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Significant Carnitas And Social Networks, Or, Saturday Morning at 10:14am

Yesterday I met a blogger I’ve been reading for over a year, Mater of Materfamilias Writes. I met her husband too. Doesn’t seem like a revolutionary event, three people in midlife eating Mexican food in San Francisco. But if I look back to my 20’s, and remember how we met people then, how we forged communities and thereby ourselves, I can’t help but think yesterday’s carnitas were not insignificant.

The ways we interact with our selves and others change, across the decades and across technological disruptions, even while remaining curiously the same. Cue Mr. Redding, if you will.

I’ve seen technology upend human society twice in my lifetime.

1. Upon the invention of the personal computer. Let’s not quibble about who gets the credit, Xerox, Apple, IBM, Digital Equipment, I tip my hat. Just imagine writing in the era of typewriters, images born in chemical washes, and calculations on paper. The personal computer allowed us to work and create in a frictionless manner. All this productivity helps in the creation of a self.

2. As virtual communities evolved, now to be known as social networking. What began as bulletin boards, newsgroups, and forums, aided by new software developments in web user interfaces, mobile voice and data devices, and what they call “cloud computing,” became MySpace, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. I suppose the voyage was launched by the invention of the written word, and furthered by the telephone, but those things of course happened before I was born. Each person’s self requires reflection, affirmation, from others. Each time the territory broadens, the spaces where other voices can be found multiply, our concept of self stretches.

These are known facts. Bear with me.

Think now about the human process of building a self. Think of what we go through in order to get to 50.

Little children explore their raw selves, how they eat, sleep, and move. At some point raw innocence gives way to the constructed self project. Children, teenagers, and young adults forge a social persona, test relationship boundaries, create the self they will take into the adult world. This takes a long time. Not easy, but fruitful. At some point, likely in our 20’s, we take that constructed self, put our heads down, and test. The testing self, the implemented self, has children, makes career progress, tries to influence the surrounding world. Finally, I would argue, in the 50s or thereabout, one begins work on the integrated self.

The integrated self takes the tested self and, well, integrates it. Life in the decades between 20 and 50 remind me of a shuttle launch. Lots of rocket fire, some tiles fall off, we drop our engine into a distant ocean. One regroups. Relationships shift. Some of enormous import. And some, farther from the foundation but in many ways just as telling, may involve carnitas.

Now consider the confluence of the integrating self, and social networks. Here’s what is unchanged about meeting someone in the real world, even if you met them via social networking.

  1. Your instincts are still mostly correct. I hadn’t gotten Mater wrong. She is warm, thoughtful, and companionable.
  2. Your instincts will markedly improve as you age. Thank goodness for that. Pretty good compensation for a bad hip, and often called wisdom.
  3. However, you will continue to make incorrect assumptions, as always. I hadn’t gotten Mater altogether right. Because she’s prettier than her photos, and vivacious, even mischievous here and there. Yes, the human propensity to make conclusions in advance of sufficient information is alive and well.

But here is what’s different now.

  1. The conversation in your first in-person meeting will cover so many topics, since you have history, and you will want to at least touch on almost everything you thought you knew about each other. So, as Mater said, you may chat as though small children were underfoot, changing subjects, jumping from the general to the specific, never quite finishing a thread, starting many.
  2. You will want to give and receive some assurance, since the old virtual relationship has been broken by virtue of real life contact, and you will probably tell each other, “Yes, I liked you there and I still like you here.”
  3. You will have formed a more detailed picture than previously possible of who someone might be prior to seeing them in the flesh.
  4. Most importantly, you will be willing to relinquish that prior picture and replace it with the figure of the person you’ve just met. In all the ebb and flow and side angles that only humans in their temporal glory allow. Would that we allowed the people we’ve known in real life to remake themselves as easily.

All the above is probably more or less true no matter how old you are, and therefore no matter what stage your self hood. (Although it’s another subject altogether to consider how the young differ from the old in their sustained online personas. Next time.)

But at 50, (well, technically 54, but 50 sounds so much more like it matters), as I said, we are integrating. Our children are mostly grown. If we chose a career we love, we’re at its peak. If we wound up in a career of expediency, many of us are shifting to something more heartfelt. And we know, by this point, who our friends are. Or who they can be.

You realize now that you, for yourself, are mostly right. The patterns you recognize are largely accurate. The people you like are mostly good. And sometimes they are even mischievous, they reinvent themselves. Paradoxically, this stage of life allows for comfortable surprise, because it seems most often to be coupled with recognition, even of the unexpected. At 50, assuming hard-won self knowledge, social networks allow us to choose, to intend, maybe, is the word, our companions. To feel ourselves recognized, expansive, and useful. Roam if you want to. Cue the B-52s. All around the world.

I always thought that old people who told me 50 was the best age were lying. They weren’t.

Mater and Pater, all of which is to say, I had so much fun meeting your elegant and comfortable selves, and found myself thinking, as I drove home, “Hmm, I wouldn’t have minded if the afternoon had given way to drinks watching the sunset, and a longer conversation.” Next time. For you both, as to all of us here in the network, of all ages, I wish a wonderful weekend. It’s cold and grey in Northern California, right now, but experience tells me we may be surprised by sunshine later in the day.

36 Responses

  1. Wow! Quite a bit of food for thought here. I think you have a wonderful perspective on life. Thanks for sharing it with us. Have a wonderful weekend.

  2. Reads as if you had some inspiring company! How are you going to spend the inspired day today?
    PS: I like to give IBM the credit :-)

  3. Love your perspective on the 50’s – I am 54 – and can so relate to everything that you wrote today…

  4. Yes, things have progressed but as you say, age does bring insights and privileges including (hopefully) increased perception and self knowledge. The integrating of self and social networking has opened a floodgate of possibilities and offers the opportunity for enchanting encounters such as you just had! There is still nothing to compare with in person bonding – and it will make future online engagements that much richer!

  5. I turn 50 later this year, and I’m trying not to make it too important while recognizing that, to me on the inside, it is important. Somehow, adding an additional network (the social virtual one) to my life has made it richer, but at my convenience. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but at the moment I’m too lazy to try to articulate it any better. I suspect you’ll get it. Sorry for rambling; I really did enjoy the post–glad Mater and Pater were as charming, or more so, in person.

  6. I was curious how your meeting would go and love it that you found both familiar and unfamiliar points of connection. It’s a curious new way of getting acquainted.

  7. I’ve met materfamilias here in Toronto and had very much the same pleasure and sense of her- and wish for more time. Hmm, could we triangulate a meetup in Kansas City? Paris? Boca Grande?

  8. First, I spent an hour last night reading a 50 page print out of your article (with comments) at Corporette. Well, done, debate and all.

    This ‘meeting’ with Mater sounds lovely. DH and I have discussed the possibility of meeting blogger friends IRL. Never having had the opportunity, I am excited by the possibility. Had considered going to a blogger meet-up in LV, but am now thinking that one on one may be best giving the nature of the conversation you describe. Any chance you’ll head her way?

  9. I love this post. At 29 – just over halfway to where you are – I see a lot of myself and experiences I’ve had so far, in what you’ve said here.

    On a related note, I completely agree with what you’ve said about meeting people you “know” “for the first time.”

  10. Lisa, so poignant. Af life over 50 is proving to me….a new and exciting journey ahead.

    Deeper instincts, relationships, desires.

    Art by Karena

  11. You are soooo perspicacious (one of those big words I never get to use, but that seems particularly apt right here!), insightful, and above all able to organize and articulate your insights clearly! Much food for thought here and if I weren’t totally exhausted from tromping all over SF today (walked to Ferry Building for Market, then to Jewish Museum, then to African Diaspora Museum, then cruised through Union Square, then Chinatown, then Citylights Bookstore . . . see? exhausted!), I’d be chewing harder . . . Paul and I both felt the same way, wishing after that we’d suggested drinks, even dinner. . . I’ll be spending some time thinking, as I have been, about what constitutes a friendship in these times of digital cyberspace. I know we’ve at least laid a pretty sound ground and hope we get to build on it. Thanks for the wonderful tour of SF and thanks as well for the kind words in this post. A la prochaine . . .

  12. Wonderful post, as usual. Above and beyond the pc, the most momentous innovation of our time is the internet itself which evolved from the code written with little fanfare by some super smart guys trying to connect a small government network of computers. Incredible. (Sorry, Al Gore :))

  13. Dear Ms Lisa, I am always struck by the beauty and thoughfulness of your prose. Turning 46 but still in the muddling of little children, I can only reflect on each year bringing a greater sense of self certainty and therefore a greater curiosity about other people. People who write really interesting blogs have to give of themselves, as you do, and therefore we can often know more about them (even when as Ms FF says she tells everything and reveals nothing) than we can about people we meet in person. I was reflecting with some lovely firm friends that it is more difficult to make strong friendshops now than it was when we were younger. I think it is harder to be vulnerable, an essential part of connecting in a meaningful way, in person when one gets older but I am trying…

  14. What a wonderful post. This one will stay with me and be brought out for debat at cocktail hour later today. There- you just made me a more interesting person!

  15. Hi Lisa, quite chewy for a wet Sunday morning, but as i am likely to meet some of the bloggers I love reading this year, it is timely.
    Thank you

  16. Excellent food for thought, m’dear. Your perspective is one I share. It was, for me and most men, turning 40 that I came to realize I was no longer young, a thunderclap, really. Turning 50 was like rolling over in one’s sleep to me, it seemed right and comfortable. When I turned 40 I threw a sit-down dinner party for 75 of my “closest” friends. I celebrated turning 50 by renovating one of the barns on my property. My, how one’s priorities change. . . I’ve enjoyed every stage of my life, and have been happy to move on to the next one every time it occurs. I adored my twenties, I don’t at 54 (like you) seek to relive them. I’m having a lovely time right now. Today.

  17. Gosh darnit, you are always a beat ahead of me and spot-on for the pick-me-ups that I need, even if I didn’t know that I needed them in the first place!

    Keep on keepin’ us keepin’ on!



  18. Sounds like the best possible outcome, Lisa!
    I’m meeting so many people now (of all ages) who are with their significant others via meeting them online–now, more often than not, it seems that’s the way people meet.

    Even 10 years ago, people who ‘met that way’ were thought to be a trifle odd. Now, it’s perfectly natural.

    The one thing times can be counted on to do is change.

  19. Ah Lisa, this post is brilliant. I think Jung would wholeheartedly agree with what you said about the “integrated self”…and he might even learn a thing or two! I’m glad you had such a great meeting with Mater. It just goes to show that people are people, however they might come to meet or whatever forces are responsible for drawing them together…the connection is the thing.


  20. Despite what the FBI says, some of my best friends are people I’ve met on the internet–glad you enjoyed this meet up.
    I have typically mourned the loss of friendships over the years as my tribe has evolved. Wonder who will come to my funeral?

  21. Stephanie – Thank you. I apologize for the heavy processing on a weekend:).

    Paula – I cleaned my roof and gutters:).

    Janice – Thank you! Women over 50 rock, right?

    Quintessence – I agree, once you have met someone offline, your perspective on other online folks shifts a bit, gets richder.

    Town and Country – I agree, it is at our convenience. With any lucky, much of life will be now at our convenience in the same way.

  22. Susan – Curious is the perfect word.

    Duchesse – Ha! Chicago? And interesting you had the same sense. How lovely to be able to know that without any gossip.

    Terri – Thank you so much! 50 pages? Wow. And I may get up her way, although this quarter I am pledged to stay close to home as much as possible. I’d love to visit with mater and pater again.

    Irisira – Thank you. I wonder if there are already analyses, somewhere, of the factors in offline meetups? I bet yes.

    Karena – Wonderful. “Deeper relationships, instincts, desires.”

  23. Mater – I too hope for sound ground. As I hope that you are enjoying the beautiful, crisp day, up in Napa.

    JaneyAnn – Yes. Absolutely. I love the Internet invention story. And thanks for the kind words. They are deeply appreciated.

    hostess – Thank you:). Mater has the twinkliest smile:).

    Mama – Thank you so much.

    Heather – A simple you are welcome. My mother would approve:).

  24. Linda – Yes, I agree, the great sense of self certainty does allow more room for genuine curiosity about others. What a wonderful way to put it. As far as the vulnerability, I found that once my children moved out, I felt freer also to be just one self, one truer self. If that makes sense.

    Tabitha – I am honored! And curious to hear if your cocktail conversation happened, and what they said:).

    Wally – I know. I couldn’t help the weight of it. I hope you have a wonderful time with your meetups.

    Reggie – Interesting. A lot of women in my demographic still have kids at home when they turn 40, so there’s no room for thunderclaps:). I hope today you are also having a lovely time. And tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

  25. QBS – Right back at you honey.

    SSG – Thank you for coming along. I know I am prone to thinking and so I really appreciate company.

    Charlotte – Ha! Times do change. And I am fascinated by how often people meet significant others online.

    Hill House – Oh thank you very much. I always test my theories on my very smart psychoanalyst brother. The connection is the thing – and I wonder if or how our brains are being rewired when we connect through language only.

    Genuine Lustre – Let’s all ignore the FBI! I’m too congenitally cheerful to mourn very much but I know that this blog has proved an enormous source of community-feeling for me. To say nothing of good fortune.

  26. Oh I love it when your posts go all thoughtful as you manage to pull your insignts into such clear focus. And it sounds like a fabulous meeting with Mater. Totally jealous here, of the meeting and the carnitas.

  27. Having had the privilege of meeting Mater & Pater twice I agree with your image of her, plus I loved her laconic voice, what we as bloggers often don’t hear is the voice and now as I read her blog I hear her speak the words too which makes it more special somehow.
    It is as you suggest peculiar to meet a stranger for the first time yet have so many strands of conversation to draw upon and I too was left wanting more!

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