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September 05, 2009

Facebook as a hedge against lonliness

I spend a lot of my time alone. Often at work, I'll spend hours immersed in work, email or a project without talking face to face or even on the phone with another person. I live alone too, so I go home to a place whose quiet is only broken by me or the mad scramblings of a lunatic cat or two.

This is not my natural or desired, state, alas. I've realized over the years that I'm a people person. Not that I love all of them all the time, but I like having other people around for small moments of interaction as I go about my day. That's also not to say that I don't value time by myself - I do -  I just relish it and actually enjoy it when it's in the context of a life that generally involves a greater default level of human contact.

Yesterday afternoon, my boss swung by my office around 2:45 and said I should head home. It's a ritual between us now, where before a holiday weekend, he says I should leave early and I never do. Our office actually officially closes at three on these pre-holiday weekend days, but I have never in all the years that that policy has been in effect, actually left early. As I'm sitting there, listening to my boss make his ritual "go home" statements, I think to myself - "to what?" My cats? An achingly long weekend unfurling before me, with long hours rattling together filled only by my own company and Oscar's insistent "play with me!" whine?

I had hoped that some of this loneliness would be mitigated by finding a partner but these days that seems like a more tenuous proposition.  I suspect I will need to be more active - perhaps buying a 2 bedroom something-or-other and taking on a roommate - not so much for the economics of it, but for the company, even if infrequent.

Until then, though, Facebook is often for me a hedge against loneliness. It's a little pathetic to write that, but truly, in low moments, it exists as this asynchronous community where I can dip in to the mundanities of life of my network. It feels a bit like the opening 10 minutes of the conversation with a partner or housemate when you walk in the door from work - how was your day? your coworker did what again? yeah, looks like that dead tree down the street finally fell during last nights storm...exactly the sort of thing that I don't have much of these days.

There's another, less positive side to the social network, though. For all that Facebook serves as a conduit for the small moments of daily life and phatic, relationship reinforcing non-conversations (which incidentally are hugely important socially, even if they're relatively vapid), it also serves to reinforce to people like me seeking refuge from loneliness how little other people's lives in my circle resemble my own - how most people I know live overfull lives chockful of spouses, trips, work and children. I too can project that image myself on Facebook if I choose, so perhaps its more of a charade than I think it is, but never the less, even as I seek (and find) solace on Facebook, it comes tinged with a bit of sadness, or perhaps even envy.

September 5, 2009 at 09:40 AM | Permalink


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Hey there- this was such a thoughtful (and thought-provoking) entry. I hope some of the loneliness abates.

Living alone this year has made me feel lonely at times, having grown accostomed to having another person around and now living without. I have been using Facebook much more frequently in the last couple months since I moved. In fact, every night in bed I check out all the Newsfeeds. I never really thought about why I have become a heavier user, but I think your post elucidates those reasons.

Posted by: DKL | Sep 7, 2009 10:39:29 PM

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