Resources for Creating a Safer, Saner, More Loving World

Facebook and the Tempting Illusion of Intimacy

Celebrating the Jewish New Year

By Seth Eisenberg

Between servings of gefilte fish and horseradish, apples and sweet honey, kreplach and matza balls (just one, please), I was intrigued to discover a new guest at this week’s festive meal marking the start of the year 5771 on the Jewish calendar. In a season of joyous anticipation of adventures, lessons and miracles to come and in the midst of war, economic turmoil, and fast approaching mid-year elections, the real passion came out when discussions turned to Facebook.

Hearing the tone and tenor of stories shared, someone (from another planet) unfamiliar with the mega-successful social networking site could easily believe Facebook is the name of a deceitful lover, estranged spouse, bullying supervisor, or teenager swimming full steam through the rebellious years of adolescence.

“I’ve given up on Facebook,” a guest sighed with more than a hint of exasperation. “I sent all my ‘Friends’ a note letting them know I’m leaving for good, shut it down, and haven’t looked back.”

I wondered aloud how it is that experiences with Facebook elicit such strong emotional responses. It’s hard to imagine someone feeling betrayed or let down by LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr, or even MeetUp. Craigslist, of course, is another story altogether.

And then it struck me. For many, Facebook ‘Friends’ have somehow become associated with intimacy – feeding a hunger for human connection among those who delight in the virtual façade of community, friendship, and perhaps even love from moments shared in a digital world in which time, geography, and the multi-faceted, multi-dimensional aspects of relationship seem to disappear.

Seth Eisenberg's Facebook PageI have to admit I’m not unbiased when it comes to Facebook. I love (yes, love) sharing pictures of precious moments (perhaps a bit too often), keeping a finger on the pulse of distant friends, family, and colleagues, and the ability to dive into the pool of diverse experiences through periods of celebration and collective sorrow that are posted daily by ‘Friends’ around the corner and across the globe.

I too have had my moments of exasperation, especially when Facebook in an instant arbitrarily disconnected our non-profit’s page and the 1,000+ people we’d stayed in touch with there regularly. If you’ve ever tried calling Facebook to plead your case to a human, it’s an impossible task. Facebook is not a democracy nor is it set up to show particular concern for the impact their programmer’s actions can have on their individual members.

Through it all, one thing has always been clear: Facebook is not intimacy. The human need for the combination of emotional openness and physical closeness with another person will not be fulfilled in a virtual world. There are no shortcuts to the work of relationships, as tempting as it might be for many to embrace the illusion of opportunity Facebook appears to offer.

Relationships are good days and bad, embracing the miracle of others in all their dimensions, in happy times and sad ones, even when we see things very differently.

Daniel Casriel, a visionary psychiatrist, believed the root cause of most ailments that afflict human beings emerges from a deprivation of bonding.  His work with adults and adolescents in residential treatment centers was effective because he recognized that long-term healing and health had to be founded on the accelerated re-education of emotions, beliefs and attitudes that promote our ability to sustain fulfilling relationships.

Facebook is not an alternative for those relationships, although it’s a wonderful place to share special moments, stay in touch, and add a unique dimension of awareness and shared appreciation for the journey of many who are meaningful, yet distant.

Seth Eisenberg is President/CEO of the non-profit PAIRS Foundation, an industry leader in relationship skills training and marriage education.

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September 2010
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