Before it became a popular social media experiment, Sara Lovett had an original idea: to reconnect with her 166 Facebook friends in person. She quit her job, got in her car (sometimes with her poodle, Stanley), and drove across three countries to see everyone.
Here’s her story.
Tell us about yourself:
My name is Sara Lovett. I was born in Epsom, England and moved to Dallas, Texas as a teenager. After college, I dreamed of emulating actress Marian Seldes. To tide me over, I took an office job. I know now that whenever you tide yourself over, your dream fades off into the corner marked “hobby.” Corporate America sucked me in, and it felt like living on Ambien.
I sleep-walked my way through twenty years of a life that I had allowed to choose me. What surprises me most is that I didn’t put up much of a fight. It was only two years ago that I finally asked, ‘How did I get here?’ One September morning I awoke with the pressure of all those lost years. I could no longer allow fear to determine my outcome. So first, I wrote a novel. Then, I had an idea: to visit all 166 of my Facebook friends, face-to-face.
Why did you decide to undertake your quest?
The novel I wrote was about relationships. It got me thinking about what friendship really means, what it has meant to me, and what it is evolving into today with the onset of social media. Friendship has made a new home for itself inside of a machine, and I wanted to know my friends again. Despite the machine’s best intentions, the longer I waited to see my friends in person, the more they were evaporating into images I wasn’t connected to anymore.
On my 47th birthday, I committed to visit my 166 friends in 64 cities in 365 days. Almost immediately, I wavered. I was scared to leave my familiar life. And then, a friend of mine had a heart attack, dying on his 48th birthday.
This man lived a life full in the purpose of who he was and making a difference. I wasn’t doing that, which made me lose self respect—and that shifted me into gear. Waiting was no longer an option.
I quit my corporate job, put all of my things in storage, grabbed my poodle, and set off.
What were the costs associated with visiting all your Facebook friends (and how do you cover them)?
In total I spent almost $36,000. I had saved up about $30,000, raised $1,000 on Indiegogo, and the people I had worked with closely in my job gave me an additional $500. Towards the end I cashed in some stock which boosted me, and both my parents and my brother gifted me with money that saw me through. I was also sponsored by two friends who had started their own businesses.
Tell us about a low point in your journey:
While in Oregon, the worst possible thing I could imagine happened to the person I hold dearest to me. My best friend Stephanie’s husband died suddenly, two days before his daughter’s 2nd birthday. I stopped my quest and went back to Texas. I was so angry that this man who embraced life all with the passion that no one questioned, has been pulled kicking and screaming from all that he had come to understand as holy and beautiful to him.
The funeral was an outpouring of celebration for his life. It encompassed all of him, each nook and cranny—the challenging and the joyous. Three endearing, emotional, funny, heartbreaking filled hours of memory fueled tales of himself. So many people spoke that there had to be an intermission. This is someone hundreds of people would miss.
Leaving Stephanie afterward was hard. I wanted to stay and shove off my whole damn project. Except that making sure I completed my journey and connected with people before I died was why I was on the road. I stayed with Stephanie for a few weeks, then flew back to Oregon, still not really wanting to go but knowing I had to.
Have you met any interesting people?
Re-meeting people I’ve known for years allowed me to also re-meet myself. My friends are my best way to understand the last twenty years of my life, to show me how I got where I am today. Reconnecting in person with each of my friends, I began to see how we had each woven our individual tales in through each other’s. Some of those friends included:
- Stephanie, with her strength in this time of the loss of her husband and the unconditional love towards her child
- Jane, dealing with her teenage son’s suicide, six years before. A still fresh wound that she lives in every day, offering up the truth that yes, we grieve, no it never ends, and yes it’s okay to live in that, to talk about it, to not suppress any of it until it heals
- Sarah, who is raising a teenager within a home that surrounds an atmosphere of pure art
- Bill, an ex-acting teacher, who now works with soldiers returning from the war with PTSD using Shakespeare to help channel the anger, sadness, and horror of their experiences
- Paul, my brother and a successful writer
I could go on for all 166.
What advice would you give to someone else considering a quest?
Once that switch goes off in your head, it will not switch back. It will not give up on you no matter how many years you stroll by it. It will never feel like the right time, you will never have enough money, and the truth of yourself will not reveal itself to you until you strip yourself of all that you know is not who you are, and just begin.
Believe the voice in your head; it isn’t lying. There is no downside to undertaking something that has meaning to you. Even if it’s something that will take you a month, a year, ten years to accomplish, you will be honoring who you are to a depth that few know the feeling of.
What did we miss?
I have been blessed with good friends and remarkable friendships. There were times on long stretches of driving when I looked back at fear and wonder what I had done, throwing all my money in the air and letting it settle at the train tracks, airlines, gas stations, and friendship’s doorway.
But at each reconnection I found what inspired each person, what they had found, were seeking, creating, lacking, dreaming, dreading and celebrating. In short, I truly knew them. What I met at the end is best described in the concept of Ubuntu: I am the best version of me, because of my interactions with you.
I am writing a book about my experience called, “Follow me to Friendshipland: The Story of Facebook on Foot,” and working on a one-woman play based on those same experiences.