Don't Want What You Think Will Get You There. Want What You Want.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 4.824% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

“I want to be online more,” my friend told me.  “I wanna get more into Facebook, Instagram – you know, all those social networks my friends are bugging me to get into.”
“No you don’t,” I said.
“I do!” she protested.  “All my friends are online!”
“I believe that.  But you don’t want to be online.  If you really wanted to be online, you’d be online.”
“But I’ve been depressed lately…”
“You absolutely have.  Which is why if you’d told me, ‘I want to binge-watch Netflix all day,’ I’d have believed you.  If you’d said, ‘I want to draw, or sing songs,’ I’d have believed you.  But I’ve watched you telling me every six months that you want to be online more for almost a decade now, and the fact is you do a lot of things – but checking into Facebook regularly isn’t one of them.  You’re not an online person.  You’ll never be an online person.”
“But I keep falling out of touch with my friends!”
“Ah.”  I raised a finger.  “Now, that I believe is something you want.  But you didn’t say you missed your friends.  You said you wanted to be online more.  And there’s where you fucked up.”
“My friends are all online, Ferrett,” she snapped.  “I’ve moved a lot.  How else am I going to stay in touch?”
“Again, a subtle difference.  If you’d said you needed to be online more, I’d have nodded in sympathy.  But you weren’t doing that.”
She scowled.  “What do you think I was doing?”
“You were attempting to redefine yourself as the sort of person who wanted to be online.  You were mustering enthusiasm, going ‘This time I’m going to become someone who really likes talking to people via email,’ like you’ve done a hundred times before – ”
” – yeah, okay, I’ve done that – ”
” – and what will happen is that you’ll go through this burst of enthusiasm where you’ll log in once a day and try to be really excited about talking to your buddies on Facebook, because that’s who you told yourself you were.   And after a week you’ll start to hate looking at that blue screen – and worse, you’ll feel guilty every time you open up your computer, because aren’t you supposed to be the sort of person who wants to be online?  And yet you don’t, and you’ll feel guilty because you’re not feeling the way you’re supposed to, and you’ll get depressed because you should love this and you don’t, and eventually you’ll just feel like shit all the time.  And then you’ll disappear from the Internet again.”
She went quiet.
“Look,” I said.  “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to stay in better touch with your friends.  But what you’re doing is this fucked-up equation where you go I miss my friends == I need to use the Internet == I want to use the Internet.  And because you think the only way to do something is to be the sort of person who wants to do it, you’re psyching yourself up to be something you’re not.”
“…this is like the way you hate exercise, isn’t it?”
“Fucking loathe it.  Went for a hard twenty-minute workout on the elliptical this morning.  Hated it every step of the way.  I realize I hate exercise so much I literally have to do it right after I wake up, because if I hold off until my brain comes online I’ll manufacture good excuses why I don’t have to work out all day.   I can only get exercise because I’ve acknowledged that I fucking hate doing it.”
“So if I hate being online so much, then I just gotta suck it down and go online?”
“Oh fuck no.  That’s the other problem with ‘getting enthusiastic about the perceived solution instead of fixing the problem.’  You get stuck in that one solution, and stop looking for others.  Maybe you call people.  Maybe you make day trips.  Maybe you become that hipster friend who writes hand-written letters.  There’s lots of ways to stay in touch without being online – maybe you work up this hybrid solution where you get on Facebook just enough to plan phone calls and weekend visits with your buddies in other states.”
She smiled.  “I could, couldn’t I?”
“The thing is, you need to want what you want.   And trying to manufacture enthusiasm for I want what I think I need almost always ends in disappointment and feel-bads.  Just be honest with yourself.  Maybe you think you need to be online, but don’t skip ahead to the conclusion that you want to be online.  Because, as noted, you clearly don’t.”
“Good. I don’t wanna talk about this topic any more.”
“Is that what you think you want?  Or is that just a perceived need?”
That’s when she hit me with a pillow, and we went on to talk about other things.

1 Comment

  1. Pete Riggs
    Oct 7, 2015

    This is some of the more thoughtful advice I’ve seen in awhile. I don’t often meet people who have the insight to notice that they’re saying they need the (specific) means to get the end; end of the day, there’s a bunch of different ways to get the same goal. But stepping outside the box or the first few solutions is difficult!

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