thejuliemeister

Musings from an unsuspecting navy wife


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Friendships and Facebook

In 2004 I started college at UC Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is an eclectic place, which is illustrated by the student body’s decision to cast a banana slug as our illustrious mascot. Somewhere in my first quarter of freshman year, a friend introduced me to The Facebook. It hadn’t yet shifted to the singularly iconic “Facebook” by then. I remember thinking that it wasn’t as good as MySpace.

Back then Facebook was useful. You had to have a “.edu” email account to register. I could list all of my classes at UCSC in my profile, and find other students in the same courses. That way if I missed a lecture it was an easy search and message to find someone with notes. By the time I graduated, this feature was gone.

I initially interacted with my first real boyfriend on Facebook. He was the son of my mom’s work friend. She told me to find some way to ask him if we could carpool for coming home at Thanksgiving. Our innocent messages turned to a clandestine flirtation, and then about a year and a half of dating. My next major college boyfriend also started via some profile stalking and flirtatious messages.

Soon it was everywhere. My first job out of college relied on me to create a social media presence. In the years since, I’ve specialized in social media marketing, a field that I never thought would net me any funds.

Now my mom is on Facebook. My octogenarian great aunt has an account. I’ve had to go through old photos and delete anything that wasn’t business friendly, because something that was once devoted to personal friendships is now searchable by potential employers.

Truth be told, this is all a preamble. I feel like these developments in social media can be regrettable, but understandable. The real problem with social media is how we, as participants, use it.

In the last 3 years, I’ve found out two friends have died via Facebook. The first was Dominic. He was 23. He died in 2012. We were in high school orchestra together. He was a freshman when I was a junior. Our conductor paired us to play the second movement of the Bach Double Concerto. It was the slow movement, and we both had terrible stage fright. It was not pretty. But like soldiers from the same horrific battle, we had remained oddly connected. At least I felt that way, and he’s not here to argue.

The second was Summer. She was 25, and she died last month. She and I had moved through the same circles in Monterey. I’m not sure where we actually met, but we connected one lunch where we discovered we’d primarily dated the same men in the previous year. Some women would have been threatened. We compared notes.

That one lunch was enough to solidify a friendship. She was one of the funniest people I ever met. In times of crisis, she was there. She was solid. When I met my husband I let us drift apart. I didn’t stop caring about her welfare, but I didn’t have the time to maintain an active friendship. I was a bad friend. Instead of actually talking to her, I watched her wall, and liked what she posted that made it to my newsfeed. It made me feel like we were still close.

The newsfeed can be a deceptive device. The average Facebook user has 338 friends according to a quick search. Think on that number. I’m quite gregarious, and I have over 400 “friends.” Of those 400 folks, I see only the updates from a few dozen online. It’s not that the rest aren’t posting ever, it’s just that Facebook has an algorithm that narrows down newsfeed options to only whatever you are likely to interact with. This is generally determined by recent friend ads, likes, and common searches.

The folks who make it to your newsfeed might never see what you post. Conversely, someone may see everything that you do when none of his or her posts make your feed. You never know who is really paying attention.

But it’s so easy to imagine that if you see something someone has said or done online to feel like you’re still real friends. Who knows how many people feel that way about you that you’ve never thought twice about?

The other issue is that we only ever see what someone decides to share. Most people will only show the good side of things. I suffer from depression and anxiety, but my social media posts are generally light-hearted and funny. You would never know from my online presence that my life is anything but bliss. It’s impossible to know anything more than broad strokes of a person’s life by how they present themselves online. I never knew Dominic was so sick or Summer so sad by watching their posts alone.

If it wasn’t for Facebook though, I might not have even known they died. I’m not sure if that’s worse. Then again, would I have continued to feel so connected and then so heartbroken by their deaths had it not been for social media?

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with Facebook or social media. It can be a useful tool to help people communicate. I have lived in 4 states and nearly a dozen towns in my life, and social media provides a constant to help me stay in touch. The problem arises when anyone, myself included, starts to rely on social media to maintain or affirm friendships.

I am guilty of allowing myself into the lull of passive online friendships. But I don’t want to do that anymore. I don’t believe that quitting social media is the answer. That removes one symptom but doesn’t alleviate the underlying problem. Instead I plan to participate with caution, and rely on active communication to keep relationships alive.

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Farewell Newport

It’s almost time for me to leave Newport, RI. My husband, Cameron, and I tried to generate a list of things we’ll miss about the town itself. It consisted of:

  • Being able to walk to most places
  • The architecture is nice
  • The neat characters in town, including bongo man, who plays the bongos poorly along to his boom box behind a purple metal grate, and lacrosse man, who wears all black spandex and twirls his lacrosse stick as though he was the town’s drum major

That was it. The first item can generally be found by looking at specific neighborhoods in any town. The second is endemic to the whole of New England. The last item wasn’t specific Newport either. Most small towns have their fair share of oddballs. For years, a man in Santa Cruz, CA walked up and down the main street dressed in all pink and smiling broadly at all passersby.

The list of items we won’t miss about Newport is too long to recount here. Suffice it to say that we’re ready for a bigger house and eternal summer in Hawaii.

There is something we will pine for after we leave though: our friends. Cameron and I have connected with some of the kindest, funniest, most caring and intelligent people here. We will undoubtedly miss them.

When I first got to Rhode Island, I had a little trouble making many friendships. Mary-Jaq was my first friend who I regularly spent time with, then Sally. But I knew with every bond I formed that there would be an eventual expiration date. I didn’t want to put too much energy into something ephemeral. I could only handle a few companions.

Then I met Tricia and Jessica. Jessica is the wife of one of Cameron’s best friends, and Tricia and I should have met years ago. She married my friend, Ben, but prior to that she and I ran in the same circle in Monterey before either of us were in the military family. We all clicked.

Suddenly I felt like I had a group. I felt involved. I felt cared for by people other than my husband in this town. I felt like I wanted to spend as much time with my friends as possible before they went on military moves, instead of feeling like I should keep my distance.

Unfortunately, they all PCS’d within a few months of each other. It looked like I was on the friendship dating market once again.

Spouse functions seemed like a good place to mingle. I went to a few, hoping to meet a few ladies. Every time I met someone who acted cool, I’d whip out my phone and request digits. Moments later I’d take this information and facebook stalk my new best friend to make sure she was really as awesome as I’d assumed. This tactic is now lovingly referred to as “forcing my friendship” by a few of my pals.

After months of forcing friendships, I began setting up lady lunches with new best friends. A lot of the spouses in Newport, RI, are unemployed. RI boasts an extremely high unemployment rate, and many spouses are only here for 6 months. It was the perfect recipe for midday hangouts.

The first big lady lunch made me realize that I liked these gals. We were all around the same age and we’re all in Rhode Island because of the Navy. That was enough to get the conversation started.

The group decided to do weekly lunches, and we’d attend as our schedules permitted. One of the early lunches, maybe the second or third, took place at Pour Judgment Bar and Grille. We still didn’t know each other particularly well, but we enjoyed the company. Every now and then there was a brief lull in conversation before a new topic was introduced.

I have no recollection of how this came up, or in what way it was pertinent to the conversation that day. All I know is that after a brief pause someone said she had a friend with two vaginas. Manners were forgotten as mouths fell open. Nobody quite knew how to respond.

Then one gal piped up: “Did you see it? I mean see them?”

Now we were laughing. The vaginas had not been verified by eye witness. The questions and speculations started pouring in.

“Does she have two uteruses? Is that a word?”

“If so, can she get pregnant once in each for pseudo twins?”

I casually mentioned a Reddit Ask Me Anything thread from a man with two penises.

“Those two are meant to be,” somebody responded. Everyone guffawed.

Somewhere amidst the questions and laughter, I realized that this was my group now. I had friends. I had friends who responded with inquisitiveness instead of disgust when medical anomalies were introduced to conversation. I’d had a few friends still in the area before the group started up, and we’re all still friends, and I still love them.   But the larger group made me feel like I had a safety net. It gave me my first inklings of what the extended military family can really mean.

I have male friends and Navy friends here too.  There are too many to name, and I am so grateful for that fact. They will all be missed. Every time one of my friends has left I’ve felt the void of their absence, and it is now just dawning on me that my departure may do the same for those still here.

My last lady lunch is drawing near. I’m not sure where we’ll go. (Ladies, I’m thinking this looks good:)

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In the last 6 months or so we’ve done high-end and low-end locations, and even had one violin concert potluck. I hope I can make friends in Hawaii who make me feel the same sense of community.

At times I’ve felt like Newport wasn’t worth it. Many people love it here, but in my core I’m not meant for New England.  I despise winter, and I can’t understand a Boston accent. (Excuse me, Baaaaahhhhhstaaahhhn.)  Even with these inconveniences, I’m glad we came.  The people I’ve connected with have made it one of the most memorable and fulfilling experiences of my life so far.