Lissa Soep on Facebook, nostalgia, and intimacy

BB pal Lissa Soep, research director at Youth Radio, recently contributed a short audio commentary to NPR's Day to Day about Facebook, nostalgia, and midlife monogamy. I found it to be a very thoughtful, personal, and provocative piece. Lissa's story has a happy ending, but I know of several relationships that were demolished by a Facebook blast-from-the-past. From Lissa's piece:
With so many people my age riding Facebook like a time-machine to our past lives and loves, you might expect the site would be breaking up marriages, or at least unleashing all sorts of digital infidelity. Some of that is happening.

But what I'm seeing among some fellow oldsters on Facebook is the opposite.We've got a new through-line to our former selves, and that's re-awakening a feeling of desire–and desirability–that might actually strengthen midlife monogamy.

Sure, it's dangerous. Once you've friended an ex, you get to glimpse all these evocative fragments. A photo of him in front of sand dunes, squinting into the sun. The revelation that her favorite quote is Nietzsche's "Without music, life would be a mistake." Here's this person maybe you fooled around with in your parents' bed, or pulled an all-nighter with to finish a take-home exam. Now you're flashing back to all that with a teething child upstairs and a mound of work and let's say you haven't had sex with your spouse in two weeks. The mix of nostalgia and surveillance is disorienting. But it can also create a digital spark longterm partners need. It can reconnect us with who we are by helping us remember who we once were… and who we wanted to be.
"Facebook And The Over-30 Crowd"


  1. I’ve spent 10 years avoiding the heck out of those people, I don’t want to spend the next 10 clawing back my private information from Facebook.

  2. I’m 30 and white twitter and facebook seem fun, and quite useful, I value my privacy. I suppose the younger generation has a different view, not a better or worse one, just different, as to what is should and should not be shared.

    I enjoy twitter and having a wordpress site all my own is nice, but the notion of being that emeshed, that suffused with ‘friends’ and nostalgia? Just does not feel right for me.

  3. I suppose the effect is the same for those of us reminded what a yawning void our “past lives and loves” were — reminding us to appreciate the present.

  4. I’ve had to block my ex-wife and ex-sister-in-law in a number of different online communities (mainly Flickr & Facebook). We avoid each other in real life, why should it be any different online?

  5. I’ve had similar experiences with past-loves and friends resurfacing like this….

    Some of it can be really sad though as well. The line about “perfect teenage breasts and an AP mind” definitely matches my memories of these folks, whether we’re talking about past loves or just friends. I can think of five people off the top of my head who had a some sort of memory presence like that . . . and when I was presented with the modern reality, it was definitely an eye-opening dose of melancholy, out-right sadness, and happiness.

    The melancholy and sad fields were mixtures of hippy/punk/fight-the-man artists with a thousand interests who are now die-hard conservative Fundamentalist Republicans, college reporters who wanted to write the great American novel and now don’t even read, and sexual dynamos who now spend all day watching Oprah and Maury….

    The happy fields are almost the opposite…those who achieved dreams you thought were impossible, those who should have been dead by 24 but aren’t, and the sad and depressed who became something so utterly different, like the proverbial catipillar and butterfly.

    Having old loves and friends resurface is kind of like a bucket of cold water…a weird mixed-metaphor of signposts saying “work harder” and “don’t get old yet.”

  6. My wife set her 60-something mother up on facebook.

    A week later, she was telling us her first big highschool crush had found and contacted her via the service. Of course, there’s no hint of the “danger” alluded to in TFA; it’s just kinda funny when two people reestablish contact after 40 years of disconnection.

  7. frankly, now is the perfect time to pick up a copy of “the ethical slut,” explore your options in ethical non-monogamy, and have the time of your life. again.

    it’s happening in some of my circles.

    that again, frankly, i’ve never really understood the tradition of only having sex with one person for the rest of your life.

  8. I’ve never had this problem, not to brag. Just wondering why I’m different. I have a slew of ex-boyfriends, and I either remain friends with them (and in all cases have NO desire to get together with them ever again — sorry, you-know-who-you-are) or do not speak to them any more. In the latter case, it might be nice to see how they’re doing but again I have no desire to get with them again. Maybe it’s because I have this intense need for closure, so there are no “what-ifs”? I don’t know.

    It’s the men I meet for the first time that would probably pose the greatest threat to my marriage — the excitement of getting to know and connect with someone is a bigger turn-on for me than nostalgia. But I feel pretty comfortable having little crushes on them and then remembering that no one could compare to my husband. I certainly don’t feel like FB increases that danger.

    Unrelated: I love #7 Merreborn’s story about his m-i-l.

  9. If I had a single pleasant memory from any of the social interactions (outside of the one romance that blossomed into marriage) I had in high school such a thing might be a possibility. However (and admittedly probably due to my own nature as much as the place I was in), the “friends” I made in high school ultimately had about as much importance and influence on my life as the “friends” I now have on facebook.

  10. I’m glad to see that facebook is finally getting recognition as something more than a passing fancy. I think people have barely begun to realize what a profound tool it is going to be. Also, maybe this is obvious, but people who are older than say forty see and use facebook in a much different and maybe more deliberate way…
    It’s not twitter and it’s not MySpace.
    Yeah, I know someone is going to ask what I mean by that…

  11. I suppose the effect is the same for those of us reminded what a yawning void our “past lives and loves” were — reminding us to appreciate the present.

    Or, the effect is to remember the good times back in the day, and also build on them now. You don’t have to be married and monogamous to still want to make these connections.

    Someone once pointed out that Twitter is for new friends and Facebook (or at least Facebook before the last redesign, ick) is for old friends. It makes sense to me.

  12. Umm, to all those folks who are “I didn’t have any friends in high school! I haven’t known a single person in the last 30 years that I ever want to talk to again! My cats are the only ones who’ve ever understood me!”…errr, we aren’t talking to you.

    You know, kinda like we didn’t back then?

    Oh, now I’ve done it.

  13. @ another aaron – You know, kinda like we didn’t back then?

    Actually, you* did.

    The problem is you* became boring (or mean, or disaffected, or sold out your ideals) in your 20’s.

    I can think of nobody I’ve known who I am not in sufficient contact with without social networking in my life (aside from GoodReads, which is a service). I have an impressive pile of people who would trust me with their very real lives. Those are friends, and because I stand (literally) by them when they need me, I have no shortage of them, but I have absolutely no “friends”, and no interest in what Fleecebook thinks the word means.

    * – not you personally, you seem fine.

  14. held off as long as i could, but an old friendfinally convinced me to get on crackbook, and now i is hooked! gawd, that is sooooo cliche’.

  15. @#9 N: I don’t feel a great need to reconnect because I *don’t* need closure. I came to this realization after I was “friend-dumped” by a close college friend in a very hurtful fashion, and after agonizing over it for ages, realized that no answer to, “Why did you do that?” was going to make me happy, and that whatever was going on, it had to do with her personal pscyhodrama, not with mine, and I am not actually the star of everyone else’s psychodrama. Just mine. :)

    I’m generally happy to chat with people from high school, college, or other prior lives if I run into them — online or otherwise — and I find I harbor really very little bitterness or anger, given how melodramatic I was at 16. But I don’t feel any great need to seek them out, either. The friends I’m still friends with are the ones who mattered and matter; the others I’m happy to see, but it doesn’t reawaken crazy long-dead emotions or anything.

    I’m not on Facebook — I don’t see the need — but when people want to desperately reconnect with me, they usually find my brother (same unusual last name, two years apart in HS, so people usually knew both of us) and he passes their info on to me.

    My neighbor spends a lot of time agonizing over who to friend or not friend and demanding my opinion on 20-year-old pscyhodramas and whether they’re worthy of friending now. Seems like an enormous expenditure of emotional energy to me … makes me tired just listening.

  16. I’m torn about reconnecting with HS friends and junior high crushes on FB. I am now “friends” with my high school crush and it’s just reinforcing that I dodged a bullet. I put very little energy into reviving the old relationships and spend most of my time on FB keeping up with the huge social circle I have and cute boys I know in this decade. However, I do have some friends who are in dangerous territory with the cyber-flirting. Somehow they can rationalize it away as harmless.

  17. now Jennifer, you’ve been asked nicely to leave your link in your profile before, yet you keep including it in every post. Are you waiting for something to happen?

  18. From one who knew what he was talking about:

    “It is sadder to find the past again and find it inadequate to the present than it is to have it elude you and remain forever a harmonious conception of memory.”

    –F.Scott Fitzgerald

  19. I’m not reading anyone’s comments on purpose before posting this because I do not want to be influenced by them. But, I find facebook a blessing and curse and this boing boing post caught my attention because I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

    It is strange to reconnect with people from your past, people you “normally” wouldn’t ever reconnect with. Is this the first time this has happened in the history of us, to this degree? What does this mean for us as a society and for the world? Or not.

    (my pizza might be burning, brb)

    O.K. pizza is fine. But not for too long.

    I’ve been randomly reconnecting with those in the past and even using facebook as a way to apologize for letting a friendship completely dissolve.

    In many ways, it’s been cute and great at the same time. But also devastating. I found out that an old college friend, my first boyfriend, died in 2005 and I just found on Monday.

    Does that mean I suck as a friend? Perhaps.

    But on some level Facebook helped me find that out, that I suck as a friend and my friend died.

    I’m listening to the Deadmaus remix of the Calvin Harris song “I’m not Alone” and posting on Boing Boing. “God I can’t do this anymore”.

    There is a lot here and lot left to be looked at. We don’t know yet the impact this type of connection will have on society.

    Now, I’m going to eat my pizza and read what everyone else commented.

  20. I finally joined FB at the request of a small group of my closest friends from high school. I thought, ok, for them, I will join. Got bored within a week and I haven’t logged on in months. I think the problem is that while I still think it would be fun to sit down for a dinner or drinks with my old chums, within the context of FB, they were just annoying. I find the rapid, short quip, shotgun posting of the comments and pictures completely disengaging.

  21. I’m in my mid-thirties but also a grad student with a lot of friends in their twenties, which puts me in a kind of demographic wasteland. I’m on facebook and use it to communicate with friends near and far. I find its structure working for me in a lot of situations, but not all.

    When people from high school “friend” me, I accept their invitations but on a “limited profile” status, which means they can see my educational and professional information, photo, and not much else. And I set my viewing options so that I don’t have to see their status updates, etc. If we didn’t really know or care about each other 20 years ago, then I have no interest in them now.

  22. If a relationship is demolished by a Facebook “blast from the past” then it possibly wasn’t worth conserving in the first place. If both parties were completely happy in their present life, the blast from the past would not be a threat.

    Just a thought.

  23. I joined myspace at the request of a friend to share some photos, and within days received an invite from my ex-wife of six years ago. It wasn’t necessarily a clean breakup and I never fully healed from it. But that’s just how those things go, fine by me. But what bothered me was the timing. Six years of separation, and only three days of being on myspace before she found me. Wonderful. So we chatted a few times here and there and it was immediately apparent that some people don’t change. Every conversation was basically her bragging about how awesome her life was, which I easily saw through for its transparency because that’s just how she always was. But that’s my other problem with online social networking, most of the people I know that are into it are not humble people at all, and basically take enjoyment out of talking about themselves nonstop whilst not really caring what you yourself have to say. It’s just another way for them to elevate themselves. Not my cup of tea. I would rather spend my time enriching my own life and not being cyberstalked by people I have absolutely no desire to ever talk to again.

  24. Well, I’m 31 and I love Facebook. I was a foreign-service brat and moved A LOT as a kid, that made me develop an almost obsessive need to find friends I knew back in the day. Facebook has been THE best way to do this. I’ve been online since 1996 (and searching since then), but nothing has managed to bring everyone together like Facebook. Not sixdegrees (yes I remember that one), not hi5, not MySpace.

    No threat to my marriage, no drama or baggage. Just people who were friends and lost touch, finding each other and catching up.

    I won’t add my ex-husband (even if he asked which he hasn’t thank goodness), I won’t add people with whom I had an actual falling out with (what’s the point?). I use the same filters for Facebook friends that I do for real life friends. It makes for good times to be had by all.

    Oh, and the new layout is really not that bad, people.

    I’m gonna go update my status now ;D

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