Thursday, October 21st, 2010

My Former Best Friend's Wedding

I came late to Facebook, after going through all the predictable phases: the disdain, the excuses, the stalking via “borrowed” log-in, the particular form of procrastination known as “what-would-I-put-in-my-hypothetical-profile?,” followed eventually by an ambivalent, job-search related realization that I had to bite the bullet. But before I did—before I opened the floodgates of reconnection—I knew I had to pick up the phone and call my childhood best friend. We hadn’t talked in years, but I couldn’t stand the thought of putting our past on the same level as everyone else’s, basically ensuring that our long history would be reduced to smiley, yearbook-style platitudes.

Darcey and I met the summer we were both three, soon after our families moved into mirror-image bi-levels in a new development. Situated on opposite ends of a U-shaped street, our houses faced each other so that the windows to our bedrooms aligned, both of them at the end of a hallway next to slightly smaller rooms belonging to younger brothers named Zach. If we stuck our heads out those windows and yelled loud enough, we could share crucial information across the short distance of two other houses and backyards—like what we were having for dinner—without having to pick up the phone. From pre-school (we were enrolled at Happiness Hut) through high school, we sat together on early morning bus rides, walked into each others’ houses without knocking, planned elaborate Halloween costumes that would invariably end up hidden under heavy jackets, rode our bikes into unexplored corners of our neighborhood looking for mysteries to solve, traded Christopher Pike books, and painted our nails in tandem during Sunday night viewings of "The X Files."

In elementary school we borrowed the “S” volume of the encyclopedia from the library and holed up in my room with it to see what we could learn about sex. A little later, we pored over the dirty passages in Peter Benchley’s Jaws. When we were 15, we got caught smoking pot, and our parents—who took turns chauffeuring us to the mall and the movies and various friends’ houses—grounded us and kept us apart for a month. In high school, Darcey tried repeatedly and with incredible patience to teach me how to divide fractions, and was ready with ice when I used a safety pin to pierce my ear in her bathroom. We started spending our weekends at local punk shows, coming home late and savoring the stink on our clothes, both of us casually competing to be the one who was better friends with more people, and who knew more lyrics by heart. We made three issues of a zine, took guitar lessons from the same teacher and spent hours thinking up names for our band. We went through a brief and thrilling shoplifting phase, obsessed over boys, shared make-up and clothes despite wildly different body types, and mostly kept each other’s secrets.

And then we went off to college. The distance between our campuses was hardly insurmountable, but it was just enough to be a reasonable excuse. It wasn’t just about the miles that stretched between us; those just made literal the clichéd divergence of our paths, which seemed to me even then like the plot of some novel I’d read, down to the symbolism of our opposing majors (the sciences for her, the humanities for me). I was invested in being in a different place, and saw her attachment to our hometown as a sort of weakness. Now I think her loyalties were just stronger than mine, that she was less cynical, less restless, maybe more at ease when we were growing up. She wasn’t always plotting her escape.

Of the two of us, she was always easier to like. People were a little wary of me, and for a long time I thought this meant I was doing something right.

The last time Darcey and I had spoken was nearly four years ago, when she called to tell me that an acquaintance of ours—who had been more of a real friend of hers—had died suddenly. We managed to have a nice if surface-y conversation in the wake of the grim update, but the fact of the call stayed unsettling. Half by accident, I’d managed to cut myself off from the people we used to know, assuming we’d reached the point when everyone else would be moving on, too. If Darcey and I couldn’t stick together, I figured, no one else could. But it turned out that I was actually the exception, the outlier who now required special delivery of bad news. She was telling me because she knew no one else would.

Despite this precedent, she didn’t call a year or two later to tell me she was engaged—to a guy we’d gone to high school with, someone she’d loved for years and years. But it was fair to assume I’d just find out. Information like this just trickles out, getting passed along—between friends and parents and the woman who used to cut both of our hair and still cuts both Darcey’s and my mom’s—until everyone knows and you start to feel a little awkward for not acknowledging it to the person at its center, even if she’s someone you can’t say with any conviction you still know.

* * *

The process of accumulating friends on Facebook is pretty much the opposite of making a guest list for a real-life, in-person event like a wedding. A guest list has a limited number of spots, and it should be pretty clear who makes the cut and who doesn’t. On Facebook, your network is at once sprawling and concentrated, a group of friends and enemies and acquaintances keeping cautious, largely superficial tabs on each other. Hanging out in alphabetical order, everyone looks sort of interchangeable.

Darcey and I weren’t the kind of kids who fantasized about our weddings, except maybe once or twice, half-jokingly, to Keanu Reeves—whose headshot she had photocopied and taped up so it formed a border of identically scruffy, vacant-eyed but indisputably handsome faces just below the ceiling of her room. We played with Barbies when we were little, but Darcey’s big plastic tub of them was there mostly to provide a halfhearted counterweight to her tomboy tendencies, and my parents only conceded to Sleepover Skipper after she and her plastic bed arrived as a sly birthday present from my grandparents. Our Barbies had lots of wardrobe changes and complicated, confusing sex with our twin New Kids on the Block Donnie dolls (far superior versions of Ken), but I don’t remember them ever getting married.

Still, the kid I was would have understood that Darcey’s wedding—the wedding of anyone I knew, really—was a big deal. And since I tend to regress to a child’s perspective when I think about her, it was impossible for me to ignore the fact that her marriage was a milestone in the most literal, loaded way, one of those eventualities we grew up with a hazy sense of, but at the time seemed as distant as pretty much everything beyond the current school year. Back then, all we really knew about the future was that we would be a part of each other’s. These years later, I was taking her upcoming wedding very personally and I couldn’t tell if this was indulgent or unavoidable.

So, a phone call. Sitting on the couch with a tumbler of whiskey as I got ready to dial her number, I was reassured by the idea that our history made us special to each other. It may not have been enough to keep me in the running for a wedding invitation, but it was enough to warrant the use of something as old-fashioned and intrusive as a telephone. If I joined Facebook without actually talking to her first, I felt sure we wouldn’t stand a chance of getting out of that online purgatory. On the most basic level, for the most selfish, possessive reasons, I wasn’t ready to let that happen. As I listened to the phone ring, I got the same cold sweat and butterflies I used to get before calling a boy I had a crush on. When Darcey didn’t pick up, it was a little anticlimactic, but I was also a little relieved; I left a rehearsed message conveying a belated congratulations and saying that I was hoping to catch up. On voicemail, so long after the fact, it suddenly felt painfully, even opportunistically overdue.

A few weeks later—after some phone tag and a preliminary chat—we met for dinner at a chain Italian restaurant not far from our high school, and attempted to bond over bowls of gluey pasta fagioli and glasses of okay wine. Even kitted out in corporate business attire, her face looked reassuringly, unnervingly the same. She told me about a string of years stuck working in retail, long bus rides to visit the once-hesitant guy she was now about to marry, the sturdy new SUV she recently bought after totaling her Civic when she hit a deer. I told her about the hole in my bathroom ceiling, a scarf I was slowly and semi-ineptly knitting for my boyfriend, the dubious freedom of freelancing. We talked about our favorite new TV shows in almost the same breath as the status of our childhood pets (the latter all dead but one).

It felt like there was a space in my brain waiting for all of this, a designated slot next to the major themes and tiny details of Darcey’s life that I’d accumulated and sorted over the years. Even if it hadn’t been enough to forestall this kind of polite sit-down, we knew each other too well to pretend not to know certain things, or to act like it was even possible to have forgotten them. Darcey seemed settled, happy. And she seemed to have a better understanding of boundaries than I did—at least, she knew when to end a dinner that I probably wouldn’t have been able to pull myself away from until the restaurant was turning off the lights.
It had been really good to see her. When I got back home a few days later, I finally joined Facebook and made her my “friend.”

* * *

One day—one day soon—all of this will become too mundane to be worth mentioning, but for now, while all this access still feels at least a little bit surreal, there are stages to move through as you test the limits of connectivity and your own willingness to connect. Sign on, and suddenly everyone is right there, posting exclamation-point-ridden messages to your wall about how “It would be so great to see you! We should get together!!!” that you quickly come to understand are mostly symbolic, a kind of conventional shorthand similar to the uncaptioned sonograms that passive-aggressively announce new pregnancies and changes to the clinical-sounding “relationship status” that don’t need to be conveyed personally because Facebook delivers the news itself, as a weirdly neutral intermediary. All this blatant good cheer butts up against a steady stream of updates from people saying they hate their jobs, are exhausted, feel sick, feel fat, feel nostalgic for the days when they used to look forward to the life they now have.

In my first few months on Facebook, I was just as fixated on it as a feared I would be. I exchanged messages and exultant wall posts with old friends from summer camp and college-era political campaigns and former jobs and, of course, high school. With minimal effort, I found out who was married, who was (already) divorced, who was drifting, who was successful, whose home birth had been featured on A Baby Story. I looked at photos of ex-boyfriends’ infants and a one-time mean girl’s beach vacation and the new apartment of a guy who sat next to me in chemistry class. Some people’s good news and contented lives made me smile. Others appeared to have gotten what I once thought they deserved.

And then, a few reconnections managed to make their way offline. They weren’t always the ones I would have expected or chosen. I had a pleasant, macrobiotic lunch with a girl I was last tight with in fifth grade, when we co-founded an exclusive environmental club before abruptly shifting our attention to Native American crafts. Now she was three months pregnant, and spoke with a vaguely European accent.

On one of the hottest nights of the year, I got dinner with an old friend from Hebrew school, who I once helped run for junior high student council (an optimistic effort which ended in miserable defeat) and who had been the first person I knew to French-kiss a boy—an experience she modestly, infuriatingly refused to describe in much detail.

I went out for an impromptu drink with a guy I was torturously close to when we were 16, who wrote me pained letters about his unrequited love and would sulk in corners at the parties we went to together. Now he was a burly, talented tattoo artist who turned sappy after a couple of beers and told me that in spite of everything, I probably knew him better than almost anyone else. In that moment—in a tight, sweaty hug outside the bar before I pulled away and headed home—I even believed him.

Darcey and I exchanged no more than two messages. She got married, beaming and surrounded by people I used to know. I wasn’t at the wedding, but I gave myself a headache staring at the pictures as they were posted online. I clicked through hundreds of snapshots taken by various friends and family: not just the professional portraits, but the awkward candids and blurry mistakes that these days don’t always get immediately edited out, but will eventually be stricken from the official record.

It’s so strange, this way that you can be left out of something but still have such a clear window in. How can I know so much about so many people without actually knowing them? Everything I used to know about Darcey, I knew because I was standing right next to her. If I squint a little, it still feels sort of like I’m just looking over her shoulder.

Eryn Loeb is a writer and editor in New York.

31 Comments / Post A Comment

C_Webb (#855)

I liked this a lot. When I look at the FB profiles of exes and their new/permanent "others," I sometimes feel as if I'm looking at the life I might have had; the pictures are so like everyone else's that it almost seems I may as well have been the one (as the song kind of goes).

brianvan (#149)


Somewhat ironically, I used the social widgets on this page to "recommend" this on Facebook, where it will mostly be seen by detached acquaintances from high school.

I see all these people touting social networks as a way to keep everyone connected always, but I doubt it that any of them stops to think if that's a sensible idea.

Jasmine (#8)

I know this. I have a few ex-best friends myself. Beautifully written.

brent_cox (#40)

Very nice.

Hamilton (#122)


Thank you. The last paragraph sums up FB very well.

Is it a male thing (or just me) that I feel bad not keeping in touch with many people, but if we end up at lunch or on the phone, the lost time is quickly forgotten and there's seemingly no awkwardness whatsoever.

alannaofdoom (#4,512)

Absolutely lovely, Eryn. More please?

Tuna Surprise (#573)

Loved this. My inability to handle a window in to my best-ex-best-friend is my biggest obstacle to getting on FB. Getting the Christmas card/letter every year is bad enough. Imagine if it came every day. With slideshows.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

I really liked this.

I've been on Facebook since it first went out to college campuses – I had just moved back to my college town for the first time and was lucky (?) enough to have an email address, so I joined in.

As the Facebook membership has grown to include everyone and their mother (literally), I've "run into" a lot of old elementary school/high school/college ex-friends. It's always, for me, been nothing but a positive experience. I don't get too into the picture stalking or anything; I'm just happy that I live in a time when one can stay connected (if at an arm's length) to people that previously would have never been heard from again.

I try to stay away from the "what could have been" line of thinking, because that's not productive and I'm happy where I have ended up thus far. But as it turns out, some of the people from my past have gone on to do pretty cool things and I'm happy to be able to see that – in a previous decade/generation, that just wasn't possible outside of annoying and inconvenient high school reunions.

beatrixkiddo1 (#2,988)

This was great.

Also, i'm a little jealous. All my ex-best friends from childhood are coming out of the woodwork now and sentimentally asking me to be bridesmaids in their far away suburban weddings. Nice girls all, but I'd rather just see the pictures on facebook.

a.t. (#1,744)

Great article.

garge (#736)

I had the misfortune of reading this quite at the moment after I finished a book, which tends to make me melancholy in and of itself .. that is to say it is now something of compounded melancholy. But I can claim the good fortune of catching this lovely piece–so, thank you.

Dan Kois (#646)

This was really lovely. Thanks, Eryn.

pissy elliott (#397)

I wanted to chime in and say how much I enjoyed reading this. Thank you.

Rollo (#3,202)

Agreed. I can\'t deal at all with Facebook (deleted my account), but haven\'t been good at articulating why. This gets at a big part of it.

Spirochete (#1,123)

What a lovely article. This, in particular, really struck home: there are stages to move through as you test the limits of connectivity and your own willingness to connect. Academically, the social network thing is absolutely fascinating, to observe and to participate in. But it's also such a strange, estranging experience. I was so desperate to escape from my adolescence that now, a decade later and an ocean away, the people I loved and the people I hated are all just status updates on a computer screen. In a way, that's wonderful: there they all are, constantly reminding me why I left and how glad I am that I did. But… they're all still together, at weddings and showers and parties and random Friday night drinks.

And, uh, so on.

scroll_lock (#4,122)

This was so well done and insightful. I love reading articles that affirm some feelings are more universal than you think, especially the melancholy, angsty-ones.

Dave Bry (#422)

Yes. This was really great.

Really, really lovely. I have had so many "Sliding Doors" moments lately and this summed so many of them up so well.

KarenUhOh (#19)

Facebook, you're such a strange device. Sometimes wonderful, more often you lurk in the shadows.

A few months ago, the first person I ever "fell in love with"–in 5th grade, mind you, but I recall the thrill as if I still was hanging on the monkey bars, trying to look desirable–wrote me on FB to say our 4th grade teacher was retiring, and they were having a party for her. And did I have any "memories to share."

I stared and stared at the message. Jolted by this longshot echo from my heart.

I'm old (and how the hell old must our 4th-grade teacher now be??), so almost all those detail cells have long since burned off (I do recall Ronny Olsen barfing on my feet), so I pounded out a slight vignette, and sent it to my "First Love" (who used to tease me, mercilessly, about this). Later, this person wrote back, to say our teacher had been thrilled by her little party, and that the stories of "her kids" had warmed her heart. We were her first class.

This person wrote a couple more times, asking, did I have any photos of our 4th grade class? (I didn't.) But, I was genuinely put off, and more than a bit hurt, that this was the only subject at hand.

I kept wanting to mention, Do you, um, remember how I, erm, you know, declared myself, so brashly and ignorantly, back then? But, I kept thinking, Your point, in saying this, is. . .???

And what on earth was I expecting, for a reply?

So I stopped writing altogether. A few weeks or so ago, I got one last message, "Any photos? Are you going to answer me?"

Well, I haven't.

Nice piece, Eryn. Resonant.

Neopythia (#353)

I really enjoyed this well. Wonderfully written. It's left me a tad melancholy as I realized I use Facebook more to look at others worlds as opposed to showcasing my own. My limited postings evoke an image of who others, like my family, percieve me to be as opposed to who I truly am. I debate deleting my account, but receiving those updates do allow me to feel a bit connected, even if I have no desire to deepen said connection.

Anyway, very well done.

whoneedslight (#758)

Beautifully moving.

SeanP (#4,058)

Yes, very nice article. This really gets at what Facebook is all about – the ability to remain connected, but not too connected, to your past.

City_Dater (#2,500)

You really captured so well that Facebook feeling. Meaning, I too have wasted hours looking at photos posted by people I haven't had an actual relationship with for over twenty years.

Bitch (#961)

Agreed – lovely.

Morbo (#1,288)

Probably one of the three best pieces I have read on here.

My only request is a follow up piece on what effect this article has had on her connectived-ness to Darcey.

SeaBassTian (#281)

It mirrors my own "glimpse into an alternative universe" Face-book experience to an extent. But am I the only one who felt like Darcy was kind of a cold fish? I know it's hard to capture the dynamics of a friendship in a short (well-written) piece but it seems your sincere attempt to connect was rebuffed. Not even a wedding invite?

Vodkasaurus (#4,109)

Thank you for this. I thought I was alone in that weird Facebook limbo of old/ex friends being "so happy to see you," and realizing you were the only one that actually left. The voyeurism into the life that could have been is just surreal at times.

areaderwrites (#592)

See, don't want to have these experiences, just one more reason not to go near Facebook. So do you have to have a Facebook account to apply for a job these days? Can't you just tell potential employers that "I don't use Facebook"? I *don't* use Facebook, I would be happy to let the personnel directors of the world search for me and see that I'm telling the truth.

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