Facebook: The New Achievement Calibrator

Who’s fat and who’s hot, who’s married and who’s not.

I first joined Facebook about a month ago. Yeah, I had My Space and Linked In already. To be honest, I didn’t even open the account—my assistant did. However, I was doing a little Google research on the current owners of an 1879 building I’m trying to buy (speakeasy and bank vault in the basement!), and one of them showed up on Facebook. Without being logged in, I couldn’t access her information. So I got the login info, wrote a stalker-esq E-note to the seller, and then got suckered into the friend search. I now have 101 friends on Facebook.

Since my impromptu login, I have spent the better part of multiple conference calls finding and adding friends from my elementary, camp, high school, college and business years. I’ve been escaping from the adulthood of property purchase by judging their photos and their college diplomas, seeing who’s fat and who’s hot, who’s married and who’s not and what they have been doing for the last (fill-in-the-blank) years.

I spent the better part of one morning recently on the phone with a childhood friend. Yes, she is my friend on Facebook, but the rest of our relationship exists in the real world, where she caught the bouquet at my wedding and then dumped the guy she brought. Today, though, worlds collided. I gave her my password so that she could see my “friends” who are our mutual past. Our heartthrob at ten is now fat, the geek is hot and successful. The story’s the same as it was at in-person reunions of a prior era. But now, in lieu of semi-annual dinners scheduled by board members, we just go to Facebook during business hours and click around to see who’s had kids, who really became a lesbian, and how much more successful than ourselves everyone else has become. It is the ultimate vain test of own identities. A virtual life-progress measuring board. From Apgar to IQ to SAT scores, Facebook’s the new achievement calibrator.

“I should have been married by now,” she whines. “Or gone to Nicaragua and lived with villagers like you did.”

It was Mexico, not Nicaragua, but I feel the same way—depressed about my own life when compared to the happy Facebook lives of people I used to know. At the beginning, Facebook is confusing, then addictive, then depressing. It’s the status updates and the mini-bios and the heavily edited photos. Maya now lives in New Zealand with her boyfriend and they seem to travel all the time, and smile. There is Nora, with three kids, married eight years, and still finds time for grad school. My ex-boyfriend is teaching in Taiwan with his girlfriend after traveling around South America. Law school for some, med school for more, swimming with dolphins, playing music, green building certifications, parties, adventures, etc.

I look at all these people with whom I’ve shared moments at different times of my life and I wonder, are they better, smarter, prettier, more accomplished? I question my life and my choices. Have they hit more milestones? Did I travel to enough countries? Should I have gone to med school?

It really comes down to happiness. I want to know if they are happier than me. And Facebook messes with that. It makes me a happiness voyeur. Spying openly and even commenting on the things that they feel compelled to share. In real life, in true interaction, we can see worry lines on peoples faces and the circles under their eyes. Facebook deletes this and leaves us with a resume —updated daily—of accomplishments. So we compare. Now, I am questioning my own life, my happiness and my identity because of what I see on Facebook. And I am not alone.

On my profile I am wearing a bikini and standing on the Emerald coast, I am a summa cum laude graduate of Columbia University, I am the CEO of two companies and married to an amazing photographer. But on the inside, I’m just a kid looking to measure up. And a kid who’s glad she didn’t have to grow up with Facebook.