I’m a newly and happily married man, but I’ve gotta say – I spend an inordinate amount of time peeking into the lives of others on Facebook. I’m sure I’m not alone. Strangers that I’ve met at parties for ten minutes, friends from summer camp in the 80′s, various high school acquaintances, and, of course, virtually every ex-girlfriend and hookup with whom I maintained warm feelings.
The new voyeurism extends beyond mere curiosity and nearly forces us to contemplate our own happiness by comparing ourselves to others.
Yes, there’s a basic voyeurism at play here – which is no surprise as the entire Internet seems to be built on it. But this voyeurism runs far deeper than your basic porn site, celebrity gossip site, or user-generated forum (like this one). The new voyeurism extends beyond mere curiosity and nearly forces us to contemplate our own happiness by comparing ourselves to others.
“Vantage Capital Partners” – wow, sounds like that guy probably makes more than I do.
“Cherry Hills, NJ” – wow, I guess he’s got a nicer house, too.
Then you click on the photos, and start browsing through – is he/she married? If so, is his/spouse attractive? Are their kids attractive? Do they look happy together? What’s their relationship status?
And while I’m not actively or passively looking for anyone, as an experienced online dater, I can see how very easy it is to tell yourself stories – pure fictional stories – based on what you can infer from a limited portrait of someone else’s life.
If you’re dissatisfied and lonely in your relationship, the pull of your high school crush – who appears to be newly divorced on Facebook – may be the very impetus you need to test the waters of infidelity.
You remember the connection you had, you write a few ambiguous, then flirtatious emails, then, the next thing you know, you’re embroiled in an emotional email affair based on projection, need and fantasy. Cue Mark Sanford’s music.
The problem, as I see it, is twofold.
First, there’s the immediate accessibility to everyone you’ve ever met. In the past, you had a thing for someone, they disappeared from your life forever. You might have a “what if” lingering in your mind, but it was impractical to act on it. These days, every “what if” can be answered with a “let’s see”. If I want to find my sixth grade girlfriend in Florida, I can do just that – and know a lot more about her than I know about some stranger on JDate.
The second problem is the falseness of the medium. We make two faulty assumptions on Facebook: that other people are happier than we are, and that if we only connected with those idealized people, we would be happy, too. Of course, reality tells us a different tale, but to someone who is dissatisfied in life and love, it seems like a dreamy goal.
We make two faulty assumptions on Facebook: that other people are happier than we are, and that if we only connected with those idealized people, we would be happy, too.
Finally, the acceptability of the medium makes it ubiquitous, and, therefore, dangerous. It’s not chat rooms, it’s not Ashley Madison, it’s not singles bars – it’s connecting with old friends! You can see what an alibi – and slippery slope – that can become.
I’m as addicted to Facebook as anyone, but I’ve gotta tell you, in five years, I think it’ll be the biggest source of infidelity that man has ever known.