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6min of reading

I’m that person: no more father, no more mother, no more grandparents, obviously, no more aunts or uncles, a few cousins, no kids, no partner. My family: a brother and two adult nephews. Goodbye obligations, Sundays, dinners, birthdays, sharing news, managing other people’s foibles ; farewell demands and explanations, Christmas - and Christmas presents, of course - but nothing comes of nothing.

But here’s how that person, having managed to escape from family life, which she hated, found another family. Because three years ago, while my family demonstrated its propensity for dwindling, I set up an Instagram account. Sometimes you have these gut feelings...

I already had a kind of notoriety: 12 novels behind me, and above all 15 years at a famous magazine. I had even managed, I don’t quite know how, to write a best-seller, L’Envie. But that doesn’t quite explain it. It certainly doesn’t explain how and why the Instagram account grew so rapidly, and made me the close personal friend of 143,000 followers. For a normal person, that’s a big thing. For a person with no family, it’s crazy.

And of course I thought about the incongruity: I love freedom so much, and here I was with all these people following me. The loss of my relatives released me from bonds that social media constantly reforges. I brought back the very thing I wanted to flee.

Apparently engagement metrics show that my account is one of the most active in France. Engagement (I have always had a horror of engagements!) does not only refer in this context to followers leaving a kind word, but also to my promise, tacit but never broken, to show that I am there, that I am reading the comments, that I do reply.

It’s mad that I’ve accepted this situation.

If I don’t post something one morning, my followers go crazy: “You okay?” (and if I reply, yes, I’m okay, immediately there’s another message: “We were worried!”). If I post a photo of myself with bare feet in the middle of winter, people scold me: “Put on some shoes, you’ll catch cold.” And sometimes they ask: “What are you doing today?” Basically, they ask the questions my mother asked, questions which I always thought compromised my independence, and which 143,000 people are now in a position to ask. And ask they do.

When boyfriends, fiancés, those kind of people, ask me to give an account of myself, I immediately scarper. I have done since I was a teenager. I have a bizarre aversion to marriage, to that kind of engagement. And yet, here, I reply. And even more importantly: I LET MYSELF DO SO.

You won’t be surprised to hear that the questions get quite personal. If the followers spot two pillows on the bed glimpsed in the background of a photo, it’s: “When will you introduce us to the invisible man in your life?”

It goes without saying that I never talk about my love life. To quote an old expression, I don’t kiss and tell. I refuse to surrender that part of myself, the most secret part. In the same way I used to hate talking to my parents about my relationships. And yet people insist, they try to guess, pester me about it.

With my parents I could always slam the door in their faces. I used to howl, “What gives you the right?”, as soon as they asked the most anodyne question. But go figure: what used to exasperate me now moves me. And when people ask questions, I send them smileys.

This is me we’re talking about - the person who used to go on holiday as far away from my parents as possible, “to be left in peace”, now, posting five times a day on a trip to Greece. Here I am, liking a comment someone has written: “Thank you, it’s like you’re taking us with you.”

We often talk about starting a family. This family started up around me.

I have often wondered how I could have allowed this to happen. Someone the other day was talking about the gift for making connections, suggesting that I have it. I certainly do not. Since childhood I have never got on with others, and above all not with family. They are all dead and so are no longer here to tell you just how distant and undomesticated I am. So I have to be the one to tell you, from the depths of my solitude. I am the kind of child who ties their laces badly, but by themselves. I am the kind of child who holds her breath whilst talking to others, so there is no risk of contamination. I have been writing “I am” instead of I “was”... well, so be it.


Two years ago, I discovered something. People began to recognize me in the street. “I follow you on Instagram”. They wanted a selfie with me. To get people into a selfie, you have to stand close together. They would squeeze up against me, sometimes with their head against my cheek, their hand on my waist. I felt my old fears return. As before, I held my breath. “You’re my spirit mother” “You’re the sister I never had” “You’re part of my life, my kids love you.”

How easy it is to be close to others when you know there is an exit close by. That’s what I told myself, in secret.

But, little by little, this strange family worked its magic upon me. I saw the grace and fragility of these bodies, pressed up against my own in startling intimacy, and I felt involved. And before long I was able to say: “this is my flock”.

Recently there was a young girl, small in stature. As fate would have it, for the photo (taken by her mother!) I stood behind her and wrapped my arms around her. I had folded my arms over her bust and she, with her hands, pressed me to her with so much affection. Against my arm, towards my wrists, I heard her pulse beating. Her heart fluttered and at the end, shyly, she explained why. “Sometimes people tell me I look like you.” Because Instagram has given me children, me, the one with no family. But actually, I have 100.


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