Perfect, Empty Lives

I had a really nice conversation with someone this past week. Actually with two different people about the same topic. Social media is creating extremely unrealistic expectations about how we should live our lives and what we should achieve as far as personal stock.

By personal stock, I mean “the dream.” The car, the job, the diploma, the kids, the house, the most wonderful spouse there ever was.

The thing about social media is that we self censor. We fish for compliments. We portray false images of ourselves. We have this unbelievable technology in our pockets where we can snap and delete photos until we get them just right. We can Photoshop, and filter, and crop until the image is how we wish it was and not how it actually exists.

We are creating moments that never were and never will be.

No one wants to be the person who is miserable. Day after day we create a memory book of wishes by showing the world ourselves as we wish to be seen and not how we are. And for what? For “likes?” For “retweets?” For “favorites?”

What do they actually mean? What do these invisible symbols of approval do to improve our lives?

There are many layers to this type of gratification. We’re seeking approval through clicks for things that we really don’t need others to validate as acceptable. It’s like we’re all petitioning for life approval votes.

“This is a picture of my dinner. How many of you are jealous or approve of what I’ve ordered at this restaurant through no effort of my own?”

We’re all 100% guilty of doing this at least one time. We’re throwing out compliment bait, silently screaming for people to like us, when it’s not us that they actually like.

A person liking your status or your photo isn’t a reflection of how they feel about you as a person. It’s a reflection of how they feel about what they are viewing at that moment in time. It doesn’t mean that they love you. It doesn’t mean that they feel intimiately connected to you. It doesn’t mean that they actually even like you as a person.

Because the truth of the matter is, most of the people asserting that thumbs up don’t even know the real you. They don’t know how your brain works or what you feel in your heart or what makes you tick.

All of the status updates in the world cannot prepare a person for what is behind the screen. They can get a small view, but  obsessively documenting your day doesn’t tell a person what makes you the person that you are.

We all know someone who posts happy happy happy, but we know personally at a one-on-one level that they are miserable. Status climbing through social media is a bandaid. It is just filling the void.

Some people are just attention whores the the maximum degree possible. They just want to be noticed and they don’t care by who and they don’t care for what reason. It’s all an act. People crave attention and they want their 15 minutes. If they can get it from 57 likes on a photo, then so be it.

Are we losing our ability to communicate and intimiately know people? Everything we know we see through a lense. It’s a freeze frame without context. When a camera is ready to snap, we smile because that’s what we are taught to do.

I’ve smiled through some of the most miserable times of my life. I have photos of myself and an ex on vacation and I’m smiling in every picture. We’re perfectly posed and look so in love. We weren’t. He was texting another woman the whole time we were on that trip and ignored me almost the entire time we were away. It was a weekend of passive aggressive comments and lies. We didn’t even sleep in the same bed in the hotel. He didn’t even say a word to me on the flight there. I had hoped that trip would spark some life into our relationship, but all it did was prolong the inevitable and waste my money on airfare. (Well…I had photos. I threw them all away not too long ago when I came across them in a memory chest.)

To anyone who didn’t know me well or know the situation (which was basically everyone I knew because I hid my misery as best I could), it looked like I had the perfect, romantic vacation. I didn’t. I returned from that trip to the last month of us being together and then moved out after four years of being under his thumb and putting up with his bullshit and cheating and lies and abuse.

But why show the world the embarrassment of what I was going through? I mean, this was back in MySpace’s hay day. It wasn’t even really at it’s peak of popularity yet. But I posted those photos for a few weeks and let everyone think that my relationship was perfect and then I just let it fade away. It was easier than accepting the truth and in looking at it on the screen I was able to lie to the world and myself at the same time.

Conversely, there are people who post in a perpetual state of distress about how terrible their life is. It’s still a way to vie for your attention and affection from across the internet. But the constant outpouring of encouragement isn’t always what that person needs and if anything, more often than not, just fuels their narcissism and cynicism. If we said what we were thinking, we might force them to self reflect, instead of hunt for empty encouragement and reassurance that their life will one day be perfect.

Instead, what they likely need is to snap out of their either real or fabricated depression and figure out what they are doing that is hindering their happiness. Social media isn’t a cure. It’s a disease. This blog is a disease. I come on here and I put my life out where everyone can see it and open myself up to strangers. I’m completely vulnerable, but at least what I’m writing is real and I take pride in that. I don’t have a strong readership, but whether I have one reader, 500 readers, or zero, I’m doing this for me. If I happen to make someone smile, laugh, or think in the process, that’s an awesome thing and I hope that I do. But this isn’t the end all be all of life, because at the end of the day, these are just words on a screen.

Our lives aren’t perfect. No life is perfect. Life is messy. We yell and scream at each other. We love. We fight. We cry. We laugh. But we hide the bad, forgetting that without the bad, we would never appreciate what it takes to get to the good.



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