It used to bother me that Boyfriend didn’t put me in his profile picture on Facebook. Isn’t that what you’re “supposed” to do when you’re in a relationship? Isn’t that how you show that you’re proud of the relationship you’re in? HOW ELSE WILL EVERYONE KNOW HOW CUTE WE ARE?
Okay so that’s a little dramatic. What really happened is that I asked him about it once and he said “That’s just not really my thing. I’m not huge on social media and a lot of people use it in really self-serving ways.” Oh, social media, the ultimate frenemy. On the one hand, you keep me connected– I’m able to stay in touch with family and friends who no longer live in the area, and it’s a good way to stay informed on what’s going on in my own little community and in the world. On the other, you keep me connected— party selfies… bar selfies… love notes on your boyfriend’s wall… passive aggressive statuses to that friend who didn’t take a cute selfie with you at Rick’s.
I was one of the last of my friends to get Facebook. In November of my freshman year of high school my parents finally conceded… mostly because they realized that I was well-equipped to be safe on the internet (and also I wouldn’t shut up about how much I was missing out on). I was officially being inducted into the social media club with each ~super deep~ quote I put in my favorites and with my first ~totally not posed~ profile picture. And let me tell you, I was the queen of the vague song lyric status. Because who would you share your innermost emotional turmoil with if not your Facebook friends? Seriously, the amount of times I updated my status was, in a word, excessive.
Yes, 14-year-old Katlyn. Everyone is obviously super interested in when you brushed your teeth and put on your retainer.
There’s this really intoxicating feeling that comes with posting something on social media. It’s kind of like the listening ear that’s always there when you feel like you have something important to say (in 14-year-old Katlyn’s case, that something was dental hygiene or a hug requisition). It can be addictive. Especially when I was younger, I used to feel like I was kind of in the background of things… I worked backstage in theatre, I was in the back of the second violins in the orchestra, and generally behind a book or study guide or notebook. I didn’t feel very confident in myself until I started getting older, and I used to place far too much stock in whether or not boys noticed me and whether or not the “popular” people thought I was at least a little cool. Social media gave me a place where it felt like I could make everyone pay attention to me, and what I was doing, and what I was thinking, and what I felt like saying.
Guys, I am funny. Look at how witty I am in my free time!
Social media can provide a kind of empty validation when you need it. Yes, you’re funny. Yes, your relationship is super adorable. Yes, you’re having fun! (Because are you really having fun if you don’t have a picture to prove it?) It’s where you curate a highlight reel of your life for everyone to appreciate and envy… especially if they’re not there (it’s at about this point that I looked up “FOMO” to make sure I was using it right, because my proficiency in acronym-speak is far below average). If you were there, you like and comment how much ~super awesome fun~ you had. If you weren’t, you wish you were so you can be cool too. It’s really confusing as someone who rarely enjoys the bar scene, but finds herself wishing that she, too, had been wearing a cute outfit and holding a cocktail on that one Saturday night.
Social media breeds lifestyle competition, and sometimes I am the worst afflicted. It feels like all of my friends are prettier, funnier, and more exciting than I am. I think a lot of that has to do with this contradicting notion within me where I simultaneously like things more low key, but also see all those bar and party pictures and cute selfies (seriously, how do people do cute selfies without a cat in them??) and think wow that looks so fun what am I doing wrong?
Selfie game strong (featuring cute kitty!)
And that’s where social media gets you– the second you start looking at your life and thinking “what’s wrong” when you look at someone else’s, step away from the screen. It’s easy to do when you’re surrounded by everyone else’s highlight reel, but you have an all-access pass to your own life story. Comparison happens, especially when it seems like social media sometimes exists to say “look at all the fun you’re missing while you’re staring at your screen.”
Boyfriend has a point. A lot of social media can exist to be self-serving, and exist to breed that exact competition that can wrack your brain with feelings of inadequacy. It holds on to everything, keeping exes a click away and fun times curated in albums of nostalgia and smiles. Because the second you take something off your profile– whether it’s an album of high school homecoming dance photos or that guy you had a crush on for five years who you keep on your friends list to make sure he sees how happy you are– you might be missing out. Letting go can feel so much more difficult when everything appears to be networked and tied together in a bow of status updates, profile pictures, and friend requests.
Note to self: it’s okay to unfriend social media practices that don’t bring something positive to my life off-screen.
My relationship with social media has changed a lot in the past few years. I used to be an emotional packrat, holding onto everything for fear of realizing that maybe there are things I’ve outgrown since the first time I updated my status back in November 2008. But I have grown up, and there are things I am ready to let go of. Social media is no longer my sounding board in a world I felt was not listening. Instead, I try to use it as a place to share the parts of my life that bring me joy, or make me think (so basically, it’s a lot of pictures of cooking, my cat, Boyfriend, my friends, and articles I find interesting or insightful). I occasionally dip into a self-destructive social media place, pouring through a newsfeed full of moments that I feel like I should miss being part of, but that I missed because I was making moments of my own (that may or may not have ended up photographically documented).
I like documenting things. I, like many people I know, use social media to share parts of my life that make me happy with the people who make me happy. Social media is by design a very self-aware medium, because it’s basically the digital embodiment of someone saying “look at this cool thing I’m doing!” But that’s not always bad. Sometimes, it’s a way to stay connected with one another and share the joys that come with every day life. It’s a difficult balance, and one I’m still very much beginning to understand.
What I do know is this: I don’t need to be in Boyfriend’s profile picture to know that he cares about me, because however many likes a picture or post does or does not get should not be a measure of validation for any relationship or experience. I will probably never be on Boyfriend’s profile, but I’m in his life so I’m learning that you really never can take the media too seriously– social or otherwise.