WASHINGTON, December 27, 2014 – If you were my friend on Facebook, you might have read this status update from me on Christmas:
“Catherine started trying to get me up at 7, after sitting in the living room by herself for almost an hour. That was uncommonly patient of her. I told her her hands were cold and I’d get up once she got them warmed. I heard her standing in the corner rubbing them together fast, then she came over and touched my face. ‘How’s that, Daddy?’ ‘Almost,’ I said. ‘Give me a hug, and then I’ll get up.’”
What you wouldn’t have read was this:
“The kids just came to blows over a game. Harlan accused Catherine of cheating.
‘I am not, you liar!’
‘Mom, Catherine just called me a liar! She’s such a brat!’
‘Harlan, STOP IT!’
‘NO, CATHERINE, YOU STOP IT!’
In the background I said, ‘Kids, come on. Hey, Harlan, don’t call her that. Catherine, don’t hit! HARLAN! CATHERINE! BE QUIET! CATHERINE, IN THE CORNER!! HARLAN, COME HERE! NOW!!!’”
We edit our lives on Facebook and social media. We don’t always mean to, but in the act of deciding what to put there and what to keep hidden, we create a narrative that isn’t always firmly grounded in reality.
Some people flat out lie about their lives; some spin reality until it’s barely recognizable; some, like me, just choose carefully what we put on Facebook. We tell stories about the times our kids are funny or kind, and never write down the times we were all yelling so loudly that the neighbors thought our home had been invaded by a chainsaw killer.
I take pictures of my cat curled up sleeping under a lamp and post them to my wall. I don’t take pictures of the vomit she leaves by my bed for me to step in in the morning. If I cook a great meal I might describe it; I’ve never once described the leftover pizza I put in the microwave.
My friends on Facebook all have fabulous lives. They travel all over the world, their kids are talented, their jobs are fascinating, their homes beautiful.
I can’t compete. There’s a reason that pictures of my garden are all flower close-ups; that way you don’t see the weeds chocking out the herbs. Heck, when I’m inspired, I can take pictures of my weeds and make them look like nursery-grown flowers. When I need to take pictures indoors, I schlepp loads of unfolded laundry from sofa to bedroom and back again.
My friends probably think my life is as wonderful as I think theirs are. At least I sure hope so. I want the people I love and admire to look at my life and want to drop dead with envy. I want them to see what a kind and wise father I am and think with disgust about the mess they’ve made of things with their own spawn.
But I know they won’t, because their lives are just so darned amazing.
My son asked me the other day how many friends I have on Facebook. He asked with a bit of pity in his voice, because he knows that Facebook is the only social network I use and that’s so old. He’s also pretty sure that his friends’ parents have more friends than I do.
“Do a lot of people like your Facebook posts?”
“Go away, Harlan.”
I used to know who all my friends were, but now I’m ashamed to admit that the names of some of them hardly ring a bell. I do desperately want them to like what I write, whether I know who they are or not.
Social media are terrible for our sense of self-worth. They suck up our time, distort our sense of reward, and keep us from interacting with flesh-and-blood friends. Those observations aren’t new with me – I’ve read them all on Facebook – but they bear repeating. Social media are anything but social. They certainly aren’t life.
I’ve noticed something about the people whose lives I know really are wonderful; they rarely post anything on social media. They usually post monthly, weekly if they’re not busy, but they don’t live on social media. They’re too busy living.
So perhaps it’s easier to make my life seem amazing than I thought. I don’t have to lie, spin, or creatively embellish the truth. I just have to stay off of Facebook.
If only there were some way to get “likes” for that.