My empty space: A love story

    Perhaps it was fate that brought us together. Tom was my first friend and, in the beginning, he was my only friend. He was sitting at his whiteboard when I first saw him – head turned towards me, smiling, always smiling. He struck me as an ordinary guy, not exceptionally attractive but certainly approachable.

    There was never a doubt that I would have to share Tom. I knew he had millions of friends. Even so, I didn’t know what to make of him, and I didn’t know how seriously to view our relationship. Immediately, I was part of his collection.

    Still, Tom made me feel welcome and offered to help with any questions. Proactive by nature, Tom provided written guidelines for our friendship, which I had to formally accept, and a list of frequently asked questions, complete with answers. He hoped I would be able to solve my own problems and not lean on him too heavily. After all, when one has over a hundred million friends, it’s necessary to adopt timesaving measures, you know, to keep the love alive. I understood that.

    Before long, I grew lonely hanging with Tom. He wasn’t really there. I was becoming desperate and needy. I tried to contact him to see what he was thinking. My e-mail attempts returned the simple message, "hey folks, be back shortly." Tom had set his e-mail status to "away." And he didn’t say when he’d be back. I sat at home, alone, re-reading my profile. I had one friend. Tom.

    Constantly reminded by the words "You have 1 friends," my self-esteem began to plummet. It couldn’t be. Of course, I could never hope to be as popular as Tom, but one friend(s)? I had to show that I had people to talk to. I needed proof to fill the empty whiteness that everyone could see. I needed HTML, cascading style sheets, good digital photographs and a theme song carefully selected to correspond with my slogan (which I still needed to write, summarizing myself in five words or less – something inviting but truthful). Before I knew it, I was checking my space every day, reporting in, giving details of my life that I wouldn’t even share with my mother. I logged on two or three times a day, checking to see if my collection of friends had grown or if there had been any messages, any messages at all.

    I searched my memory back to high school, my undergraduate career and the two states where I had lived, and there was no one. No one I thought of was accessible. Then it hit me: I have relatives, young relatives. My nephew, who I rarely talk to, immediately sprang to mind. I searched for him, typed in his name and sure enough, there he was, doing the typical life-risking stuff he’s known for: suspended in mid air, jumping off a cliff, arms and legs askew. I checked his profile: 68 friends. Could he take on one more? Yes! Soon I was searching for my whole family. By the end of it, I had my nephew’s girlfriend, my niece, two coworkers and the girl who was training for my job. The coercion continued until I was up to seven warm bodies (including Tom).

    It was about that time that I started to think about ditching Tom – removing him from my profile, from my friends list, forever. My increasing friend numbers had quelled my self-doubt. I was feeling stronger as I received tangible proof of my self-worth, now delivered daily in the form of e-mails and postings. What nagged me was the idea of honesty. How honest was it to keep Tom listed as my friend?

    Friends are there when you need them – to talk to, to laugh with, to remember your birthday. If I locked myself out of my house, I couldn’t count on Tom for a place to hang until I got a key – or better yet, to help me break in. Not that I wouldn’t like to meet Tom. Can you imagine – meeting Tom? But I had to face facts: it would simply never be, we lived in different states, had different interests, and although I had been a Soviet Studies major and he had expressed an interest in the history of communism, our taste in music wasn’t the same. Most of the albums he liked, I had already worn out. I wanted to listen to something new. I didn’t know Tom. He didn’t know me. We had never connected.

    But to be fair, it was because of Tom that I had learned about the Er Hu – a Chinese fiddle having two strings.

    That one fact added a certain depth to Tom, made me believe he was real – made me hope he would have other interesting things to teach me.

    I was torn. Tom had been the source of some good times. He had reconnected me to family as far away as Florida – a red state, but family nevertheless. What harm would it do to keep him on? After all, I still had only seven friends. This number would drop to six if I rejected Tom now. Seven just looks better. Maybe later, maybe after I had a hundred friends, maybe then I would discard the one that isn’t so present in my life, the one that never talks to me and won’t let me post to his site. Maybe, but when you think about it, "100" just looks better than "99." I guess I’ll hang on to Tom, for now. We’ll see what happens. Somehow, it just doesn’t feel right to ditch my first friend.