Today in stuff I feel irrationally guilt about: pretending online that things are cool when things are actually totally not cool.
I've just turned 23 in the middle of a protracted breakup and the ninth month of a depression-induced hibernation. I'm unemployed and once again living with my parents. I'm not really in the mood for celebrating another step into failed adulthood.
So naturally I told Facebook it was awesome:
I chose not to point out that the lovely Galwegians were my ex-boyfriend's friends, nor my deluded hopes for the evening and their subsequent disappointment. I didn't mention the crying in the shower or the crying with said ex. I thanked people for their messages, but watched my phone ring out if they tried to call. I got myself to the lecture but avoided everyone I knew. Great day.
Obviously I'm not the only one whose online persona is just a little brighter than the real thing.
The problem is I feel super guilty about how deceptive my profile is. Studies have shown that seeing the ups of our friends' lives magnified through social networks tends to make us feel like we're missing out on all the good stuff life has to offer. And while I'm sure we all know that we're only seeing what people want us to see, in the same way we know cover girls are Photoshopped, that doesn't necessarily have any power against the inner critic who compares us to the idealized anyway.
We're still less successful, pretty and popular than we'd like to be. I really don't want to contribute to that by hiding my ugly side.
So I decided to spend a day being totally honest to see how people would react. Here’s how it went down:
I started out very gently, admitting that my eating habits are horrendous and I do not feel good about it. But dessert for breakfast comes across as delightfully whimsical and I've been blessed with the metabolism of a small child so no one's tut-tutting about how I should take better care of myself, even though I definitely should. NEXT.
Reaction: 12 likes; general "Don’t beat yourself up" sentiment. I now feel guilty for using people’s sympathy for an article. It never ends.
Okey dokey. Ramping it up a little bit. "I'm screwed" is a fairly common sentiment bouncing around library aisles and social networks at this end of the academic cycle, but having absolutely nothing to show for a year of research is pretty horrifying. Contemplating how little I’ve actually achieved is one of my main pastimes. Admitting it to everyone (including possible employers) seems like a pretty stupid idea, but hey, maybe somebody who thinks I have it all together will benefit from learning that I really, seriously don’t.
Reaction: 17 likes; 2 comments expressing solidarity.
I can’t help making a joke out of this, even though I really am probably dying of heartache (I started reading “It’s Called a Break-Up Because It’s Broken” but got too upset by the fact that the authors are a married couple to continue). Confessing that I’m doing this for an article is definitely violating the spirit of the experiment, but I’m already sick of my self-absorbed whinging.
Reaction: 3 likes; congratulations on how ugly I can make my face; reassurance from my best girl that if Honey Boo Boo’s mom can find love, so can I. I may have failed in sticking to the rules, but it looks like I did succeed in making everyone else pretty uncomfortable.
I can just about bring myself to publish my feelings if there’s some humour to be found, but I seem to have lost the ability to do so earnestly and unselfconsciously since my first year of college. Arguably that is no bad thing at all.
The fact is while it might be helpful to be more open about not getting that job I interviewed for or taking time out to deal with my mental health (seriously, people in my department are still asking where the hell I disappeared to), most of the underwhelming aspects of my life are exactly that -- underwhelming and unremarkable.
We publicise the highlights because a running commentary on everyone's ups and downs would be the most tedious thing ever, and we want to entertain one another. For all the jokes about how nobody cares what your high school friend had for lunch, the only sandwiches I see on my feed are the damn masterpieces that I'm glad to have witnessed.
Would it even be appropriate to share that much? Another study just published this week shows that 71% of us self-censor at the last minute -- we compose updates and comments, hover over the enter key and think better of it. The authors conclude that this is mostly because our Facebook audiences are just so bloody wide. You've got to think about how your words will read to approximately 300 different people. I know I've foregone publishing some top-notch vagina anecdotes since they would inevitably reach an aunt or uncle who doesn't need to know that shit. (Which is incidentally why I think we should have an xoJane-only network. We're missing out on quality material here!)
Maybe presenting the best side of ourselves is just the polite thing to do. It's bad etiquette to bore people and it makes people uncomfortable if you give them more emotional candor than they were prepared for. For better or worse it's not polite to expose the darker aspects of your life and psyche to unsuspecting acquaintances. Perhaps feelings are like genitals that way.