Back in November 2015, I wrote a post called The Downside of Facebook. (You can read it here.) Afterward, I received a surprising number of messages—private messages—from friends who admitted that they too experienced negative emotions, including sorrow, guilt, frustration, and even jealousy, after viewing others’ posts on Facebook. Many also asked: why me? Some were fellow autism moms, but others were not. This surprised me. If a person has the kind of life that I sometimes covet, what could he or she possibly have to feel sorry about?
Plenty, it turns out.
While my informal poll is not in any way a statistically significant sampling, my guess is that pretty much anyone can feel crappy on any given day after a stint on Facebook. Or any other social media outlet, for that matter.
The list of potential triggers was long and varied: better looking/smarter/more popular, talented, or athletic offspring; spouses that were better looking/richer/younger/more attentive; kids in the house; kids out of the house; spouses that were working; spouses that were not working; spouses that gave better gifts; single and “having fun” or married and “not online dating.” People compared jobs, cars, houses, toys, recreational activities, and vacations. If they were women, they also compared girlfriends (as in, number of and apparent closeness), clothes, shoes, weight gain, and what one gal called “the frump factor.” Men compared waistlines and hairlines. Everyone thought everyone else was having more sex, or at least better sex. Everyone thought others were having more fun or were just plain happier.
It made me sad to think of so many people brought low by Facebook.
Nearly everyone emphasized, as I did, that most days they enjoyed seeing their friends’ photos and status updates. It was only once in awhile that they got blue. Just now and then. Some even mentioned intentionally avoiding social media when feeling depressed so as to “not get suicidal.”
I thought about these comments after I received them, pondered the vast variety, the ironic contradictions. Then it struck me: Facebook is the mirror from which we sometimes hide. It reflects back whatever our lives are missing. We see our friends experiencing what we wish to have and feel the sting of regret, the bittersweet taste of loss. Facebook is a reminder of our longings, a visual record of everything for which we yearn. It forces us to confront not only our hopes and dreams, but also our guilt, shame, and grief.
Facebook may serve as a mirror, but it reflects a distorted image. My brother isn’t on Facebook, but if he was, he certainly wouldn’t have posted updates when he learned his ex was cheating on him with the little league coach. He wouldn’t have posted photos of his kids’ after they lost a big soccer match. No, he would post happy engagement and wedding photos with wife #2. He would share his kids’ wins, their accomplishments. I do the same. I didn’t announce Katie’s diagnosis with autism spectrum disorder or my filing for divorce on Valentine’s Day 2007 or even the long-awaited conclusion of my divorce in November 2009. Instead I share Katie’s milestones, her artwork, and the funny things she says. I write in my blog about the days that are bad, but even here I try not to dwell on the negative, because really, who needs more negative these days?
The problem is, my desire to not bring others down in the moment has the unintended consequence of bringing them down later, when they least need it.
Our obsession with social media forces us to “put on a happy face” more often than not, when what we really need is truth and authenticity. Because when we omit all the negative emotions, we are lying by omission. We are refusing to expose the messy details of life.
So I, for one, plan to be a little more authentic, a little more vulnerable in the future. How about you?
Until next time,