Imaginary Lover

Who
could have foreseen that a 70s song could so aptly foreshadow 21st century
relationships? Imaginary lovers never
disagree. They always care. They’re always there when you need, satisfaction
guaranteed.

Can
it really be so shocking, then, that Manti Te’o opted for imagination over
reality? In fact, maybe it’s more surprising that his peers aren’t doing the
same.
 

Or
maybe they are.
 

For
all the accurate images of college life picked up and portrayed by the media, a
foot-on-the-ground stroll across an American college campus might be more
telling. Particularly if you get the full tour. Weekdays and weekends included.
 

From
my mini-view on my little campus, the numbers from the studies seem sound:
three-quarters are hooking up. The boys with more partners than the girls, but
the ladies are nonetheless hot on their heels.
 

The
weekends are wild, with the majority of students pretty willing to lay themselves
naked -just not metaphorically so. When it comes to weekdays and daylight,
there’s much less of laying themselves bare.
 

In
Monday morning classrooms, they interact not with one another, but with smart
phones and laptops. Avoiding eye contact is its own art form and they’ve got it
nailed. Their eyes are glued instead to their screens, tapping and texting, but
not talking.
 

When
my students share stories—and they always do—I often have to interrupt. So was
this an actual conversation or a
cyber chat? They rarely differentiate. But as they relate their tales, they
include an ascribed tone and intent for the sender. My suggestions that they
may be misreading their text readings are usually soundly dismissed. They heed
my interpretive warnings only with regard to student-professor correspondence.
 

Of
course it’s generational.  I get that
they communicate differently than we do. But it seems not to be just a
different means of a communication, but 
a
lack of one. Rather than face-to-face interaction, with real-time dialogue,
they’re texting and waiting, and filling in the spaces. They read between the
lines and create gaps where there are none, mistaking humor for insult, lust
for love, a casual friendship for a meaningful relationship.
 

I’d
like to support my kids and this written word connection of theirs, but they
seem to have it all wrong. In the brevity that allows them to leave out so much
out, they’re missing out on too much. Then, when they do share—often alcohol
fueled and impulsively sent—it’s too much with too many. They’ve jumped in the deep
end with no arm band floaties.
 

And
then too there’s that other part of human connection –the actual connection. Eyeball-to-eyeball,
hand-to-hand. You can’t read body language in a Tweet; words can’t replace touch,
and in spite of the emoticons to the contrary, you really cannot send a hug via
text.

 

 

Brand Loyalty

coffinMy friend’s dad passed away recently. Sad, but at 84, he’d lived a good, full life and leaves a legacy of family, friends and service. 

At the bottom of a lengthy obituary, I read that the wake would not be held at the local funeral home with which we’re all most familiar. I asked my friend –why not? After all, her parents had called our town home for nearly 50 years. They were both public school teachers, avid churchgoers, active in their community. And this other funeral home was in a town to which they had no affiliation or allegiance, no connection. 

But for one. 

See, the funeral home was owned by Lou’s friend. A childhood friend. 

Nuf said. 

Her dad and mine grew up in Eastie, stood on different street corners of the same small neighborhood of a big city. Graduated from East Boston High, married Eastie women. Had Eastie friends. And they took a piece of that culture with them wherever they went. 

They went far. 

Both sets of parents quite literally travelled the world. 

But home was still home and roots were set deeply. And friendships were forever. Just like family. 

So of course Lou would honor his friend by choosing the alternate location. Fully his decision, it made total sense to anyone who knew him or men of his generation. 

I hate when people make sweeping generalities. 

But I’m about to. 

The generation of young adults with whom I deal every day cannot comprehend that kind of loyalty and they never will. 

They may be members of teams, schools, and communities, but those connections never become as intrinsically a part of who they are as it did for the generations before them. My parents’, and even my own. 

I’ve asked my students and my own kids if they think I’m giving their generation short shift here. They don’t. Even those who quickly vouch for the genuineness of their own friendships are still reluctant to say that their peers and they have anything resembling what I and my parents have had –friendships which have lasted a lifetime. Relationships with people who can revel in your successes at the same time that they put you in your place. People who will stand by you regardless of the missteps you make. People who have your back. 

Sure, these kids haven’t lived as long as we have. Only time can truly test my premise. 

But then time may also be the culprit at the crux of where the roads of allegiances diverge. 

From the time our children were impatiently interrupting our phone conversations—and we allowed it—these kids have demanded immediate gratification. And as parents we enabled this warp-speed mentality by enlisting them in every sport, club, activity, that came along. 

And then came the internet -making the world smaller, while at the same time exacerbating isolation. 

When they spend hours faux-chatting with people they don’t acknowledge in daylight; when they can “unlike” someone by the click of a mouse; when more of their relationships occur online than in-person, it’s easy to see why their interpersonal skills might be underdeveloped. 

I frequently drive by bus stops, or walk by kids on campus who have their eyes glued to handhelds, intensely involved in their cyber-relationships, while ignoring the real people in their lives and by their sides. 

Maybe they’ve got something there. Maybe fast and furious is an easier path. After all, face-to-face requires effort and planning and interaction. It’s time consuming. It can be difficult and messy –and it can’t be ignored. 

On the other hand, no lol comes close to belly laughs shared with longtime friends; L can’t replace tears, and nothing feels quite like a hug.

 

Binge and Purge


    My 14-year-old nephew has a Twitter account. He also has 1146 friends on Facebook. And apparently, quite a following on both. 

    
When it comes to social media, I’ll admit I’m a few steps behind. Matty might say light years –particularly after he offered a rudimentary tutorial on IPad usage and was receptacle to some pretty 20th century questions regarding a 21st century device. Suffice it to say, he’s there. We’re not.




    Still, I have dipped my toes into the social networking pond, if not its ocean. I’m on Facebook, I have a Twitter account (Okay, so I don’t actually remember my account name or login, but I do have one. Seriously though, how much of a following are my treks to the produce section of Market Basket likely to produce?). 

    
But obviously, I blog.

    
See, I’m almost cool.




    My son would disagree.




    And perhaps he’s right.




    Because, try as I might, there are aspects of the genre to which I still feel an ill fit. Although many of my peers have embraced the connectedness that Facebook offers, I have trouble with one of its most basic premises: friending.




    Now that I think of it, I didn’t foresee the word friend becoming a verb. I am old. Befriend make senses to me. I get to make a conscious choice to be someone’s friend: befriend. 

    
Friending is a whole other animal.




    And quite an aggressive one, sometimes.




    There’s pressure on both the requester and the requested friend. And therein oft lays my dilemma.




    The (poor) marketer in me knows FB is an excellent tool for self-promotion. I get that’s where I’m supposed to go; it’s just hard to get there from where I came. We were taught NOT to speak too well of ourselves. The “me” kids came just after us and we didn’t think much of them.

    
I’m also uneasy with how Facebook has devalued a word I hold in pretty high regard: Friend.

    
Matty can’t possible have 1148 (the number’s risen since I started writing) friends. Not in any sense of the word to which I can relate.

    
One of the sites for which I write recently urged me to join its network. A principal of the company suggested I “friend everyone in the beginning in order to build a following. (You can always ‘unfriend’ later, if need be.).”




    Good advice, I’m sure. But I like neither concept –making friends with strangers. Or unfriending them when I realize they’re wacko.

    
See, in spite of the stream-of-consciousness with which I post here, I’m actually a private person. I choose the people with whom I share my life pretty carefully. Facebook is the antithesis of that philosophy.




    I’m also basically a nice person. Unfriending someone doesn’t sound very nice to me.

    
But as I watch Matty’s friends accumulate, (1151, now)I’ve learned of another trend. Posts to Facebook abound stating more-or-less: if you can read this, you’re still my friend; consider yourself lucky.




    Hmmm.




    Mixed feelings again. It’s a strong ego that feels his/her friends are the lucky ones and not the other way around.




    On the other hand, Facebook purging makes sense when the binging has gone on for too long. Some of my students have shared with me when they’re unfriending their friends. Their decisions usually follow a sound trajectory. And while I might have advocated them choosing wisely from the get-go, I’m all for their newfound selectivity. 

    
Could this be another example of the maturity I’ve witnessed with them through their years at my school?




    Probably.




    While my 20-something students are rethinking who they’re willing to call friend, even on Facebook, Matty’s friend list is at now 1152.




    And climbing.