The Significance of Erica Albright
It all comes back to her, eventually. She started this snowball. At times, Mark has blamed her; at times, he has revered her; at times, he has feared her. But regardless, throughout all of these times, Mark has loved her, has wanted her, and, in some way, shape, or form, has been utterly and irrevocably determined to impress her.
She was right when she said he'd go through life thinking girls didn't like him because he was a nerd. That's how puberty started out; that's how high school ended. That blissful summer where he locked himself away with only the occasional visit from Eduardo and just focused on what he liked to do—nerdy things that the rest of the world hated him for, like creating worlds of code using just his fingertips and playing hours upon hours of mindless video games with only microwaveable popcorn as his fuel—that was a brief break, and then it was back to the useless staring of female passerby when he entered college. Or, rather, back to being ignored by female passerby, who only stared and snickered if he was looking particularly disheveled that day.
Then he met Erica. And for that short, sweet while, everything was different. He used to think relationships were shit: Who needed a girlfriend to make themselves feel better? That wasn't what being a man was about. You weren't supposed to be needy like that. But the thing is, Mark is needy like that. He needed her and, to his great relief, she was there… and then, well, then she wasn't. Just like that. And along with her romantic feelings, the illusion that girls didn't like him because he was a nerd vanished, only to replaced by a woman silenced with revulsion for him and the altogether too-real truth that he, Mark Zuckerberg, was an asshole.
In a lot of ways it was gratifying: It took off the years of pressure he had spent dwelling over, wondering if maybe he had crashed that party or actually lost his virginity before he was legal or done something even remotely worthwhile during his teenage years that things would be different. That fear evaporated, and very temporarily, it was irrevocably gratifying. It was approximately forty-seven seconds later when that gratification evaporated and he realized that he had just been dumped by the first girl who had looked with those eyes at him in a very, very long time. Those eyes that had, at one point, held something very close to love.
Or maybe just very close to something that was almost close to love. Mark couldn't always tell the difference. He referred to himself jokingly as socially awkward; between his friends he was always the stiff one in social situations, the one who shoved his hands in his pockets and stood in the back of the group and acted simply as another body to fill space. That was Mark. Eduardo was the charismatic one, and that role at the head of everything suited him: He was much more the "people person." He was the kind that got girlfriends and could actually sustain said relationships.
He probably knew the difference between like and love and when it was appropriate to apologize and all of that shit, too.
Regardless of all of this, Erica fueled this website and, by extension, his entire way of life, now. Inadvertently, of course. By accident. She didn't mean to, and she probably didn't want to. He can hear her words over in his head, her biting, sarcastic tone to which he was so oblivious at that time—"You would do that for me?"
Of course he would have done that for her. He would have done anything for her. But indelicacy and reading social cues were two things he had severe problems with. So when she sounded sincere to Mark (who had a horrible filter between sincerity and sarcasm), he took it as the absolute truth. And such sincerity transferred over to her liking guys that rowed crew and to wanting to stay friends, both of which she said with the same biting voice. So instead of doing an abstract "anything" for her—with the implications that "anything" entitled grand things like flying to the moon or making spaghetti dinners by candlelight or dropping off bouquets for no apparent reason—he sat alone in his room, blogged about her, and made a website to further objectify women, something she would highly disapprove of.
Yet, still, there was some sick satisfaction every time her face popped up on screen and he chose the other girl, regardless of how ugly they were (and they were all ugly, compared to Erica). And by sick he means full-on stomach-churning clogged-throat headache-inducing sick, but it felt kind of good at the same time so he kept doing it. When Eduardo was off getting beers sometimes he'd give in to this appalling weakness and click on her face instead, hoping to god she sensed some sort of telepathic connection that he was still stupidly in love with her, but for the most part…
It was she who pushed him to help the Winklevosses. They rowed crew. She liked that, right? Maybe if he could be seen with them, just once or twice, she'd take notice of him again. Maybe if they could get him into the Porcelain. Maybe. So he said yes. But not before slipping her line in there.
"You would do that for me?"
The difference there was, again, that he would do anything for Erica.
The Winklevi didn't plan to do jackshit for him.
Defeated, he closes his computer after about the fiftieth refresh and stands just as the lights go off behind him. The doors are all still open, so he makes his way outside without any hassle and (thankfully) without meeting any awkward janitors. There are at least four cabs parked on the side of the road, so Mark waits politely with his laptop tucked under one arm for a driver to exit the coffee shop on his right and then they both get in the car and Mark directs him to the hotel he's staying at.
Past streets Mark has walked through late at night. Past parks he smoked at, past Harvard, even, and past the club where he last saw Erica. He rubs his eyes tiredly, trying not to notice how childlike he looks in the rearview mirror.
Everything comes back to Erica.
She was wearing a hat she'd picked out when they had gone shopping. He remembers the feel of her fingers on the back of his hand, remembers the way her voice tilted up at the end of her sentence as her laughter began. Remembers her trying on the hat and then making him try it on just for fun. She was so full of everything he conspicuously lacked: Life, energy, sense, social success, the good common knowledge of how to act normal. Although, it probably wasn't an act for her: She was just good at being normal because, well, because she was—is—normal. And he's… he's Mark. He's an asshole. An asshole who felt so sure of himself that night in the club after seeing her and thinking that maybe tonight, maybe finally, he could say something that could convince her otherwise. After all, he was worth something now. He was no longer an insignificant asshole who she could just ignore. He was special. Important. She had to see him. Had to see him for who he had become and what, with this newfound fame of his, she could be getting.
So it was like a punch to the stomach when still, after he had become so important, she rejected him again. It was embarrassing and ridiculous and he had thrown himself at this project for her, didn't she realize that? Didn't she know? Of course she didn't, because he would never, ever have enough grit to tell her. She would perpetually be the bane and the muse of his existence. Which is exactly why, after he walked quickly away from her table, his hands creeping into the familiar warmth of his pocket, the back of his hand beginning to sweat and a self-induced headache mounting in his temples, that he rounded on Eduardo with that fiercely pained glint in his eye and declared, "We have to expand."
He sighs deeply, like he's trying to suck in and then release all the cold air from the cab as it pulls over to the side of the road and the man says, "Have a good night, sir," and takes the money Mark hands him over the seat. He tries not to slam the door as he gets out of the car, but he thinks he may have accidentally shut it a bit hard by the way the cab driver's face appears briefly disgruntled in the rearview mirror before he pulls away.
He shuffles through the thin darkness penetrated by the brightness of streetlamps toward the shitty hotel he'd rented. It's honestly ridiculous, that he—the youngest billionaire in the world, for god's sake—has chosen a room in this shithole. But big and impressive isn't really Mark's style, anyway. And this place has free WiFi, whereas most quality hotels seem to see it as another way to suck money out of you. Ironic, how the richest hotels always demanded more and the humbler simply gave away what you wanted for free. The whole concept seems like some sort of ironic metaphor in his mind, although all the pieces don't exactly fit and he's fairly certain he's just grasping at straws now.
Ironic. That word just describes his life. People say it's ironic how a boy with so few friends created a site based around friends, but Mark knows the truth: The real irony lies within the fact that the most socially stunted boy in the entire country created a site based on social interaction. He didn't know how to talk to girls or boys or people in general, and yet he has manufactured this website that simplified that process. And he's being praised left and right for it. But he doesn't even know if this one girl—the girl who started the entire process, the only girl he's ever honest-to-god wanted like this—will accept his friend request.
He makes his way upstairs to his room and automatically flops on the bed, which creaks conspicuously below him, and flips open his laptop, connecting immediately to the internet. It's still dark, with the moonlight just barely shifting through the almost-closed blinds. In the dark, he pulls up the Facebook homepage and logs in.
One new notification.
His heart jumps spontaneously into his throat and beats there for half a second before he swallows. Erica. Did. Did she…? He doesn't allow himself to get excited or satisfied or whatever this weird emotion currently clenching him is: He takes several deep breath and wraps a finger around a springy curl, calming himself down and willing himself to click, and possibly, to face defeat, if it said something along the lines of "Erica has once again rejected you, because you are and always will be a worthless asshole, no matter how much money you have." Which it wouldn't. Obviously. He created this thing. He knows that.
Okay Zuckerberg. Enough dawdling. Click on the notification.
Erica Albright has accepted your friend request.
His heart beat slows down, but something else stupid happens to him: He's smiling. Smiling. About the girl who dumped him accepting his friend request. Is this what it feels like to be normal? he wonders. Does everyone have this weird victorious feeling after being accepted? He suddenly feels very, very small. Maybe this is what it feels like to be average. To be one of everyone else. It's not a bad feeling. It's different, though. Especially from someone who has been special all his life. Yet here he is. A normal twenty-something adding a long lost friend on Facebook, just like the millions of other people that use this website—his creation—every day.
It occurs to him, then, that he could have simply just gone to the Facebook headquarters and logged on as admin and made her be his friend. He could have done just a teensy bit of coding magic—would it even require code? Probably not—and blam, she would have appeared on his friends list like she'd been there the entire time. But that feels like cheating. This feels like… well, it feels good. Not good. No. Not exactly. It feels better than before, though. Like maybe something is finally going right for him, something is finally falling into place. After all this shit, after paying thousands of dollars, after Eduardo's hateful "I was your only friend," after being sued for everything he's worth, this is a small, small victory, and in that, there is hope that he's only imagined all of this tension between them.
He's needy. He needs things and he needs people, and in that moment he needed proof that he's still worth something, and Erica—the only girl he'd ever really wanted more than he'd needed her—has given it to him.
He opens a new tab with a message and considers asking her out to dinner, but he thinks better of it before he's even typed anything; in the current atmosphere, that might be pushing it.
If any of you are coming from my tumblr to read this, you'll probably have read that post I made about how I thought Erica was much more significant a character in the movie than he got credit for. This is just those ideas in fanfic form, which I thought was a necessary transformation to soothe the bubbling inspiration I always have after watching this movie.