Digital Grave

VANESSA SMEETS

Digital grave1

GRIM REAPER = Grim realization the dead friend isn’t reading these posts.

I have a terrible addiction that started four years ago after a friend’s suicide. The night he died, I looked through all of his social media for clues… There it was: subtle yet incriminating evidence of someone who felt completely alone. Images of a broken telephone, of a threaded wire (ordinary things we would never look for as deeper symbolic meanings) on his Facebook, as well as updates like: “Seeing ALL my friends tonight. Cheers!” His Twitter was flooded with monologues – “No one sees me.” “Hello, are you listening?”

We were close at varsity; but, with most friendships, ours had its moments of distance. Sadly, I am one of those that live by the rule: “Out of sight, out of mind.” Facebook has made me a lazy friend. I used to phone and message people regularly, but now that most people advertise their lives, I don’t see the point. The ones I see the most are the ones that are the least active on Facebook.

Digital grave 2

RIP: What happens to your social media post-death?

I thought I was doing an okay job: every time my friend checked in somewhere, I liked it. Every time he posted a photo of himself with a new award, I liked it. I had no idea he was lonely. He was the soul at every party. As most of us know, social media gives us a false sense of belonging and of knowing everyone’s business.

An old school pal messaged me the other day: “Wow… You really are a terrible friend…” “Huh?” was my automatic reply. “You never message me. Guess where I am? A mental institution.” I had no idea, through all her beautiful photos of her children, the thought never even crossed my mind. Like most, she had been posting blissful photos to hide her extreme pain.

Digital grave 3

REMEMBERING: Facebook is made up of memories and friendships, which can be stirred up through lack of activity…

My addiction continued two years ago with the suicide of a Tuks lecturer. I looked through all his publicised photos. The ones made public (with that world icon) were actually the most painful to read, even though they were very few. Then this year, I realised my addiction had to stop. I read through the social media of the young girl (14) who killed herself at Northgate Mall. All she had were beautiful photos with very little hints of her darkness… And then I read through her mother’s updates and started crying. I was crying over a stranger, but a stranger who reflected my friend, who reflected my weakness, who reflected my pain through her mother. “If only I had known…” her mom posted over and over again. If only I had too…

After we die, our social media carries on quite the same, except suddenly people who never spoke to you for the last five years, start reaching out. TOO LATE. Everyone messages more: on your birthday, special days you shared and the anniversary of your death. SCARY.

Digital grave 4

WHO AM I? Does Facebook give a false sense of popularity?

It’s time to realise that in a time of so much communication in the form of Whatsapp, Skype, etc, people have actually never felt more alone. Touch is what we need, not a “like”. A cup of coffee is what we crave, not “a selfie.” A genuine “How are you?” beats a “What you up to tonight?” In fact, social media is anything but social. It causes us to shut down when trying to have real conversations, it allows us to become cyberbullies on difficult topics like religion, race or politics, it causes us to be quite narcissistic with an array of selfies and holiday snaps.

“How are you feeling today?” asks my Facebook daily, not even my virtual friends.
Has Facebook replaced my life book, become my journal, a place where I actually write for and to myself mostly? Are my virtual friends still my real friends and vice versa?

Is anyone reading this…?

READ MORE on Facebook’s “death etiquette:”
http://mashable.com/2013/02/13/facebook-after-death/#hxZkTpt9ziqy

My heritage has no colour

VANESSA SMEETS

Just in time for Heritage Week in South Africa, a time when we come together to celebrate our diversity and uniqueness, I found myself in an unexpected racist spat on Facebook.

The Stellenbosch debate

The person involved had made a comment about Stellenbosch University being racist for not becoming anglicized. There are two sides to this debate: Yes, Stellenbosch University is trying to preserve its Afrikaans heritage and culture by remaining as Afrikaans as possible but it does try to accommodate English speaking students with the T-option (bilingualism) in certain broad under-grad modules and most of post-grad is English, as well as all the textbooks.

I admit that I made the fatal mistake of defending my old university first, instead of the angry person’s argument. I completed my Honours there and Afrikaans was probably my most dreaded subject at school. Being white does not mean I speak Afrikaans, just as much as being black does not mean you speak isiZulu. However, Stellenbosch was the only university that offered such a brilliant practical course in such a short time frame.
Yes, I struggled when the lecturers would accidentally slip into Afrikaans, but, one has to admit, it’s not such a difficult language… There are only three tenses, unlike English or French who have variants of past, present and future, depending on the context or even type of writing. French, for example, uses a fascinating tense of “simple past” reserved only for certain written texts.

White supremacist? No, idealist.
peopleAnyway, bringing this up only added fuel to the fire. This old school pal, then proceeded to tell me I should go back to Europe with my “white supremacy tendencies.” My blood, like most, is filled with exceptional love stories: the Jew who fell in love with a German, the Belgian with the Congolese, the Walloon with the Flemish (tribal ‘rivalries’ of Belgium)… Maybe only 20% of me actually belongs in Europe. Do not be fooled by my shell, because I am actually a product of the forbidden and I embrace it, because a lot of people went through hell to love the one they knew was meant for them.

Education as key

The thing is, a good teacher is one that does not see colour, gender or religion. Eight years of teaching have taught me this: every child is unique and parents are the biggest factors in determining how the child behaves or performs academically at school. It doesn’t matter whether the child is orange, pink or blue, if the mom and dad treat the child with equal amounts of attention, the child is at peace at school. If one of the parent is not part of the child’s life, the child does start to seek certain amounts of attention from the gender that is missing. Every child cries they same when he/ she is not invited to a certain party, to the jungle gym or when he/she falls off the swing. Every child smiles the same after seeing mommy or daddy after a long day of work. Every child is exceptionally proud when you say: “Keep up the great work!”

Children quote

Do they see colour or religion on the playground? Definitely not before the age of seven, unless parents have made a fuss of it at home. The only thing they do see at this age is gender:
“Boys? Oh gross, they are so dirty and rough!”
“Girls? I don’t want to be made the dad in that ‘house-house’ game all the time.”

At age seven, they enter primary school and are exposed to an even more diverse group of people. Teachers say things they shouldn’t necessarily say. They also converse or play with older children that have been exposed to more.

At age nine and ten, children don’t worry so much about the social aspects of school, but start a deep journey of self-analysis:
What do I like?
What are my needs?
Why am I feeling this way?

This, I believe is the time they are the most sensitive to topics like racism. Now that I’m teaching this age, I made it my duty to teach them “the rights of the child” first. At the end of their short presentations, I asked them the same question:
“Which to you is the most important?”

Every answer, from 27 different mouths: “To be loved.”
“Why?”
“Because if I do not feel loved, I cannot love others. I cannot accept them.”
“If I do not feel loved, I will always feel jealous of others.”
“If I do not feel loved, I will refuse to see anyone’s own point of view.”
“If I do not feel loved, I will never experience peace.”
“If I do not feel loved, I will never feel secure with myself or others.”

This to me is the cure to racism: a simple yet over empowering act: to love selflessly, to see others’  point of view.
So, to that old school friend that has been tarnished by a certain person’s group or actions, I apologize – my heritage has no colour. It is a spectrum of experiences, of life lessons, of the desire to learn from our youngest yet purest minds.

“Oh great, you teach black children?! Get over your white saviour complex.”

Humans

To that school pal, I am not just a teacher… I am actually the one being taught every single day. You insulted my race and I felt nothing. You proceeded to call me “an embarrassment to my late grandmother” who is of mixed race, and I felt my blood boil, because it became personal. You then proceeded by insulting my life force, which is teaching.

If it were not for the children I teach every day, I would have probably become as bitter as you. But I have hope not only for South Africa, but for every adult. As adults, we need to keep quiet and let our children explain life… Because we have obviously forgotten what it feels like to be curious about others, to listen to their stories, to be proud of all diversity and most importantly to think before acting… And to love and accept others with our all.

heritage

heritage

Searching for satisfaction…

VANESSA SMEETS

A look on the 5 type of guys to avoid and how to enjoy singledom…

singleness

LIVING COLOUR: Your colourful past, certainly makes way for a brighter future. PIC: Online

You’re in your late twenties or early thirties, everyone around you is either getting married or having kids.

The best thing about being single? Less questions on where you were.
The worst? More questions on where you’re going…

There’s a lot of pressure on women of today to, as well as having a fulfilling career, be romantically fulfilled as well. No matter how independent or well she’s been doing.

This leads to her falling desperately for the wrong type of men, starting with…

The Ex

Things ended because he moved away and you had to pursue a career or studies. You both still like each other and still secretly have virtual sex. Big mistake. The truth hits you when pictures of his new girlfriend show up on Facebook. Delete that chapter. Delete him. For good, this time…

This new chapter leads you to…

The Rebound

Why I'm single

The honest truth… PIC: Online

You meet him at a bar, share a few beers. The attraction is pretty insane. The sex turns out to be mind-blowing, but you have absolutely nothing else in common. Stop having sex, it’s preventing you from meeting someone more worthwhile.

However, your loneliness leads you to that elusive…

The One-Night Stand

Out of the blue, you meet someone incredibly smart and attractive. Problem is, you’re still not emotionally ready, so you come across as desperate and smothering. You end up liking him too soon, not knowing this is the type of guy to lose interest when things become too sexual. In a moment of passion, you end up sleeping together. The sex turns out to be average, but you’re kind of determined to find out where this could lead. He, however, is not:

“Listen, I’m not blown away by you. That was fun, but that’s all it’ll remain. Have a nice life.”

You feel like a dirty tramp and turn to…

single dilemma

The flying solo dilemma… PIC: Online

The Best Friend

He’s liked you for years, but you’ve kept your distance. After all, could there not just be one platonic male presence in your life, for goodness sake? After hours of crying on his shoulder for the umpteenth time, you look into his kind, genuine eyes and end up making out. The next time you see him, it’s really awkward, so you end up flirting with…

The Colleague

He’s the guy kind enough to offer you a lift to work or leave post-its while you’re out on a smoke break. Mixing business with pleasure has as many perks as risks. You two soon become office talk.

It’s time to break the vicious cycle many women find themselves in and rather embrace singledom.
In the words of Sex and the City:

“Some people are settling down, some people are settling for less and some people refuse to settle for anything less than butterflies.”

Things to embrace while you’re single:

men to avoid

  • Flirt shamelessly with strangers. It’s okay to practice… Practice makes perfect. Just avoid taking them home.
  • Explore the world. Finally you can go on that Contiki tour with your best friend! Do it!
  • Take up new and strange hobbies. Start pole-dancing, hip-hopping, silk painting… You’ll certainly be more interesting to the next lucky fish.
  • Become adventurous without inhibitions. Take up that job offer in South Korea! Go become a photographer on a cruise ship! Au pair while you still can! So many more stories to tell…
  • Focus on what you want, not what you need. Neediness is unattractive. Want is ambitious. Not keen on divorce? Don’t marry that average guy from the dentist’s office.
  • “Water” your friendships. The Sims illustrated this part of social life perfectly. Remember that girlfriend you stopped hearing about once she got hitched? You’ve become her, without the ring. Catch up with a cocktail party or ladies’ night. Liking their Facebook status is simply not enough, by the way.
  • Realize that marriage is more than just a piece of paper, it’s for life. Could you really marry that rebound guy that litters your place with dirty dishes?
  • Play safe. So your heart is broken, wait till you’re emotionally ready to take up something physical. Getting physical too soon means the next guy won’t have time to get to know you on an emotional scale.
  • Keep a diary of your weaknesses, as well as your achievements. Some guys are mean to girls in order to move on more easily, don’t take all their insults to heart. However, if all relationships ended because you were obsessed with your girlfriends or cat, it may be time to overthink some things.
  • Stop complaining, start living. Remember Carrie’s addiction…nagging on and on about Mr Big? So unattractive, even to your closest friends.
  • Find your inner child. He used to steal your lunch, now he’s stolen your dreams. He used to flirt with the teacher, now he flirts with your best friend. Move on. Mr Nice (yet Good-looking) Guy exists… Someone wise once wrote: “Nice guys always finish last, but isn’t that what women want in the end?”

The EX FACTOR

VANESSA SMEETS

A few weeks ago, a friend called me in tears. The guy she was seeing for the last four months had left her for his ex. She was devastated and hated herself. All the little signs had been there:

  • He was still friends with her on Facebook.
  • They constantly contacted each other via Skype.
  • He hid pics of them in his bed drawer.
  • He spoke of her in the present tense
  • He acted weird if they bumped into her.
  • He refused to remove pics of them together on Facebook, or refused to be tagged in pics with my friend or change their relationship status.
ex business

Is it truly over? PIC: online

The pain of seeing the one you’ve come to love and trust with someone from his past is much more hurtful than seeing him with a stranger. You feel utterly betrayed, for in all the time you were dating, his mind and heart were still attached to her. No matter how much time or effort you invested into the relationship, it was all in vain.

The problem is, most girls assume the guy they are with is in love or thinking about his ex constantly, even when he may not be. She may assume he’s comparing the kissing or sex. But male friends admit, they are rather comparing the memories and feelings they encountered than the physical.

Girls assume wrongly, because guys are not as expressive in their feelings and girls are afraid are coming across as clingy. Therefore, they begin a psychological dialogue with themselves of what means what through the little things he says or does.

Guys are expressive in subtle ways, such as he’ll call you her name by accident. He will speak of things they used to do or ask you about your past unexpectedly to ease his mind.

Some girls think by acting more sexy or constantly pleasuring him, he will forget his exes. BIG MISTAKE. A guy is a visual being and this includes his memory.

He may not admit it, but he may see her in everything. He may even use you subconsciously to forget her.

So, how do you cope with the past creeping up on the present?

The truth is, it’s utterly out of your control. You can’t change him or adjust his memories. What you can do is not let it affect you. Say confident. Stay supportive. And, communicate. The honest guy will eventually tell you where you and she stand. But, keep realistic. If he’s attached when you met, for example, are you just the other woman? And, what makes you so sure there won’t be “another woman” in the future?

Ironically, a guy’s exes contributed to who he is today. His vulnerability comes from being hurt. His vanity comes from being praised. His dress sense comes from years of influence.

For most girls, it is too much to be with someone in love with his past and they eventually walk away. But, most will wait until it’s spelt out to them: IT WAS OVER BEFORE IT BEGAN.

Research shows it takes twice as much time to get over someone as the time the couple went out. So, if they went out three years, expect a six-year recovery period. That, or be utterly sure of how it ended and whether it was a clean cut or not. Or, make the best of the time you have together. Don’t nag him, but ask him to be honest. If he can’t, it’s best to walk away with your dignity intact.

Don’t think it depends on who dumped whom.  If they get back together, it probably came from a mutual decision of best partner at a different time.

And, as hard as it is to admit, seeing him happy with her will allow you to move on and find someone who appreciates you for who you really are and what you have to offer, thanks to your own past and exes.

The other woman

other woman

WHO IS SHE? Pic: online

VANESSA SMEETS

You’ve been dating Jeremy for nine months. He’s kind and caring. He sleeps over at your place every second weekend. He even cleans your dishes. When he runs his fingers through your hair as you kiss or serves you breakfast in bed, nothing else matters.

Yip, he seems perfect. But, somehow, you just don’t trust him. He hides his phone when you’re around. It’s almost always on silent. He often comes home late or tells you he’ll call you back. If you do call, he’s often cold or treats you like an acquaintance rather than a lover.

You start making excuses. He’s speaking to me like that because he’s busy or around his colleagues. He can’t come this weekend because his mother is sick again. You haven’t met his parents yet, because they live far away. Wow, another expensive gift to say sorry.

You love him and brush it off. This too shall pass. But, things become more worrying when you decide to surprise him one weekend. He isn’t home. His door his locked and the spare key he gave you doesn’t work. You look through the kitchen window. The dishes are neatly packed away. There are no breadcrumbs or spilt milk. He obviously hasn’t lived there in weeks.

He calls you that evening. As much as you want to answer and confront him, you decide not to. You let it ring over and over again. Your emotions are all over the place. Well, he has an obsession with clean dishes, so maybe that’s why they were neatly packed away.

silhouette kissing

Are you... Is she... Is he...? Pic: online

“Hi Jeremy,” you say after the third missed call.

“Jeremy? Since when do you call me by my name? What happened to ‘sweetheart’?” he asks, worried, “Is everything okay?”

“Yeah…yeah,” you say, softly, “How was your weekend?”

“Fine. Dan and I went on an impulsive fishing trip.”

Your heart speeds up. He wasn’t home after all.

The next time you see each other, you subconsciously begin to question his every action and word. He kisses you briskly on the cheek, not softly on the lips as he used to. He doesn’t run his fingers through your hair when you kiss anymore. All the books you’ve read have stated the obvious: he’s cheating on you.

“Jeremy…” you say as he takes you out for lunch at your favourite restaurant. You’re not sure how to start the rest of the sentence: “Am I… Are you… Is she…”

What if he’s not? What if it’s all in your imagination?

His phone rings. He has to leave. He doesn’t call or even send an sms that night. The worrying has now turned to paranoia. It eats you up inside. You don’t want to accuse him falsely. It may be your fault, you decide. Out of the six guys you’ve dated before him, four cheated on you and the other two cheated on you after you accused them falsely. If he isn’t cheating, will he start cheating now that I’ve asked?

That night, he surprises you with flowers. He looks exhausted and asks for a massage. He’s just been fired from his job. As he lies passed out on your bed after making love, you spot his phone lying on the floor next to his pants. It’s your chance to see the truth for yourself. A part of you knows it’s completely unethical. What is a relationship without trust?

You take the phone to the bathroom. You look through the messages first. They’re just from you, Dan and his mother. Relief. You scroll down to one week back, then two weeks back, till the weekend of the ‘fishing trip.’

The message from Dan is strange: “Hey J! I know we decided to go fishing later, but I completely forgot I have to hand in a business proposal tomorrow! Sorry dude!”

Oh my, he’s lied. Where was he that weekend? The rest of the phone is clean. Oddly clean. Even the phone register has been wiped clean. You look through the photos now. There are beautiful photos of sunsets, cocktails and bikini models, all his favourite things.

You place the phone exactly where it was. You lie next to him and the tears slowly pour out from your eyes. His hands reach for your waist.

“Why did you have to go and do that?” he asks softly, his lips pressed against your ear.

You don’t know what to say. You turn around to look at him. His eyes are glistening.

“I love you and you don’t trust me?”

“I’m sorry… You’re just different. You talk to me weird. Your mother comes first. You see me less and less and you go on non-existent fishing trips!”

“Slow down!” he shouts back, “I talk to you weird because it wasn’t going well at work. The boss complained I was taking your calls too much. I love hearing your voice. It’s what kept me going, so I talked to you differently so he wouldn’t suspect it was my girlfriend. My mother is sick. She raised me alone and I’m petrified of losing her! I see you less because you don’t run your fingers through my hair when we kiss anymore either. I stopped doing it too, because I thought you were getting bored of me. I needed you to touch me like before.”

He pauses to catch his breath: “I did go on that fishing trip! Dan cancelled, so I went alone. If I told you I went alone, you wouldn’t have believed me.”

Your heart aches now with guilt. The other woman ruining your relationship is you… The jealous, needy, emotional you who can’t trust men. You almost lost the one who could be trusted, because you were too afraid to ask the right questions.

 

Ask yourself:

  • Do you question everything he says or does?
  • Are you suspicious when he compliments you or buys you an expensive gift?
  • Do you check his Facebook profile, emails or phone?
  • Are you blaming the “past you” for your current paranoia?

If you answered “yes” to two or more questions, you have serious trust issues and need to deal with them as quickly as possible.

Some tips:

  • Analyse your past first. Who hurt you and how have you dealt with it?
  • Give yourselves a break. If you start assuming he’s cheating, it’s often because the relationship has become monotonous.
  • Have faith in him and yourself. You can’t sustain a relationship on half-truths or empty suspicions.