Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Big Reach

WARNING: Rabbit hole ahead ...

I had hoped to be the last person standing to ever join Facebook (FB). My friends told me it was not something to brag about. With nearly 500 million users, I was the odd man out, and not in a good way.

Why do I need to join anyway? I already speak to the people who I want (the same ones who told me to join FB). But deep inside I admit I was curious. I wanted to know who would seek me out. Maybe some secret admirer would have the gumption to ping me after all these years and tell me their true feelings. Or, perhaps no one would contact me.

So with trepidation I joined finally. And my worst fears came true.

The very people, the ones I was never friends with in the first place, reached out to me.  The high school class retard, the class whore, and then recent colleagues from my past job - a place I was trying to erase from my memory.

The black hole grew deeper. I continued to check-in, set alerts to my email, comment on wall posts just to see if someone else would contact me. I even lowered my standards further and started to friend people on my own volition. I reached out to people with large networks in hopes of seeding the process. But still, my Facebook friend suggestions consisted of people I had no desire to friend.

And then, a high school classmate (no one I was close to) committed suicide. It was all over Facebook. Sadly, he had been out of a job for over a year and determined this would be the best solution to the problem - to stay permanently unemployed. The chatter back and forth was incredible. The outpouring of grief, the questions of why. Well, if they had just checked his past FB entries, they would've heard the pain and anguish he was going through. Where were the FB friends then? More proof we have become solitary content providers incapable of having meaningful dialogues - unless checking "Like" accounts for anything.

But I forged on through my FB journey, after all this was about me. I was curious as to what other digital fingerprints this person may have left behind. So I checked the next best self-effacing wasteland, the anti-thesis to long-form text - Twitter.

Sure enough, he had an account but his last entry was at least a month prior to his demise. And even those entries were quite tame and fruitless. I guess he found it too difficult to update multiple outlets. I have to agree that FB is the best choice for viral impact. Twitter suicide rants are far and few between. The140-character limit puts a crimp into your shout outs for help:

My life sucks. I've been out of a job for over a year. No one cares about me and I'm sure the world would be a better place if I just weren'

Damn. See how quickly 140 characters gets used up.

Anyway, back to me. What caught my eye on the last Twitter post was an "@" response. It came from a name that sounded very familiar. To cut to the chase, I eventually recognized the person as a well-known figure in the Venture Capital circles.

So what was his name doing on a high school classmate's Twitter page? And why were the two of them corresponding? The deceased was not involved in private equity or early-stage startups. And then, the other reason as to why the name rang a bell popped up. The venture capitalist also grew up in our town. In fact, I graduated from high school with his older sister.

So the wheels started turning. I'm involved in a startup. We need money. What a great connection to make an introduction.

There was one problem. His sister.

I had had a crush on her in the 7th grade. I had even gotten the nerve up to ask her out. There was no FB or back then. You had to get on an actual landline phone and talk to someone - and listen to someone. And in this case, hear someone turn you down on your romantic offer to get some ice cream.

I recovered (by the 11th grade) and had even become hallway friends with this girl over the years. She acknowledged my existence with a smile and that was fine.  I wasn't looking for anything else, really.

It didn't even effect me when I found out we had both chosen the same college to attend. I would see her on campus and we would wave and smile to each other. Sometimes we would chat briefly about the goings on in our home town. We never socialized during those years. We had our own set of friends and that was fine.

And then we graduated. There was a big party on campus. It seemed the entire place was consumed with  the end of year fever. The streets were packed. Music from the local bars filled the street. And I ran into her. She smiled, said hello and then grabbed my hand. How strange I thought how your wishes do come true - usually at the wrong time.

I really had no interest in rekindling something that was never really there. I had girlfriends in college - some that I was still interested in. But I remained polite. Not pulling away or trying to make the situation uncomfortable. I went with it - all the way back to her apartment.

Yada yada yada. And as I was leaving her before the sun had risen, she asked me to stop by for brunch later on. Her parents would be there and we could see each other before she left. I told her I would call, but I never did.

Believe me, this was not payback for her 7th grade diss or some type of macho stance I try to make with women. There were some more in-depth reasons which I'll save for another blog post, but I will admit it was wrong.

And I thought about that as my business partner encouraged me to contact her venture capitalist brother. "Don't worry, she's probably forgotten about it. Besides, you're on Facebook - reach out to her if you're that concerned."

He told me about the girlfriends he apologized to over the years and how everything came out just dandy.

Good for him. He didn't know I had run into the girl (by now a woman) about 6 years after college. It was at our high school reunion. She came up to me. She wasn't very happy. No smiles or waves. She sort of sarcastically referred to the last time she saw me and then walked away. At least that's how I remembered it.

Yeah, what could go wrong I thought. I'll contact her brother and then I'll do what half the other people on FB do - either look up old flames and break up their marriages or apologize to people from 30 years ago and move on.

I found the brother's email address and wrote a nice note about how we're connected from the old town and how my business venture may be of interest to him. He responded immediately.

"Hey, we're in," I told my partner.

"See. Nothing to worry about."

The meeting went quite well. We talked about our childhood town, friends in common and the business we were in. I managed to even test the waters.

"Hey, how's your sister doing?"

"Good. She's married with a kid."

"Great. Tell her I said 'hi'. I should really look her up."

"Yeah. I'll tell her I saw you."


My partner was excited, especially since we were asked back to meet more people in the firm.

"That's all you want," he said. "To get a second meeting. Now, you've got to reach out to his sister."

Later that evening, I received a FB friend request from the brother. I was excited because one, he felt comfortable to include me in his little circle (of 697) friends, and two, he had most likely not made contact with his sister so I still had time.

I crafted, what I imagined to be, a well thought out and sincere message that I would send the woman (btw, I realize I'm not using names here) through FB.

Hey, small world. Just met your brother today, and it reminded me I should reach out to you. 
I'm sure you don't have strong feelings towards me right now, but I was hoping if we could speak I could shed some light onto the issue and explain things. I don't want me you feel uncomfortable and I would understand if you didn't want to speak, but I'm hoping you do.
Look forward to your response. 

"Tell me you didn't send that," my partner said.

"What. I was being truthful."

"You should've just stopped after the first paragraph. I'm feeling sick."

What's the worst that could happen, I thought. She just never responds or she writes back and says your're fucking nuts and I've reported your name to the FBI for harassing me.

The next morning I opened my email and the first subject line that pops out at me says: "You've got to be kidding".

My heart sank. I started to sweat. Okay what happened here. First off, it's not from her. Phew. Oh shit, did I send the message incorrectly over the FB channels? Did I post it on a public forum instead? Shit, shit, shit.

When I opened the email I was soon relieved to find out the subject line was a lead in to a rant from my friend John. He had just seen one of the worst movies in his life - "All About Steve"- and couldn't believe Hollywood could produce such tripe. "You've got to be kidding. Have you seen this piece of junk? It's awful. Vomit-inducing, mistake-ridden. They have no conscience ..." And on he went.

Not a fun way to start the day. It would soon serve as an harbinger for other things and the evilness of Fucking Facebook (FFB).

I needed to know if anything had transpired since my message went out. I shot off a quick note to the brother that morning thanking him for his time and a chance to catch up. An hour went by, then another and another. I was expecting a quick acknowledgement based upon past performance, but nothing.

The mind began to wander. What if he did reach his sister? What if she told him how much she still hated me? What if like a good brother he promised her he would never do business with me? And what if he promised her he would tell the entire VC community not to do business with us? What had I done?

I kept checking FFB, every minute or so, to see if I had been unfriended by him. I went to his page. I purposely hit "like" on a couple of his comments. Nothing. I kept checking the Wall to see if someone started posting ugly rumors about me and how no one should friend me.

Why did I join FFB? Why do they make it so easy to reach out and touch everyone? How in a few mouse clicks did I manage to fuck up my life, my career? Did my deceased classmate make the same blunder?

"Shut up. You're crazy," my partner said.

And then at the very end of the day, an email popped up. It was a message from her.

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Please don't read anything into that, but judging from the tone of your note there seems to be some past incident that has bothered you. I'm embarrassed to say, I don't recall what that slight may have been. So don't worry, I hold no ill feelings and perhaps we should just leave the past in the past. But if you have a need to talk about something to make you feel better that would be okay, too. I'm just sorry for not remembering why.
After all that. After 25 years of thinking I did such an un-gentleman-like transgression, she doesn't remember. Was I really that un-memorable? Did she use me all those years ago, and was glad I never called? How dare she not remember. Well, honey you were not much to write about either (wait, I am writing). Oh, I'm going to make you remember now.

"Yeah, that's probably not a good idea," my partner interrupted. "You're note was creepy. You're lucky you got off with a 'I don't remember'. Just let sleeping dogs rest."

I thought about it. "You're right." He nodded.

"But can I friend her anyway?"

He put his head into hands. "Sure, go ahead and friend her."

All this proves one thing for sure - you can never, never, ever know what another person is thinking or feeling. Truth is elusive. You can't obtain it, you can only search for it by asking questions, listening and rationalizing to get your answer. Even then, you don't have absolute certainty. Yet we convince ourselves we know the answers and live our lives accordingly. That's how we deal with classmate deaths, slights from the past and why anyone would want to join FFB and reacquaint with people you stopped to talking to.

1 comment:

  1. Hey man..How strange..I live in another place in this world an got almost the same situation to deal with..Another "She", a blonde, a classmate i never saw again for exactly 19 years.FB came, i was undercover and through another friend she recognised me.It is now 9 months we speak again , and realising how strange life is..Seing probabilities at work...;-))).Need a plane and 11 hours of flight to come to her and im planniong my second flight for 2010...Man...How long are 19 years..!!! But how beautiful to realise that the other side never forgot the ood and was able to cope with the worst.I got back the best friend on Earth..Hope you get Lucky, you too ...
    Have long nice days, man..!