This one has been a long time coming. I’ve written installments around the topic previously, but haven’t made the time to sit down and really ruminate while in front of my laptop. First, there was “Dating is so weird.” and then “Textual Frustration.” and finally “Say what you mean and mean what you say.” Poignant indeed. I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately, though, especially with as much time as I spend on social media. Too much time. Yes, it’s part of my job, so there’s that. As a result, I know too much about how social media works, too. When you know too much about how social media works, you’re on social media frequently and you’re dating, it’s kind of a rough combination. So, some of what I’m writing comes as a result of years of experience and conversations with others, and isn’t necessarily relative to my current situation (which, by the way, is healthy and happy). Let’s dive in, shall we?!
A Facebook notification popped up on my screen the other day while I was working…”happy 14th anniversary!” Wait - 14 years?! Has it really been 14 years since our lives changed and gone were the days of MySpace, as interactions would change forever with the introduction of this one virtual space first known as “thefacebook.com” (yes - I am old enough to remember that you used to have to type in the full name and continued to do so for many years before I broke the habit)?! Yep. Then it was Twitter. Fast forward a number of years, and BOOM - Instagram!!
Along the way there were things like Tumblr and Blogspot…and - of course - Snapchat…but it was Instagram that really captivated me. Initially used by visual artists and hipsters as a photo sharing app, for me it was visually appealing and I found it to be a joy to interact with…unlike trying to fit my thoughts into 140 characters or getting really personal on Facebook (which, don’t worry, I did too - I’m an open book), Instagram allowed me to share mini blogs, random thoughts and musings along with an image in an aesthetically pleasing virtual realm. Just like a website, people could read the words or look at the image, and take in the information as it suited them. I didn’t really mind if some thought I wrote too many words, because maybe the image would resonate with them. And, in the beginning, it was all beautiful and raw. And then it gained popularity and widespread use, and it wasn’t what it started as anymore. People tried to figure out how to use it, but muddied it up. Ads were introduced. And it changed a little bit. And it did something else that was pretty toxic…it created a space for online bullying, and showed one side of life - all of the best and most beautiful things - and not the hard parts. The REALITY. I, too, fell into this trap at times.
But, for the most part, I fell in love with social media because for me it was about authenticity. It was a storytelling tool for the good and the bad…like how it felt when I went through a divorce and was simultaneously was pushed out of the company I gave up a full-time job for…and started from scratch in life, moving to a new place with my life packed into a small portion of the back of a 10-foot U-Haul moving truck. Or the moments where I struggled with heartbreak so much I lost my mind and 15 unnecessary pounds, too. I would put something out there, not knowing if it resonated with anyone…and frankly, not really caring if it resonated with anyone. Because it was a tool that helped me to move on - to move forward. In fact, in that strange and tumultuous time in my life, it was the only thing that kept me sane. Writing, that is. And then, sharing that writing. And, at times, I overshared as well. I’m aware of that fact. But I’m not sorry for it. If you don’t like it, I hope you have the power to look away and not let it touch your soul. Or, maybe if it did touch your soul I did something right? Not certain.
During these times, friends unfollowed me. I never understood that, because social media never affected me that much. I could look at it and separate reality from make-believe and not let it affect me…unless or until I was sad, that is. That’s the problem, though. If I was in a bad place, I’d look at things and get sad - friends were at a barbecue and I didn’t get the invite, and I’d feel left out. I’d be sitting in Salzburg alone on New Year’s Eve with plans that fell through and I’d open Instagram and see friends with the only person I wanted to be with at that moment. A pool of tears in my car, as a result of a single 15-second video on Instagram that I shouldn’t have seen anyway. And that’s the negative side of social media. Things are captured that wouldn’t otherwise enter your life at your fingertips. And it feels shitty. Really fucking shitty. So shitty and such an issue that the Millennials came up with an acronym for this feeling: FOMO (fear of missing out). And yes, it’s a thing. The problem is, it takes us out of the present moment and transports us to a faraway place that isn’t our own. Sometimes, that’s good. And healthy. Oftentimes, it’s not as good. And relationships in a world where everything is available at your fingertips?! Yikes.
This is about to get FUN.
Grab a drink, folks…I think a lot of you will be able to relate to this next part.
First, let’s talk about the illusion of reality. You’re probably wondering what the picture was all about that accompanies this post? Yes, that one - the butt one. Well, it was kind of click-bait to be honest. A “teaser” if you will. Because, as they say, sex sells. It was actually a little bit of an experiment for me to see how much attention it would get if I posted a classic booty pic. That’s the part of social media that REALLY can go fuck off. I know what you’re thinking, “Megan - you post those pictures too you goddamn hypocrite…you’re part of the problem!” Ouch. That hurts. But don’t worry, I am aware of it at least. So there’s that.
But I also know a lot about social media. Like I said, too much. And I’ve talked to many humans in relationships who have struggled with this. Social media has changed the way we conduct our lives and has affected human relationship. It has opened up so many possibilities…which can be good, sure. But, it also can be very, very negative.
Human relationships used to be simple. I remember talking to a friend a few years back who said she had listened to a podcast about relationships and choice, and it was comparing finding a mate to shopping for jam. They said you used to go to the store and have the ability to look at the shelf and see about five kinds of jam. It was simple. You knew what you liked, and you went with it. There weren’t many choices, but you were loyal to your choice and you didn’t look at the others and worry about what they tasted like. But now…now is a different story.
You walk into the store and there are hundreds of types of jam. And you find yourself staring at them all and thinking, “Maybe that mixed berry one is actually better…sweeter…more pleasureful. It might be more expensive, but I bet it tastes sooooo rich.” You get the idea. The internet, smart phones, social media…they have opened up a big ol’ world that used to be much, much smaller. And, we find ourselves scrolling through social media wondering if that human tastes better…without really knowing anything at all about them, but seeing a butt picture. It’s a fucking fantasy world. REMEMBER…you know NOTHING about that person. And then you spend a few days eating that mixed berry jam and you’re like, “damn…I wish I had the strawberry jam in my life again.” The grass on the other side is always greener, right?! It seems so.
And then here’s the other scary part about the way we interact with social media…there have been studies done on the reaction our mind/body has when someone likes our photo on social media…dopamine is released and we get hooked. I’ve felt it. It’s a little dangerous. But, what is the value of a “like” or “follow,” really?! Does it actually have meaning? That’s another thing about social. The younger generation seems to use it in a much different way…scroll, like, like, like, like. No reading. Just liking. What does it even mean?! Here’s where I get into trouble with knowing too much about social media. I think what you interact with and who is in your tribe is a reflection of who you are as a person - the same goes for real life and virtual life. So, if I’m in a relationship but I’m constantly interacting with dudes with their shirts off by liking their photos on social media…what does that mean about me? Furthermore, what does that mean to my partner? Have you ever considered it? Or does that not phase you?
Let me put this into context.
If you were walking with your partner and saw a beautiful human, you’d likely look and appreciate that beauty, right? I would. Because I love beautiful people. Of course, we don’t know anything about who these people really are - but the first thing we see is their cover before we’re able to dive into the pages of the book and really get to know them. So, there’s one thing with looking and appreciating. Engaging with it is another thing. Would you go hug that stranger in front of your partner? Poke them? Pinch their butt? “Hi! I’m here! I just want you to know that!” I know, I know - it’s a bit drastic to compare physical touch with the action of a “like” on social. But is it?
I know what you’re thinking. “This bitch is CRAY.” First of all - yes, I am. We all are. Second of all - hear me out, because I’m not really a jealous person by nature and if I’m in a healthy relationship where everything is on the table and we’re communicating well, it’s not an issue. Here’s a scenario - you and your partner are doing the long distance thang. Your partner is constantly interacting with a girl who often posts ass and titties photos. He doesn’t interact with your posts, but he seems to constantly interact with hers. You’re confused. You start to get jealous and wonder why, but you don’t want to bring it up because it seems silly. You start to fixate on that behavior, and do things like look on Instagram at what he liked. You text him that you miss him. You don’t hear back. You wonder what’s going on.
The worst thoughts get into your head.
You go on Instagram to see when he was last active (yeah, crazy, huh?! It’s happened to the best of us.).
“Active Now” it says.
“WHAT THE HELL, IS HE CHEATING ON ME? DOES HE LIKE THAT GIRL?!”
HA! Oh my gosh, I’m laughing out loud because it’s ridiculous to even write this, but it’s true. I’ve heard this dilemma from more than a few humans in my life. The thing is, unless it’s some far-fetched star from Hollywood, anything goes with social media these days. Seriously. Look at Tinder and Bumble. That’s the very concept of those social tools - meet specifically for human connection (whether it be to date or hook up or whatever), virtually. There was even a term coined for this on Instagram, “Slide into the DMs.” I’ve done it before, and it’s paid off well for me once or twice. Including currently. But that’s the thing, and that’s why we need to be mindful…because what we do and who we interact with in virtual reality is a reflection of who we are just like what we do and who we interact with in reality is a reflection of who we are. You are what you eat, right?! The thing is, oftentimes I’m full, yet I continue to consume.
You text your person. They start to reply.
The dreaded “…” right?! That fucking ellipsis. You hate it and love it. You love to hate it.
It’s actually my favorite punctuation mark, but in this case, it’s the worst. It creates excitement or anxiety.
And then it’s blank.
“Where’d they go?” You wonder to yourself.
But we didn’t used to have our lives at our fingertips. We didn’t used to be expected to immediately write back. We had no choice before. Game changer for dating and human relationships.
I once followed an Instagram account called “Socality Barbie” - this was a satirical account created to mock hipsters and their #blessed lives on social media. In her prime, Socality Barbie had about 1M followers. She was a social experiment that took off, and brought light to the #authenticity of social media. HA! Then, I came across Fyre Festival - and if you haven’t seen the Netflix documentary about it, you should, because it’s insane and absolutely a reflection of the power social media can have in real life, and how the fantasy world that is social media can negatively affect humans in real life. Yes, it’s an extreme case - but it’s worth watching.
So where am I getting with all of this?!
I guess sometimes I wish it all was as simple as it used to be, where you wrote and exchanged real letters (the art of letter writing is still a practice in which I partake, for the record), instant gratification wasn’t a thing, and you were just fat and happy eating your simple, reliable strawberry jam.