A few years ago, when I was the mom of a preschooler and a newborn, I found my life in chaos. I was struggling with postpartum depression, and wildly looking around me to see if everyone else found parenting two children as difficult as I did. None of my friends struggling because they had older kids, and I felt alone. So, like many people who feel alone, I turned to social media in the hopes of finding others like me.
What I found, for the most part, was a multitude of curated lives. Families looked blissful in blog posts, mothers smiled perfect smiles in gorgeous outfits, and children danced and played, and never, ever screamed. Instagram was awash in my own friends’ Kodak moments, and I felt a strange combination of pressure to share my beautiful moments and desire to push back and show my ugly moments, instead.
It was the ugly that won out, and for 100 days, I committed to sharing only authentic and honest photos on Instagram. It was…a bigger challenge than I anticipated. Sometimes I felt like all I was doing was whining and oversharing. Sometimes I noticed myself trying to capture beautiful photos instead of just being real. But people listened, and some people even joined me.
What I learned from that experience is something I’ve carried with me ever since: what you see on social media is rarely what you get. The fact that I felt compelled to share to beautiful version of my life at times, despite having committed to sharing the ugly and authentic bits, showed me how hard it is to be real on social media.
It’s kind of like seeing acquaintances at a party; someone who doesn’t know you very well asks how you are. Will you share that you children are struggling with anxiety or toilet training or that you’re afraid you won’t make your mortgage payment this month? You could, and there might have been a time when I would have. Ultimately, though, being choosy about who you share your hopes and fears and awful moments with is important for establishing boundaries. Sometimes, people just don’t have the capacity to carry your burdens, when they barely even know you.
Looking at this from a wider perspective, the idea that by sharing all of your terrible moments on social media, you can create meaningful connections is something I’ve abandoned. Nothing can replace the role of friends or family in your real life. That doesn’t mean you should only share the pretty things in your life on social media, but if you’re looking there for support you’re missing elsewhere in your life, you may be left feeling empty.
Put down your phone at the restaurant, and when that gorgeous dinner arrives, you can talk about it with your spouse, take it in with all of your senses instead of just a photo. In ten years, will that photo of your meal, and how many hearts it got, mean anything? Will the person you shared that meal with mean anything?
Food for thought.