The title statement was said in jest over the Fourth of July weekend by an acquaintance, who was considering posting a picture of some legal documents she had just received in the mail. She brushed away the idea, but she was on to something. The influence of social media on mental health and interpersonal relationships seems to be coming up a lot in online articles and in conversation. Everyone’s happier than me. Everyone’s partner relationship is stronger. Everyone has more money than I do. No one else is struggling the way I am. Everyone else’s kids are easier to raise. Other people are successful at life, in ways I’m just not. Or so it appears. I have a few hundred friends on facebook, and I maintain regular phone, email or in person contact with a far smaller number. I know what’s beneath the glossy social media surface of their lives, and that the two don’t often match. They know the same about me. Why then, are we allowing ourselves to buy into the idea that we’re alone in our experience of life as less than wonderful, all the time?
Naturally we all want to put up pictures or break news of the good. Date night, vacation, birthday parties, job promotions, new cars, house remodels, haircuts. We want people to like and comment on the items we choose to share because it feels like a mini-celebration, each click. It’s validating to have your virtual community respond favorably to you. Sometimes we use social media to blow off steam or inform the group we’ve had a life-threatening medical diagnosis. We’re seeking support from our community, and each like or comment is a comfort. We’re not alone out here with our bad day, or our bad news. But what about the other struggles, that aren’t socially acceptable to talk about, in person or online?
I’ve never seen a facebook status that says, my sex life with my husband isn’t satisfying, ideas? I’ve never seen an instagram pic of someone’s kids with #questioningthischoice #parentingsucks. I’ve never seen a pensive selfie titled “lonely and isolated” (though I’m sure if I dabbled in the adolescent scene I would). I’ve yet to see a newsfeed filled with date night selfies and poses, bemoaning variations on #idontfeelclose #wedontreallytalk or “does anyone else feel like date night is a desperate attempt at intimacy?”. But offline, I do hear these sentiments. They are real and painful. Sometimes they can only be sensed, read between the lines of conversation, the speaker too scared to even go there. And why would you want to admit you’re struggling, when it appears you’re the only one? The farther you go down the adulthood path, the more pressure there is to appear successful, together and in control.
I don’t have a good answer for how we can change the perception that everyone else is doing better, and bust up the isolation social media can cause. I think drawing comparisons between self and others has been going on since the beginning of humanity, but the vast amount of information available in our time sharpens the edges, increases the obsession. Before, what we knew of people’s lives, and who we knew about was necessarily less. Now it’s endless, updating every second. I’m not going to stop using social media, so how can I help myself live in reality while perusing people’s virtual lives? I think I’m going to simply remind myself that what I’m seeing is a facet of a person’s total experience. I’m going to understand that each post represents information that’s been selected for reasons individual and personal. And then I’m going to remind myself that we can’t ever know for sure what’s happening behind closed doors, thus ending the need to compare. Without the total picture, how could I ever know for sure that my measurements are accurate? Then the need to measure fades away, as I begin to understand that the only person who knows for sure whether I’m living a quality life is me. The only data that are real come from inside, and why am I still staring at this screen and scrolling when the conclusions live within me? I’m logging off and getting to the bottom of this.