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More than just Facebook friended

Two longtime acquaintances connect on the website, and it's like a whirlwind — it sweeps them up together and then hurls them apart.

February 14, 2010|Joe Flint, Los Angeles Times
  • Facebook helps make, break romance
Facebook helps make, break romance (Alex Nabaum / For The Times )

It was my first romance of the Facebook era. With it came the promise of contact, the ecstasy of connection, the neurosis of being able to peer into her world when she wasn't looking and the torment of trying to figure out what she was thinking through her status updates and posts.

We'd been casual acquaintances for years and, yes, I kind of had a crush on her. We knew many of the same people, shared the same roots and when we'd bump into each other from time to time, I always left wanting more. But we lived on different coasts and I pretty much relegated her to the pure fantasy part of my brain.

Then Facebook came along. I avoided it for quite a while, as it seemed to be fueled by the very "look at the wonder of me" traits that my self-loathing nature tends to despise.

Eventually, I rationalized joining. I work in the news media. Shouldn't I see what this is all about so I have a better understanding of the changing ways in which we are all communicating? That sounded good, but the truth was that everyone else was at the party and I got tired of my self-imposed exile.

I don't remember if I friended her or if she friended me, but, regardless, it became a new way for me to flirt without having to be in the same ZIP Code. I would post a status update like "Joe is not here to amuse you" and she would write back, "Yes he is." Or she would change her profile picture and I would comment that she "changed pictures the way I changed underwear, every three days." OK, so maybe it wasn't Bogart and Bacall, but nonetheless we could be in each other's lives without being face to face.

People also tend to put their travel plans on Facebook, and she was no exception. She'd post that she was headed to my town and I'd say we should try to get together. And on one of those occasions we did and we kissed and the sparks flew.

At this point, you'd think Facebook's work was done. Social networking had helped bring us together, and we could take it from here. Early on, that was the case. Although our initial communications post-kiss were via Facebook, eventually we switched to regular e-mail and text messaging and, when our schedules were in sync, actual phone calls and visits.

But Facebook has a way of staying around when it should back off. At first, that was a good thing. I got a little thrill when she posted a status update mentioning me as a romantic interest. I got an even bigger high when she actually used my name in an update about the little kitchen fire she started that I put out. She'd gone public about us on Facebook, so how could it not last now?

At the same time, I couldn't help but wonder, "Who are all these guys she's friends with?" She had some of the same questions about all my female friends. The days of revealing our pasts gradually to potential lovers are another casualty of the digital age.

And while conducting a wireless romance made it easy to stay in constant contact and feel close, it also had addictive aspects to it that were not nearly so enjoyable. I didn't like that I was becoming the kind of person wondering how someone had the time to tell the world about becoming a fan of "Law & Order: SVU" but hadn't returned my phone call.

The digital age makes romance move quicker than it should. I'm not sure if there is scientific research to back this up, but my heart seemed to beat louder every time my BlackBerry made a noise. Technology made distance seem meaningless. You can knock out three dates (and then some) in a good session of e-mails and text messages.

We were moving pretty fast, even squeezing in a family visit, when she suddenly put the brakes on our budding romance. Feeling overwhelmed between work, family and distance, she said she wanted to shelve our story and "bookmark" us.

Needless to say, this was not the status update I was expecting. Part of me had come to believe that fate was bringing us together after so many years of my faraway pining.

I, no doubt, fell too hard. Yes, I had a cellphone full of saved messages from her proclaiming how happy she was and a Facebook mailbox loaded with our past flirty innuendo. But I have since realized that when it comes to relationships, technology can present a mirage. You think you are further along than you really are, and in the end what you thought was real may only have been an illusion on a screen.

My first thoughts when we ended was that I couldn't look at her Facebook page anymore. I even thought about defriending her. Not out of spite, mind you, but out of self-preservation. Seeing her updates and knowing I wasn't in the inner circle anymore would be like another knife in the heart.

But I decided that was silly. I just wouldn't look at her profile page. As long as I could dodge her steady stream of status updates, I wouldn't necessarily have to run across her.

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