social networking

I have been on Facebook quite a bit this last week. I haven’t spent that much time there since I registered. Facebook was just a way to keep in touch with my step-daughters in the beginning. I really didn’t get the whole acquistion of “friends” thing. I mean, how can a person have 434 friends? Some of these people have to be acquaintances or simply networking connections, right?

Until about a week ago, I had about 25 friends give or take. Fewer than even my husband though in fairness to me – he is related to most of his Facebook friends. But after I discovered that a few of my fellow bloggers at 50 Something Moms were on Facebook and then started checking out their friends list… was all over. I went on a friend’s request frenzy. I now have 47 friends.

To be sure, I do “know” nearly all my friends. They are people I’ve met in person or via their blogs. Most of them I interact with if only virtually. Still, it’s odd. This new need of mine to reach out and connect and, um, network.

Rob had a glance at my list tonight and said,

“You won’t be able to use the “not knowing anyone” excuse to stay away from Blogher next year.”

Yeah, I know. How pathetic of an excuse was that? But I am very shy despite my online image to the contrary.

I read often via other bloggers, writers, writing bloggers, and blogging writers that using social networking is one of the keys to success. Facebook and Fuel My Blog are really my only form of social addiction, and I am not hardcore. I don’t know how to add the de*li*cious or Digg widgets to my posts. I think Twitter would force me to pay attention to my cell phone, and I am still not over being coerced into getting one in the first place by my late husband. It turned out to be little more than a GPS for my mother.

But do I aspire to be say – The Bloggess? She has like 400 and something friends. But Rob reminds me of some recent study that revealed that beyond 150 people, we become overwhelmed and shut down. This means that 350 of the friends on Bloggess’ list are taxing her mental processes to a point that could short-circuit her.

I don’t think I will ever have that problem.*

I do think that there is something to this networking thing though. In addition to my Facebook peeps, I have blogging comrades and have met writers and political pundits. I have even been allowed to blog elsewhere. Christina Katz, an author, blogger, and freelancer,** has a new book out titled, Get Known Before the Book Deal. I haven’t read it yet, so I don’t know if Facebook, or anything else for that matter, is part of the “getting known”. I think probably, yes.

So, wanna be Facebook friends? It could be mutually beneficial.

*Her fame or the mental collapse thing.

**And someone I know through her blog and on Facebook.

P.S. Please run over to 50 Something Moms today for my new piece, The Full Monty.

There is a social isolation epidemic in America. We have fewer close friends than in years past. We have fewer intimates with whom we can share those thoughts that keep us up into the night. We have replaced physical relationships with Netbuddies and conversations with texting.

For myself I am in a friendship drought again, but this is not unusual for me. I have weathered many periods of social solitude over the years, and I have never had more than two close friends at a time.

I was reading the local paper today and my least favorite columnist was weighing in on this particular topic. It was her contention that people in the Midwest are much friendlier than people in larger cities or Europe. She based this on the observations of another woman who had lived in Europe, Boston and then finally Iowa.

I am not sure I buy into the notion that it is geography or ethnicity that make some places less “friendly” than others. I think, like most things, it comes back to you and where you are in your life internally. I have been more open at different times and definitely closed to relationships at others. There have been times even when I thought I wanted relationships but did nothing to further that end because in reality I didn’t want anything more than to be on my own.

Being the caretaker of a terminally ill husband and now a widow, I have come to know loneliness in ways that defy easy definitions. There were days on end when the only people I had to interact with were a toddler and a husband with a short-term memory that was so short he could literally turn away from you and back again and have forgotten everything you just told him. It wasn’t so much losing him physically but the emotional loss. For both of us. He was so disoriented that he couldn’t access the emotions that had pulled us together in the first place.

Now, of course, I face the new burden of making people too uncomfortable for them to want to be around me. I have to choose my words carefully so as not to reference my old life too often. Too many remarks and I am living in the past and too few means that I am in denial or worse, I must not have loved my husband very much in the first place to be moving on so quickly.

An article in last month’s Oprah talked about how the socially isolated bring much of their loneliness on themselves. It gave the standard advice that the shy and socially inept always receive. Practice smiling. Put yourselves in social situations more often. Relax. Blah. Blah. More simply put, try not to be yourself so much and people will like you more for being more like them.

I don’t smile continually and that’s a genetic thing I realized only after my daughter was born. She had the most serious look on her face at all times. “She’s shy,” people would say but I never allowed her to be labeled. “She needs to assess her surroundings,” I would tell people. “When she’s ready, she’ll come to you.” I am not inept. I socialize quite well once I get my bearings, but I admit I am easily overwhelmed by numbers and noise, just like my daughter. It is easy to like outgoing and the pretty. It’s just as easy to find them annoying and shallow because frankly some people are not worth the effort of getting to know them. What they project is what you are getting.

I used to think that my loneliness was my fault somehow, like Oprah said, but it’s not. There are boundaries on my personality which make me who I am and limitations on my life, now especially, that make social situations hard to be a part of or even participate in at all. Am I lonely? Yes. I lost my husband and he had filled in all the drafty, empty spaces in my world. But am I lonelier than ever? Not really. I have been here before. It’s just a lull and it will pass and I know this because it always has.