Feminism, Social Issues

wrong answer


This was written by one of my dearest, bestest, real-life friends, Grace*. She wrote this and sent it to me privately, and I thought that what she shared with me needed to be shared with you, so I asked for her permission to post it. As you read this, I hope you’ll keep in mind the cultural forces working under the surface of what she describes.

Wrong answer.
Now you look lonely!

Nearly everything that is wrong with Facebook is encapsulated in those six words I received as a private message tonight.

I had share-posted a lovely article about loving God and falling in love with him through reading his words to me.  The article opened with an anecdote about a man who wooed a woman by sending her a letter once a day for 365 days. Sweet. Sappy. The kind of love story many girls long for.

A man commented beneath the post: “How many letters do you need?”

I wasn’t sure where he was going with that. Was he trying to take the super spiritual route? If he were referring to the Bible as God’s love letter to me, I don’t need more than is already written. Or, was he flirting with me? I’ve never been very good at determining these things, so I replied with a cautious, “From whom?”

“The single guys on your facebook friend’s list of course.”

Hmmm . . . How many single guys on my facebook friends list write letters? Oh, that’s right . . . none.  And even if they did, how many letters would it take before I took any of them seriously? George*, well, if he wrote even a sentence and a half on a dirty napkin, I would probably swoon. But Fred*, on the other hand, could probably write me a hundred letters before I would even begin to consider the possibility of dating him. But all of that is completely hypothetical anyway, because the fact remains that no guys on my friends list are pursuing me in any context, much less a written one. And being that I am a woman with whom words resonate deeply, I have no idea how they would or would not soften my heart toward the individual writing them.

All of this processed through my mind in under a minute; and rather than texting it all out via my phone, I simply answered honestly:

“Considering I don’t receive letters from any of them, I’m not sure.”

Thirty seconds later, a private message alert flashed on my phone:

Wrong answer.
Now you look lonely!

I look . . . lonely?

My answer was . . . Wrong?

My answer was wrong because it made me look lonely?

I wish I could say that I had replied with snarky sass, apologizing that he was uncomfortable with his own perceptions of my meaning.

I wish I could say that I had even not replied at all and allowed him to think whatever he wanted, confidant in the fact that I don’t need his esteem in order to live well.

Those would be choices made by the me I attempt to be on Facebook—Facebook me would confidently flout his absurd judgment and shake my head that he would be so worried for how people might perceive a comment about my Facebook guy friends not writing to me.

Instead, I bowed to the almighty god of public perception and added another comment, saying, “It would probably take 366 because I’m not sure I would settle for a mere year of letters every day.”

I turned a valid answer given with serious thought if not deep explanation into a tongue-in-cheek bit of fluff and light-hearted fun. I scrambled to save my image before any one else would dare suspect me of something as unforgivably pathetic as loneliness.

Because Facebook me isn’t me. Facebook me is the me I wish I were. Or the me that I think other people expect me to be. Always Happy. Always Smiling. Always Positive. Always Adventurous. Always Optimistic. Always confident. Always intelligent. To a certain extent, I am all of those things. But those are only a small fraction of real me. Because none of those things are always. If they were, would I really be on Facebook half as much as I am? Real me has deep insecurities. Doubts. Fears. Moments of deep despondency. Moments of utter stupidity. And hours upon hours of complete boredom to balance out the small snippets of time in which I do the interesting things that show up on facebook. But I’m not allowed to write about any of that or post about any of that.

Oh no.

It would be bad if I were to reveal that I am in fact, deeply, achingly lonely. What would people think of me then? Lonely is unacceptable. Lonely is one step shy of desperate. And a girl who actually desires to get married? Oh, man, does it get any worse than that?

Let’s face it, who doesn’t want to be perceived in the best possible light? Most of the time, my perception orientation is completely unconscious. I don’t think to myself, “hmmm… how can I manipulate people into thinking the best about me?”

It’s when I become conscious that I am doing it that it really bothers me:

What would X, Y, and Z think if I posted THIS?

Some people think this is a ridiculous question to consider. And theoretically, I agree with those people. Yet, I continually find myself coming back to this question that I hate. Because this is not the first time someone has immediately corrected me when I have strayed from toeing the line of socially acceptable posts for a single girl to make.

I was furious, absolutely furious when I wrote that comment modification.

I was furious with a paradigm in which he would think it appropriate, needful, necessary, or even just ok to make such a remark.

I was furious that he asked an open-ended question and then told me my answer was wrong. I mean, it might be one thing if he wanted to recommend that I reconsider my phrasing based on the impression I desired to convey. But to tell me that my answer, which was at least honest, even if it were not as light-hearted as he had been going for, was WRONG?!

What is right, then?

But I was not just furious with him. I was furious with myself.

I was furious with me for holding his approval in higher esteem than my own authenticity.

366 letters?

When I confess to God the deepest desires of my heart, I re-surrender time and time again the desire for a man who will value winning my heart enough to write to me AT ALL (much less a specified number of letters).

And because lonely is too pathetic and conveys far too much desperation (because it is dreadfully socially unacceptable for single women to desire marriage and families and a home. That’s just too desperate, don’t you know),  I chose instead to come across as a self-important, narcissistic brat (what? He wrote only 364 letters? Pity that poor fool).

And having devalued something that I actually value quite highly, I was left feeling like a fraud.

Facebook fraudulence—I am guilty of this misrepresentation in the name of garnering public approval. And this is perhaps the greatest fraud of all. For when Facebook becomes less about truly connecting with people and sharing life through the means of technology and more about being a used car salesman for yourself, the only one I truly deceive is myself.

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  • Grace, I believe you are expressing something very universal, and not a phenomenon unique to Facebook. We ALL put our best “face” forward for our public persona. We ALL try to show the world the very best of our qualities and downplay our weaknesses. That is human nature, so please don’t beat yourself up for displaying a shinier version of yourself on Facebook than the complete human person you are. I would venture that ALL of your FB friends also do the same.

    I think of it this way. You are on the stage of your own life and not everyone deserves a front row seat. And that is okay…and the way it should be.

    We are ALL all of those qualities you mention. We are all brilliant, funny, witty, confident, kind, generous, optimistic, adventurous and positive. We are ALL also insecure, fearful, doubtful, inconsistent, selfish, rude, and lonely. We are these things to different degrees, during different circumstances, etc. but we are all all of these things.

    Growing into ourselves is what we are all doing in this lifetime. It takes many decades to become comfortable with the fact that we can be all of those “positive” and “negative” qualities all at the same time and still be completely worthy of love, care, and kindness. Love, care and kindness from others….love, care, and kindness for ourselves.

    This time of loneliness you are going through now is part of the growing pains of becoming that fully grown human. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be married, wanting to have a family, or a home. Those are natural and honest wishes and needs. Why would you deny yourself the right to pray for them, seek them, and hope for them and feel pain when you don’t have them (yet). Why would you try to hide this aspect of yourself because it doesn’t seem socially acceptable? Give yourself permission to want what you want, feel what you feel, and dream whatever you dream. Ask yourself, How can you love, care for, and be kind to yourself during this time? What do you need to do for yourself? Then do those things.

    The man you will marry one day is, hopefully, busy doing those same things for himself. Growing into himself. And when you meet each other, it won’t be because you NEED that other person to help complete some part of you, but because you WANT to share your self and your life together.

  • This is why I no logner have FB.

  • Corinna

    I thought his first response of “How many letters do you need?” was out of line. Can’t imagine he had the nerve to message you privately with “wrong answer.” As a mother who is 50+, I thought it said a whole lot more about him, his insecurities, him trying to be a cute wise guy. Continue to be your self. Your friends probably benefit from your honesty. There is something to be said for discretion, but you seem to be showing that. So be who you were created to be. Blessings!

  • Grace said: “And because lonely is too pathetic and conveys far too much desperation (because it is dreadfully socially unacceptable for single women to desire marriage and families and a home. That’s just too desperate, don’t you know), I chose instead to come across as a self-important, narcissistic brat (what? He wrote only 364 letters? Pity that poor fool).”

    Speaking as a man, the last sentence above pretty much encapsulates the way nearly every teenage girl in my high school behaved 42 years ago—not so much with me—but nearly everyone it seemed like. After numerous dates, affairs, and a 34-year marriage, I still do not understand this teenage girl behavior that I encountered in high school. This is perhaps because I was an only child and had no sisters that I could “watch and interact with as I was growing up.” If one of you kind women would be willing to explain it to me, it would be much appreciated.

    Grace: You would be totally surprised. The best I have been able to determine, everyone feels this loneliness that you do and wears a mask to hide it. Some might deny it, but I can assure you that they are either lying or totally out of touch with their inner self. We live in a society where half the people are afraid to connect emotionally with other people and the other half would desperately like to do so—but have never learned how to do it. Everyone sits home afraid—waiting for a phone call that may never come.—when in fact all one needs to do is make that call.

  • Meg

    People have shockingly poor boundaries and the way they behave online can be pretty hurtful until you realize it can be a blessing.

    A few months ago I was really stressed out and one day of everything going wrong was too much. So I posted something on facebook that touched on it; not in a deep, heavy way. Just ‘whoa, look at all this crazy stuff that happened today. Good thing the significant other is handy with the tissues’ and the responses from people who know me were all appropriate and not-too-serious, in keeping with my tone. But an acquaintance decided it was a good time to comment on how crazy and female I am. It was completely out of left field, no real connection to me or my relationship (we’re super egalitarian – I’ve done my doling out of tissues too).

    I confronted him in the comments. He backpedaled quickly. But it hurt. And it was weird. It also underscored all the other times he’d make little comments about me, my relationship, my love life. I kept dismissing it as misunderstandings, poor etiquette online, etc as he was always very polite in person. In reality, this is a person who has poor boundaries, someone who is unhealthy, someone I have no wish to interact with.

    The guy who commented and sent you a message was doing something similar – he put you on the defensive, made you feel wrong about something that is completely benign. Any number of people would see your comment and have drawn a very different conclusion (like the more obvious “she uses fb like everyone else, keeping in touch with friends and family, not maintaining an online harem of single men”). He projected loneliness onto you. Your first response was honest and representative of how you feel and you were comfortable with those feelings before he reframed them as lonely. Don’t feel bad about second guessing yourself under gaslighting circumstances.

    I was single til I was in my late 20s. There were times I was lonely, life is easier with a good person to come home to, but overall I was pretty happy and satisfied (because I knew life is a lot worse with the wrong person to come home to). Other people weren’t always comfortable with that because it messes with the script of what young women are supposed to be spending energy on.

    • Corinna

      Well said, Meg. 🙂

  • I really enjoyed how this was written and can very much relate to a lot of it. Thank you for sharing and to your friend Grace for allowing you to.