Thursday, May 31, 2012

Love in the era of social media

Tuesday evening, my gentleman friend and I worked side-by-side on our computers as we often do when I come home and replace my marketing/PR hat with my author one, and he tosses off his copywriter hat and dons his photographer one.

We wear little clothing around here, but there’s no shortage of hats.

I updated my Facebook page to mention my  June 4 speaking engagement in Boise and then scanned my profile for things to update. Once I stopped snickering about the “show my sex in my profile” option, I stared at the “relationship status” field.

For the first time in awhile, I gave it some thought.

I’ve opted to keep that status hidden for most of the 20 months I’ve used Facebook, partly because my details were too complex for two-word explanations. There’s no clicky-button for “forced to admit my friends-with-benefits proposal was woefully misguided when I unexpectedly fell madly, crazily, deeply in love with the guy I sought as my divorce mentor.”

Now that we’ve dated for 14 months and resided under the same roof for six, it’s apparent this thing with my gentleman friend is a serious relationship. Well, as serious as a romantic comedy author could ever be about relationships.

Labels are a gray zone for me. On the blog and on Twitter, I’ve referred exclusively to “my gentleman friend.” My reason was partly to afford him some privacy, and partly because the word “boyfriend” makes me feel like I’m in elementary school playing kiss-tag and flipping my skirt up as a form of flirtation.

Not that I’ve advanced beyond that level of sophistication, but I like to make the distinction.

In the era of social media, relationships are seldom simple. I joined Facebook as a marketing tool for my writing career. Though I rarely make blatant suggestions for people to buy my books, I hoped the humorous, risqué tone of my posts might prompt people to seek out other things I’ve written.

Of the nearly 1,000 “friends” I have on Facebook, perhaps 25-percent are people I know in real life. They might be high school classmates I haven’t seen for 20 years, or they might be girlfriends whose hair I held back over the barroom toilet last week, but they’re people I could easily pick out of a police lineup.

And that’s where things get fuzzy. Plenty of these folks know me, and know my gentleman friend. We routinely tag each other in photos and posts. Though my profile is wide open for any Facebook user to peruse, his has privacy settings ensuring photos of his kids are shielded from face-eating cannibals.

Still, there’s some uncomfortable overlap. People who’ve read my books or blog often “friend” me on Facebook, and I’m always happy to make new friends. But I’m never quite sure what to tell my gentleman friend when he asks, “do you know all these people sending me friend requests?”

Um, sorta?

How do you define knowing someone in the era of social media? I like to believe I know and love every single person who reads this blog, but it’s entirely possible one of you is a serial killer who licks hamsters and sleeps naked in my bed when I’m at work.

Not that I’m judging.

These are all things I discussed with my gentleman friend Tuesday night while we studied our Facebook pages together. In the end, we decided to go for it – to simultaneously update our profiles to “in a relationship” and list each other’s names.

Within 15 seconds, the post announcing the status update had three “likes” and two congratulatory messages.

“Holy crap!” he said. “Who are these people?”

Um, “friends?”

I quickly removed the update so it didn’t show up as a timeline announcement, but rather a status that might have always been there. Even then, I woke to several congratulatory messages the next morning. While I love the sentiments and love knowing people are happy for us, it still feels a little funny.

I suppose this is just the way things are with modern relationships, particularly when one's career requires a public presence. We make up the rules as we go along, we hope we’re getting it right, and we perform course-corrections when we aren't.

A big part of who I am – both as an author and an individual – is my habit of sharing all the absurdly amusing personal details of my life. While I plan to keep doing that, I'm aware that I'm the one who signed on for this – not my loved ones. It's why I always have my gentleman friend preview any post that mentions him (and for the record, he did a great job catching typos in this one!)

What are your thoughts on public profiles, privacy settings, and how much authors or anyone else ought to reveal? How do you decide what to hold back and what to share? Have your feelings evolved at all? Please share!

And in case you are a serial killer stalker who enjoys visiting Idaho, I’ll be speaking at the Boise Public Library from 7-8:30 p.m. on Monday, June 4 as a kickoff for their summer reading series. Come on out and say hello. Bring the hamsters.


Anonymous said...

I've deleted my social media accounts. I don't blog any more either. It's a privacy issue. I've followed your blog since it began. I was just thinking the other day that your whole life is an open book. Very brave! :)

Musing Sallie said...

Ahh, the life in the lime light. Not that I'd know, but you do a good job conveying your point. You need your blog and Facebook to create hype. You need our comments to prove said hype and you hope hype sells your books (I've personally purchased two and recommend your blog to anyone who will listen). Why would people "friend" your gentleman friend? You mention he has children young enough to play in a little league. It seems kind of creepy that one of us virtual strangers would expect to be given the opportunity to stare at their pictures. Or, uhm, as you said...expose them to our face-eating cannibal habits. (And THAT'S the description you link?!) Maybe many think he's in the lime light, too? Meh, regardless - my hamsters say hi.

Loralie Hall said...

I've been on Facebook for almost two years, but my spouse just very recently joined. The conversation we had yesterday

her: no one comments on my statuses
me: you need to add more 'friends'
her: I don't know anyone
me: I don't know 75% of my 'friends' either.

It's an odd new world, this whole 'willingly making our lives public' thing.

Patty Blount said...

Good question - for me, it's coming up a lot lately not so much about my relationships, but my belief system. I find myself with very strong and vehement opinions on a certain trend lately that has both political and religious implications.

I am SO opinionated on the matter that I want to blog these opinions and weigh in each time I see some lunatic post the opposing view.

And then I remind myself that I am neither a politician nor a religious leader and that my opinions will not change anyone's mind on the subject.

Meghan Ward said...

You wrote this post at 2:30 a.m.? WHO's the serial killer? :) And have you tried out the Catholic Schoolgirl uniform on your gentleman friend yet?

My way of dealing with privacy on FB is to have two, well, THREE, pages. I have two profiles - one for "real" friends where I post pix of my kids and one for both friends and people I meet online AND I have a page. The downside, of course, is that I don't keep all three updated. I mostly update my page with the occasional post to one of my two profiles.

Nathan Bransford wrote a great post about divorce in the Internet era a couple of months ago and how he changed his FB relationship status in the middle of the night so as not to draw too much attention. (Maybe that explains your 2:30 a.m. post!)

I wish I were in Boise, so I could meet you in person, but I'll be too busy licking hamsters Monday anyway.

Good luck with your reading, and congrats on your new relationship status!

Laina said...

I actually DO know most of my facebook friends pretty well. I have less than 70 and over 20 of them are relatives or people I know in real life. I have a blog account on facebook that's seperate from my personal one and anybody can friend me on that one, but I keep my real life and my blogging/internet life seperate. Yay for blogging under a pseudonym :P

I've seen... I can't remember who, but I saw one author who says you can friend her and that's perfectly fine but to please not friend her friends and family. That makes a lot of sense to me.

ALSO. You can use lists!! On facebook, you can seperate people into, like, family, friends, people you think lick hamsters, and then when you post a status, you can decide who you want to share it with. I just learned that :D

Also, awwww :P

Jessica Lemmon said...

I guess we all feel a bit like we *know* you, even though we don't. Or do we? ;) Your posts are beautifully open and inviting, blog, FB, and Twitter, too. Sharing the vulnerable parts of your life makes people want to reach out (in a non-pervy way, let's hope.)

It remains to be seen if I'm "too open" but I err on the side of friending lots of people, too.

Congrats to you and your "gentleman friend," I think you made the right choice to update your statuses (stati?), and I'd take those "congrats" comments as compliments. We are romance readers, and love nothing more than an HEA to cheer over. :-)

Skye said...

I am concerned about privacy in the social media era, especially as it might concern present or potential future clients or employers.

I rarely go on Facebook; I have nothing to promote and I have nothing to say. I have no one who might potentially be affected by what I say. But that would definitely make me more cautious.

I do have a blog that doesn't have my last name on it but it is findable if you know some not so private things about me. I finally decided to be brave and start posting about my struggles with depression and anxiety and figure that any client I want to work with won't hold having such issues against me and anyone who would I wouldn't want to work with.

It is a narrow tightrope to walk when you have to promote yourself. I will definitely look to you as a model when I have to do the same thing. I think you do a good job.

Jeffe Kennedy said...

Funny, because my congratulations was totally tongue in cheek - because I knew that all that happened was changing that status. Tell Mr. Z that he doesn't know me... but he *will*. Oh yes. He will!

Jason said...

I'll be honest - I'm not overly concerned about privacy. I don't post anything on my FB account or on Twitter that would bother me if it was tossed back at me at a later date. I just assume it's not private and act accordingly. It's fun, it's interesting, I've met a lot of great people, but I never at any point figure it's private.

It's kind of interesting you mention the difference in your approaches; it's similar to my wife and I. I have three twitter accounts, three tumblr blogs, a FB account, a Blogger blog...she has none of those things. Every time I write something that mentions her or want to post a picture she's in, I ask her first. Sometimes she says no, sometimes she says okay - I respect that. There is a balance, for sure.

I have never asked my dog though. Hope she's not worried about privacy, because I'm pretty sure she has more friends online than I do.

Noelle Pierce said...

This is really interesting. Like you, I have my account for networking. I figure the day I have a debut and other books coming out, I'll be all set. However, "Noelle" is a figment of my imagination. Well, not her personality. That's pretty much me. What you see is what you get. But the name is a pen-name, and she doesn't have a physical address and her kids are named Thing 1 and Thing 2. She's married, but her husband is not named or linked on FB. In all honesty, the pen name allows me more freedoms with social networking. I can't imagine doing all this with my real name.

For the record, I think you're doing a great job with the blog and FB. I've never felt that you gave too much information, even about your loved ones.

Kristina L. Martin said...

It really is a challenge to figure out how to navigate these waters...not sure I'll ever know if I got it right.

But as for you and Gentleman Friend, it looks like you got *that* right. ;)

Janelle Alexander said...

While my Facebook is private (as I post family pictures and personal statuses), I do accept requests from people I talk to or interact with online, but my twitter and blog are public, so I don't post personal information there. When the time comes, I'll use a public page on facebook for people I don't "know".

Sierra said...

My FB is private, but I do have some "friends" who are internet-only friends, mostly women I met through a blog community I no longer participate in. I figure I shared so much with them there that anything else I post isn't really an issue.

I've been using FB less and less, and my own gentleman friend never logs on to it anymore, even though we wouldn't have found each other again without it. For him, it's too intrusive. (He still gets some of those friend requests from people who know me, and I just tell them kindly that he doesn't add anyone he hasn't met in person.) For me, it's the best way to keep in touch with distant friends and family. I've deleted the people I vaguely remember from high school, though, and am weeding out the people I wouldn't want to hang out with in real life. :)

Judy,Judy,Judy. said...

The mentality I don't understand is the mentality that says - I'm Tawna's friend therefore I must friend her gentlemen friend, even though I don't know him.
Uh, why? I don't get that.
I'm private in a vague way that most people who know me could easily see through.

Julie Glover said...

I have two FB pages -- one personal and one professional. I share about my family (including kids) on the personal one, but for professional stuff y'all don't need to know nor do y'all care (like that my kid pitched a great baseball game). It's worked for me, but I struggle to juggle.

And I love the phrase "gentlemen friend." I'm guessing he calls you his "lady friend"?

Frankie Diane Mallis said...

This is something that I actually toil with a lot. I am one of those people who had a facebook account back when it was only available at a handful of schools and I am VERY used to using it and posting pictures and tagging people etc. But now I am very aware that plenty of my friends are not all people I know in real life...many many are, but still. So I'm always trying to figure out how to keep the fun alive and be professional but not too professional. Personal, but not too personal. It's weird.

Kiersten said...

Damn it! I even made the bed when I got out of it and you STILL noticed!

As for privacy, I am very aware of it but perhaps not as circumspect as I probably should be across the board. I reluctantly started on FB to connect to old friends & family and was an instant convert. But as I sequed into more of a marketing/ promotion platform, my use has changed. I'm also hypervigilent about FB privacy b/c it tries to screw its users so much. Also, there are dayjob people on my FB page.

Twitter has become my primary soap box for social media. I've decided to take the approach to only post what I could live with/stand by should it come back to bite me in the ass. I have definitely met people online - twitter and otherwise - that have become pals and whom I've met IRL with great success. It's a wonky situation, and yet it can bring about some fantastic things.

Though not the cannibals, obviously.

Tawna Fenske said...

Awesome discussion, you guys! So fascinating!

LOL, Meghan....I write all my posts the day before and set them to go live at 2:30 a.m. so they're up in plenty of time for east coast and international readers. Don't worry, I'm never up writing at that hour. I'm too busy peering in strangers' windows and breathing heavy. Also, thanks for the tip on the Nathan Bransford post. I went looking for it and thought it was awesome!

Thanks to everyone who praised my social media habits. I do my best, but I know I sometimes fall on the side of TMI.

One of these days I'll set up a Facebook fan page, but I'm not ready for that yet. When I joined Fecebook 20 months ago, I didn't feel right asking people to "like" me when I hadn't yet done anything "likable" (my debut novel was still 10 months from publication at that point). This early in my career, I feel better having a level platform where we're all just "friends." That said, I know I'll eventually hit the Facebook friend limit and have the nightmare of converting everyone to "fans."

Thanks again for the great discussion, and for reading this blog!


Anonymous said...

Facebook is a phenomenally creepy social platform in some ways. When I first joined Facebook, I had a pseudonymous profile that was only for people I knew online and wanted to stay better connected with than on forums or blogs. I didn't have any real desire to have a profile for people I knew offline, because--duh--I could talk to them offline.

But after awhile I decided I wanted to have "real" Facebook profile, so I created a second account but kept my old one, and the two had nothing to do with each other. I kept this up for a vry long time. Eventually, I joined a bunch of new sites and met new people, and they didn't overlap much with my old online friend-group, and so I was running three profiles for awhile. Less about privacy and more about not spamming my various social circles with stuff I knew they weren't interested in.

Much later, my original profile only had a few active "friends" associated with it, but they were people I really wanted to keep in touch with. So I migrated the dozen or so people over to my "real" Facebook profile, and I stopped logging into my original account.

But my original problem remains. The people I know on- and off-line just aren't in the same circles, and my writing friends online would be bored out of their minds with my personal Facebook pages statuses and posts, etc. The same goes for my offline friends not caring about my writing stuff. So as much as I do feel comfortable calling people I know only online friends, they aren't friends in the same way as my offline friends and vice versa, so I conduct my social media activity accordingly.

And of course, if I ever arrive at a career in writing, I certainly wouldn't want to associate my "real" account with my writer brand. Not because it's embarrassing or inappropriate, but because it's part of my personal life, not my professional one.

I think it's awesome that some people feel they can handle the two together, but it's not something I want to have to deal with.

Alexa O said...


Have you thought about moving your fans over to an author page so that your friends can be limited to people you know?

If people "like" your author page, they won't get access to your personal page, and you won't get access to theirs.

Because your gentleman friend has children, and there are surely pictures of all of you on both of your FB sites, you may want to consider this. There are also ways to beef up your privacy on your FB page. You can customize who can see your posts. It's a little time-consuming to set it up, though...

Just a thought. I think that as long as you and your gentleman friend are happy with your sharing, then that's great. Loved this post!

Deborah Blake said...

I struggle with this one too. I mostly joined FB and Twitter because my publisher told me I had to, a number of years ago :-)

I've made some amazing connections through social media--some of which have turned into genuine friendships, and a few of which have actually helped my writing career.

No Gentleman Friend, alas. Maybe someday. *laughs hysterically and goes off to lick a hamster*

inkgrrl said...

That hamster licking thing? I was totally framed.