I remember life before social media. And I also remember life before the Internet. Gather round, young Millennial . . .
Our family got the Internet in 1996 when I was 15-years-old. Our hulking cube of grey plastic sat in my dad's office at the house. If I recall correctly, the hard drive was exactly 1 gigabyte. Uno! Your average iPhone photo now takes up more space than that entire computer could hold. But it was cutting edge back then.
In the mid-90s, I used the computer mostly for playing games—Solitaire, Mahjong, Frogger.
Then we got dial-up Internet. Today's Internet is like crossing the ocean in a supersonic jet. Dial-up was like doing it in a busted rowboat with one paddle and two broken arms. It was awful.
In the late '90s, the Internet exploded into the mainstream, and everyone started freaking out about it. A lot of Internet companies were birthed then, and then they all went up in flames around the year 2000, as I was graduating high school. In college, we had fast "high speed" Internet (though no wi-fi). You had to go to the computer lab and sit at a Gateway computer to access it. YouTube didn't exist, but we had a thing called E-baum's world which, amazingly, is still a thing. EW was the original YouTube—funny videos, zany cats, etc.
The world changed in 2003 when Myspace launched, again in 2004 with the launch of Facebook, and again in 2005 when YouTube launched. The Internet would never be the same. And neither would our lives. "Social media" was born.
I remember the first time social media snatched me up. Like an eagle descending from the skies, talons open—MySpace grabbed my little 23-year old-heart like nothing before. It was 2005, and I was living in Birmingham when I created my account. I was awestruck . . .
In this new world, I could keep up with old friends, discover new music, peruse people's photos, and join idiotic groups to my heart's content. This is so normal now, but back then it was a first. I remember coming home from work, getting out my Dell laptop and sitting at the kitchen table clicking through MySpace for hours. I was an addict in the making.
I'd heard about a new site called "The Facebook," but that was back when FB was expanding into university networks only. UNA was a smaller school, so we hadn't gotten it yet.
In September 2005, my wait came to an end. I used my university email address and created a Facebook account. I quickly noticed the Facebook interface was much cleaner and easier to navigate, so I abandoned MySpace quicker than you could spell "Zuckerberg." Most of the world followed suit as MySpace melted into Internet infamy, and Facebook began its march to digital galactic domination.
Over the next few years, social media would consume every corner of the Internet. A new human addiction was born as people, for the first time in history, were able to broadcast every aspect of their lives to anyone in the world. It was very neat.
One reason people are so nostalgic for college is because it's the freest, most carefree season of their lives.
Mix in thousands of single people living in a small area and booze that flows like Niagara, and you've got a four-year experience unlike anything else in life. But two main factors contribute to the awesomeness of college—joblessness and singleness. Yes, many college students have retail jobs and relationships, but that doesn't compare to the demands of a full-time job and marriage/family in "the real world." Jobs and marriages are very demanding, and you have neither in college.
In 2006, I wasn't jobless, but I was most certainly single. And so were most of my friends at the time. Facebook was a great place to post pics from college days, relive old college memories, and keep the inside jokes of fraternity life alive. It was really an extension of the college experience—a digital outpost of single people—that kept us all connected after the graduation diaspora.
But one by one, those crazy, single college friends began to pair up.
And long-term pairing up always leads to an engagement ring . . .
And an engagement ring leads to an engagement . . .
And an engagement leads to engagement photos . . .
And where did that glowy bride-to-be want to show off those photos? Facebook. And then six months later, that girl became a bride, and Facebook was flooded again with all those fun wedding photos . . .
Here we are embracing in the church courtyard!
Here we are laughing in front of a super-vintage barn!
Here we are kissing in front of a duck pond!
Here's my lonely wedding dress hanging on this hanger by this window! See the lens flare?!?
Here's our wedding party jumping in the air! Look at Brian's face! Crazy!
Here's our cute flower girl who just couldn't distribute her flowers evenly. S'cute, right?!?
Here we are at the reception shoveling cake into each other's mouths! What a mess!
Here's a hand-lettered chalkboard festooned with burlap and baby's breath sitting in a sea of mason jars filled with romantically-flickering tea candles! Bee-You-Tiful!
Here's our shrimp-n-grits bar! (Daddy wanted this to be a true, Southern wedding.)
Here we are on the dance floor with a bunch of other white people who can't dance!
Back then, I looked at a lot of wedding pic albums on Facebook.
And I actually loved it. I've always loved weddings, and, to this day, I still cry at about 80 percent of them. They're very beautiful to me.
A lot of my friends got married in their mid-20s.
And I began to notice a trend: When friends would get married, you wouldn't hear from them much anymore.
This was new to me, because, before that, friends had always been portable. I could collect friends in elementary school and take them with me to middle school. I could collect a few more in middle and take them with me to high school. And then a lot of those stuck with me through college. Life before 22 was just moving from one single enclave to another. But not this time. This was different.
When my guy friends got married, we'd still kept in touch, just not as often.
They wouldn't call or text as much. I'd invite them out for dinner on a weeknight or to watch a football game on the weekends, and there was always an excuse. I began to suspect that maybe some of their wives didn't want them hanging out with their old college buddies. After all, single men are all about nights out on the town, sports, concerts, video games, gambling, or drinking. If I was a young bride, I wouldn't want my husband around all that either. And, to make matters worse, where there are single men, there are single women. And if there's one thing I've learned in life, it's that married women do NOT want their husbands intermingling with hordes of single women. No sir-ee.
All in all, it wasn't too bad though. Most of my friends married amazing girls, and we still hung out a good bit. Just maybe not as much as I'd hoped.
When your female friends get married though, it's very different.
Growing up, I always had close friends who were girls, some who I would talk to daily. But once they'd get married, our communication would dry up completely, almost immediately. It was hurtful at first, but then I figured it out . . .
Brett, people think you are straight. And it's not normal for straight single guys to be close friends with married girls. Imagine being her husband . . . that's got to be weird for him.
And once I realized that, it made sense. It was just the natural evolution of life and relationships. Seasons change, friends change, people change. Nothing to get too worked up about. But still, each time a girl friend got married, it stung a little.
There goes another one. *sigh*
And so I made a little adjustment in how I related with girls. I had to view all female friendships as temporary, as terminal. All female friendships I had would come to an end once they got married, and that was okay. I had to learn to be okay with that. Thinking about it like that lessened the sting. At least I now knew what to expect.
Truthfully though, in my mid-20s, all this wedding and marriage stuff didn't bother me that much.
It was a little frustrating, but it was fun too. I was happy to see my friends happy. And it's always fun seeing a really good guy link up with a really good girl. I love marriage. I love families. I think family is THE thing that makes life worthwhile. I think healthy marriages make healthy families and healthy families are the cornerstone of a healthy society. I think God gets a lot of joy out of happy families. I learned that when people got married, friendships had to evolve. Besides, single people withdraw from married people as well . . . it goes both ways. We mutually pull away from each other, and that's okay too.
It's natural. It's all okay. No need to take it personally. That's how life goes, Brett.
But occasionally, as I was scrolling Facebook admiring all the pretty engagement and wedding photos, I'd have a little thought...
What happens when they all get married, Brett? What then?
I had always viewed friends like tap water from a faucet—always there. Whenever I wanted them, I could flick a knob and they'd be there, automatically, without fail. But for the first time in my life, it occurred to me that if friends disappear after marriage, then what happens when all your friends get married? Who are your friends then?
. . .
NBD, Brett. Listen, you could still marry a woman. You're a nice guy—decent looking—some girl would want you. Sure, you wouldn't be romantically attracted to her, but that's not a big deal. Besides, sex is not a requirement for marriage. You could be honest with her about your struggle. She'd understand. You'd figure out how to have kids. I'm sure tons of guys have done this, and you could too. She's probably out there somewhere, right now.
I quickly brushed the thoughts aside, silencing the head-babble . . .
After all, maybe 10-20 percent of my friends were married back then. I had tons of single friends, and my social calendar was full, my weekends were packed. When I scrolled Facebook in 2006, it was still mostly pics of single bros, smiling happy single girls, nights out at the bar, football games, cookouts, and tailgating.
It'll be fine, Brett. Move along . . .
I shut the computer and went to bed. I had work the next day.
As social media was taking off, my career began to take off as well.
I loved my job and had lots of time on my hands. I wasn't in a relationship, was a long way from most of my old friends, and had no other commitments. I was learning the business, and the organization was growing. I'd already been promoted.
Those early days in the business felt very similar to my fraternity days—like-minded passionate people working together to build something new, something special, something big.
But this was different . . .
This new challenge involved money and promotions and strategy and hiring and growth. Playing fraternity was small-time—this was next level. This was the big leagues. And who has time to worry about relationships when there is so much work to do?
My dragon of achievement awoke. And it was very, very hungry . . . 👊
B.T. Harman is the creator of Blue Babies Pink, a Southern Coming Out Story in 44 Episodes.
B.T. is a consultant, writer, and speaker living in Atlanta's historic Cabbagetown neighborhood. He was previously a vice president for Booster, an Atlanta fundraising company, where he helped the organization raise $150 million for elementary schools.
B.T. is passionate about storytelling, leadership, good design, Seth Godin, SEC football, Chick-fil-A, Taylor Swift, archaeology, European Travel and CS Lewis.
To learn more about B.T., visit his personal site at btharman.com.