Earlier this summer I graduated with my PhD from the University of Oregon, and in mid-August my partner and I moved cross-country to New York City. During the first few days of the move, I was too overwhelmed to think about What This Meant For My Life—my focus was “we need to buy this shit” and “we need to buy that shit” and “oh shit, how do we get all this shit back to our apartment??” After ten frantic days, we’re almost done with the buying-of-shit stage, and, partially as a result of having to sit around waiting for the various vendors to deliver said shit, I’m suddenly aware of all the metaphorical (and I suppose literal) dust that settled while I wasn’t looking. Most obviously, I’m just now making sense of the fact that I’m not going back home, although not home, but to what used to be home; just “there” now. I won’t be going back there, not anytime soon.
Nor will I be reminded of there, unless I actively choose to seek Oregon out. See, I’m not on Facebook, and haven’t been since the winter of 2010 (for more on the how and why, go here). Although I’m used to being free from the big blue’s clutches, at least on a day-to-day basis, this is the first time I’ve relocated without the suspended animation machine that is Facebook’s social network. I have, in other words, really truly left Eugene. I haven’t seen or spoken to or in any way interacted with anyone I used to know—except for the people I’ve deliberately sought out, i.e. my actual friends.
And I have to say, this has been strangely liberating. Because like most people who have lived somewhere for an extended period of time (or for any period of time), my experiences in Eugene were a pretty mixed bag. I miss a few people terribly (they know who they are), and certain things about Eugene—my advisor’s living room, the park by my apartment, the figure of a certain colleague standing in my office doorframe—will probably always make me feel a bit (or a lot) wistful. But some things, and some people, belong in my rearview mirror. Not being on Facebook means I get to take inventory of these memories, and of the connections I made while there, and decide which ones I want to bring into the next phase of my life, and which ones I would rather relegate to the past tense. If I were on Facebook, that sort of clean, entirely self-directed break wouldn’t be possible. Yes I could block or defriend whomever I wanted, but even then, certain people’s presence would be felt in tagged photos or in phantom gaps in other friends’ conversations. The past would still be with me, however faint its influence.
Now I’m not advocating a full social reboot every time a person moves. Some of my most meaningful relationships are long-distance, and have been for years. Nor am I suggesting that face to face relationships are somehow better than relationships conducted and maintained online. Good relationships are good, wherever they live; shitty relationships are shitty both online and irl. What I am arguing is that Facebook—which is based on the assumption that our lives and our relationships exist as some emotional singularity, and that such singularity isn’t just possible but ideal—has devalued the act of moving on, and consequently pathologized the decision to cut ties.
I won’t say that this new social order is “unnatural,” because what does that even mean. What I will say is that the kind of suspended animation facilitated and encouraged by Facebook is, at the very least, short-sighted. Facebook’s platform doesn’t account for, in fact actively downplays, the flux of human experience. Sometimes we outgrow our friends and acquaintances, for better or worse. Sometimes we outgrow the people we were, and don’t want to be constantly reminded of our previous iterations—again, for better or worse. And sometimes leaving—and not merely in the geographical sense—is the best thing anyone can do for themselves. Not necessarily to escape a painful situation (although in those cases, the option to leave can be a godsend), but simply because it’s time to go, because that chapter has ended.
Here—my current here—I am able to choose which punctuation to affix to which experiences. Some things warrant ellipses, some question marks, some a period, bold and underlined. Either way, that choice is mine, and mine alone. I am grateful for that.