If you follow me on any form of social media (facebook/twitter/instagram), you’ve likely seen at least one reference to the #Guy. Though many people have assumed that he is one man, it’s really just a placeholder for any person I’ve interacted with in a way that felt noteworthy at that moment in time.
Over the years, I’ve gotten into the habit of writing down funny things the people around me say, but only if it can fit in a tweet, and still be funny without any additional context (other than where it happened — at work, at home, or even while checking out at the grocery store).
This past year, it even became a webcomic.
This habit was slow to develop, but its one that’s had a surprising (and very much unintentional) impact on my life — both in how I perceive it, and how others perceive me.
As someone who’s historically struggled a great deal with depression and PTSD, I’d say I’m the kind of person who’s mind is naturally more inclined to hold on to negative feelings and memories. The first time I went to a therapist she asked me to think of the last time I’d felt joy, and I told her I couldn’t remember ever feeling that way. I spent years actively identifying as a someone who couldn’t be happy.
For most of my childhood, I was shuffled between groups of people who didn’t really want me around. Nannies who couldn’t speak English would keep to themselves when home alone with me. Neighborhood kids that I’d carpool with, who’d pretend to not know me at school, even though I’d eat dinner at their houses almost every night. Family friends’ kids who seemed to have no idea why their parents were inviting me to their parties.
During my second year of high school, I joined a group that I actually felt somewhat connected to. But due mostly to my mom being weird about me spending time with people who’s parents she didn’t already know (coupled with a general unwillingness on her end to meet people outside of her existing social circle), I had a hard time seeing any of them outside of school. Then I was introduced to Facebook.
When I first made an account (and subsequently added literally everyone I could think of, whether I was actually friends with them or not), it was at a time when direct messaging wasn’t quite a thing, and most people communicated by posting publicly on each other’s Walls. My friends would write on mine, and I would write on theirs.
“Get on Skype!”
“Call me right now!!”
“Where were you today? We missed you at lunch!”
Looking back on it, I remember feeling weirdly empowered by these public displays of friendship. Which makes sense in the context of how insecure I’d felt in my relationships with the people I spent most of my in-person time with. And even though it never changed how any of them treated me, it was probably the first time in my life I ever stopped to think that…maybe it’s ok to only be liked by some people.
When I first left for college, I spent a lot of my time wandering around town, physically alone. For the first year or so, I’d avoid feeling literally alone by being in constant communication with whoever I was dating at the time via text. Taking pictures of random things I’d see on the street — funny signs, weird art, people in costumes — and adding some kind of caption to make it feel like we were there together, sharing a laugh over an otherwise pretty ordinary thing on an otherwise pretty ordinary day.
At some point I stopped dating people, but my fascination with the mundane, and the compulsion to share it with others found another outlet: Facebook (and later instagram, when I found out my niece and nephew had accounts).
At some point this casual way of expressing myself expanded from just photos with captions into text: anything from #showerthoughts to long-form rants about specific topics (that very often turned into heated, multi-day debates).
As a socially awkward introvert, I’d always struggled to make friends intentionally. I’d gone through phases up until college of trying to be the class clown — always loud and energetic, laughing and cracking jokes — to make myself more approachable and palatable. Whether it was true or not, I often found myself wondering if the people I considered my friends viewed me more as a source of entertainment, rather than a complete person with thoughts and feelings. Not laughing with me — only at me. I wondered if it would be better to be alone than always feeling pressured to perform. Unable to be authentic.
When I started posting about my everyday life on Facebook, I noticed a change in how people interacted with me. People I’d barely said three words too in person — from kids I’d gone to high school with, to some I shared college classes with — started coming up to me in coffee shops, or asking me to grab dinner with them. “I love seeing your posts on Facebook,” became an everyday phrase.
Overtime, I think that this shift began to change how I viewed my own self worth. I went from someone who felt the need to go out of my way to get other people to like me, to someone who passively attracted people who thought I was interesting, and wanted to get to know me.
At some point my slice of life content began to include my dad. When I was 7 years old, my parents separated and my mom moved me to another state, so he was mostly absent from my childhood. And, as a CEO who rarely takes vacations and is always traveling/fundraising, he also had very little downtime to talk on the phone. But he did have time to text, and his personality would occasionally shine through in them.
“You and your dad seem really close.”
The first time I heard someone utter that sentence, it actually kind of shocked me. I’d spent so much of my life viewing my relationship with him as damaged beyond repair. I was completely content with the idea of (seemingly inevitably) falling out of contact with him as I got older and less financially dependent.
But as time went on, and I moved further and further away from the negative moments in our history, I started to realize that the only concrete indicators of our relationship left were these harmlessly cute snapshots. And that eventually became my truth.
My first few #GuyAtWork post were — believe it or not — somewhat mean-spirited. I was doing an internship, and there was a guy there who very obviously had a thing for me, but took it to a level of frequently invading my personal space and not taking the hint that I wanted to be left alone.
After a couple of weeks, another intern joined the company, and it completely changed the dynamic. This new person was incredibly sarcastic, and the banter between the two of them was pretty fun to watch and listen to. And, at some point, I started to share them, anonymously and out of context, on Facebook.
I’ve carried this habit across every job I’ve had since then. When I went through a period of self-employment, it leaked into my home life (since I lived with 12 other people at the time). Even my interactions with complete strangers were fair game.
And sometimes those strangers would turn into real friends as a result.
I feel like, every time I hear a story about the effects that social media have on people’s relationships, they’re always framed as a net negative. People pretending to be someone they aren’t. Afraid to share their real thoughts. Afraid to express their real feelings. Afraid to show their real and boring lives, and find beauty in the moments that are otherwise uninteresting. And feeling miserable because they know that their performance isn’t genuine, and neither is the engagement that comes with it.
But, as with any tool, it’s all about how you use it. And I chose to use it for me, and nobody else.
To be continued…