via my relationship with her I might be able to cultivate other relationships: that my relationship with her was never meant to be the final destination. Could a Facebook page of my own be far behind?
At my next session I told Ronit about my discovery. She didn’t seem all that alarmed — attributed the “People You May Know” incident to the strange new world of cyberspace — and assured me that, in this day and age, all of these modern media incidents were grist for the mill in our work together. The next day, however, when I clicked on the link once more (for fact-checking purposes? or simply because I wanted to see her again?), she was gone. Completely gone. No longer a person we might know. As mysteriously as she’d appeared, she’d disappeared. She’d fallen off the list, and in her place were other, newer people.