A new friend request was awaiting Meenakshi’s approval when she logged onto Facebook. It was someone she recognised from years ago. His face was a faded memory. There were more than 25 mutual friends. So, with a touch of a finger, he became her friend.
He was handsome, successful, well-connected -- if Facebook was anything to go by. Popular, if one was to believe the hundreds of comments on his pictures. Intelligent, if that was the measure of someone’s posts. She took Facebook at face value.
He started to like some of her posts. She liked some of his.
One day, a message in her inbox. It was decidedly flirty. When could he see her, he asked. She choked on her sandwich. Although Meenakshi was used to men messaging her, it wasn’t what she’d ever expected of him. He was in a happy relationship, content, glowing in the warmth of his girlfriend. She’d taken Facebook at face value.
She thought about his message for a while. Here was a handsome and intelligent man flirting with her. Nothing wrong in sending a clever and funny reply back, she thought. They lived in different cities. Not like they’d ever actually meet up.
Ah, someone’s been checking out my posts, she pressed send. The reply came within seconds: Yes, posts and much more.
Erm...she left it at that. Weeks passed.
He messaged again. This time a reaction to one of her videos. She sent a polite thank you because, well, it would be rude not to.
A pattern developed. He’d message something flirtatious every couple of weeks. She either ignored it or sent a neutral reply.
But now, he was definitely on her radar. She checked out his profile, photos posted over the years, traced his career through his posts. She was intrigued. And impressed. He’d be a good person to have a conversation with. Wasn’t that the whole point of social media? That it opened you up to interacting with people you’d never otherwise meet; that it widened your social circle from behind a screen; that you connected with people in other cities, hell, other continents if you liked what you saw.
Up until now, she’d never taken the initiative to message him. Now she did, about something inane like politics. That green dot against his profile pic told her he was online, a “seen” notification told her he’d read her message. She never got a reply.
Weeks later, another message from him about a picture of herself she’d posted. This time, she decided to not reply. Just like he had done.
A few days later, another message. She ignored it.
If she ignored his message, he’d get in touch again. If she sent him one, the reply never came. This was beginning to feel like some kind of a twisted relationship.
She started to discuss him when a group of us friends went out for dinner. Only, no one seemed to have any compass of understanding because his was an online presence, not a real one. Truth is, we said, you know nothing about him. He’s not even thinking about you.
Sound advice. But when has that ever worked when you believe what you want to believe.
She’d post pictures and wait to see if he’d like them. If he did, she’d like one of his back. If he didn’t, she retaliated by not liking his stuff back. That’s what social media is about, isn’t it, you like my posts and I like yours, even if I actually think it’s rubbish.
This continued for over a year. I began to dread Meenakshi’s calls because she’d want to talk about the “online man”, as we nicknamed him. I had nothing to say about it anymore.
Every couple of weeks he’d send a message, to which she’d reply on days she was feeling friendly or ignore when she felt resentment.
She said she needed to take back control in this game. Yes, there was an interest expressed. Yes, it was reciprocated. But the cost was high -- an all-consuming, passive-aggressive relationship that wasn’t even a relationship.
They didn’t know each other. Never would. He had 2,988 friends on Facebook. Meenakshi was 2,989th.
We got the message through to Meenakshi: sometimes, subtlety doesn’t work. There is only one solution online.
He’d come into her life with the touch of a finger. Now, with the same touch of the same finger, he was gone. She unfriended him.