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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.


learning the words: worldly

myley cyrus

Today’s guest post is from Melissa, a reader who grew up in the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement, but eventually left it with her husband. “Learning the Words” is a series on the words many of us didn’t have in fundamentalism or overly conservative evangelicalism– and how we got them back. If you would like to be a part of this series, you can find my contact information at the top.

Worldly – perhaps no word is quite so “fundamental” to the way hyper-fundamentalists view how they should or should not live as this one.  During my upbringing in the independent fundamentalist Baptist movement (church, school, college), I heard this word used countless times, and always in a highly negative sense.

Simply put, worldly is defined by Webster’s as “of, relating to, or devoted to the temporal world: not religious or spiritual.”  In our lingo, however, it was further defined as describing the things “the world” did and, conversely, things which “we” did not do.  “The world,” by the way, is anyone outside of the IFB mindset.  In short, wordly = bad, sinful, the opposite of Godly.  The less worldly one is, the better, closer to God, more spiritual one is.  The idea is based on Bible verses that say things like, “come out from among them and be ye separate,” and that Christians are “a peculiar people.” [Editor’s note: that particular example is a form of Dominionism, a common fundamentalist heresy.]

Almost anything could garner the adjective “worldly,” depending on who was talking about it, and what his or her personal beliefs were.  I have heard the word applied to the following: clothing, hairstyles, music, amusement parks, malls, movies and movie theaters, TV and TV shows, education, government, books, jewelry, games, make-up, hobbies, jokes, magazines, and probably a few others I can’t remember right now.  In utter defiance of Webster, worldly was also used to describe decidedly spiritual things like churches, Christians, preachers, and Bible translations other than ye olde KJV 1611.

Worldly was used to distinguish the “sinful” forms of these items from the “Godly” ones.  For example, there were “worldly hairstyles” and “Godly hairstyles” – long hair on a man was worldly, as was extremely short hair on a woman.  I remember the handbook for my Christian school containing a picture of a “Godly” male student’s hairstyle, which looked remarkably like the hair of all of the male characters on “Leave It to Beaver.”  Jesus, apparently, could not have attended our school.

Many rules were created to keep us from becoming worldly.  Flip-flops represented the hippie movement, so they were worldly. (I believe this led to rules about girls having to wear socks or hose—it makes it harder to wear hippie footwear!)  Wire-rimmed glasses were worldly because John Lennon wore them.  Black lipstick/nail polish was associated with the worldly Goths.  Can’t use a standard deck of cards, even for solitaire, because that’s what worldly gamblers use.  And worldly music, even Christian music . . .  well I don’t even have time to get into that can o’ worms!

The avoidance of all things worldly, quite naturally led to some practical problems, such as where the line between worldly and godly should be drawn.  I remember a friend in my church had never been to an amusement park, and had only been to a mall once or twice because, according to her father, those “are things the world does.”  Even as steeped as I was in the IFB ideology at the time, I remember thinking, “but ‘the world’ also goes to grocery stores and eats food and drives cars, and we don’t think those things are wrong.”  Another major problem, of course, is pride.  Because so many worldly things were visible, we could tell at a glance how spiritual someone was.  And because worldly = ungodly, the more worldly items we avoided, the more we could congratulate ourselves on how much better we were than “the world,” including those “worldly Christians.”

The first time I encountered the word worldly used in a positive light was just before graduating from my IFB college.  I was with a guy (who is now my husband) at a bookstore and came across a slim volume in a black and gold dust jacket with the title Worldly Virtues by Johannes A. Gaertner.


It seemed like an extreme oxymoron, akin to saying “holy devil” or something.  We were intrigued and each picked up a copy and started reading right there in the store.  The book is filled with one-page reflections on various aspects of being human.  It covers such worldly traits as tact, perseverance, and commitment.  From it I learned:

  • that worry is “an eminently healthy, normal, and human trait.”
  • that fear can be positive because “the person who knows no fear…is either incredibly stupid or harbors a secret death wish.”
  • that discernment is a way to prevent “being manipulated day in, day out, virtually every waking hour of the day.”

We each bought a copy, and from that day I began to understand Webster’s second definition of worldly: “sophisticated or cosmopolitan.”  Kind of like that most worldly of movie heroes, “Bond–James Bond.”  Mr. Gaertner actually helped me reclaim a number of words that hyper-fundamentalists had perverted for their own use.  Now, the label of worldly doesn’t make me cringe – it’s a label I strive to live up to.