I bet you religiously stalk someone on social media channels. Maybe there’s even more than one person in your network whose life seems like the best thing since the realization that Greek yogurt could be used as a substitute for sour cream. I know these people exist in your life because they are present in mine, and you know what? That’s totally a legit way to live.
My social media crush is an acquaintance from high school. We’ll call her Penny to protect the innocent and incredibly beautiful.
Penny has a body that allows her designer wardrobe to hang on her body like a mannequin (without all the safety pins in the back). She has long shiny hair with just enough wave, a friendly smile and a perpetual tan. She married a hot Jewish guy (I’m Jewish so this is very impressive to me) who appears to be loaded, has a cool job, and lives in an uber hip part of the city.
To make matters worse, she has an adorable French bulldog puppy.
How do I know all of this? Because I am like this girl’s number one fan. I obsessively follow her every move on Facebook, Twitter, and especially Instagram. Her life just looks so damn enticing with a nice Valencia overlay.
I have actual physical reactions when she wears a new bold lip color, poses in a dark bar with a craft cocktail, or lazily lounges with her adorable husband and puppy in their adorable apartment. I even feel compelled to show my real life friends her photos while whining, “HOW IS THIS FAIR?”
But really, how did she end up with this picture perfect life, while I am stuck in the couch cushions with my ABC Family shows meant for people 15 years younger than me?
UGH. I hate to love her, and love to hate her. This all sounds incredibly unhealthy, but I can assure you it is not.
People with doctorates will try to tell you that social media envy can create decreased self-esteem, fear of missing out, and resurface a crap load of other issues for you to unpack. OK, sure. But social media is only feeding into a very distinct human quality: curiosity. Social media has allowed us to stay connected with peers who would have been otherwise filed away as distant memories in the pre-Internet era. We have access to literally thousands of people in the same age bracket to which we can compare ourselves.
There’s no shame is being nosy about someone else’s life; it’s in your DNA.
The most important thing to remember when indulging in daily social stalking is that no one is actually better than you. People choose different paths, and sometimes it takes longer to reach your intended destination. I know that trusting your life trajectory to fate it’s easier said than done, but I try to focus on doing me to the best of my ability.
But sometimes I think maybe a little healthy competition is a good thing. As long as I don’t end up single white female-ing the distant cousin of a friend of a friend during a particularly bleak Instagram downward spiral, I think having these successful people in my peripheral is a good reminder of what I want.
Perhaps it’s just me, but knowing that others have succeeded in owning a home, committing to one person, and going after the career I really want provides motivation that these are all tangible accomplishments. If all those twenty-somethings can do it, so can I!
Instead of resenting people like Penny, I try to make friends because you never know who will be a good connection in the future. Essentially, I use my social media obsessions as my own personal growth challenge. Yay for self-improvement and positive energy!
It’s not just about using these ostensibly cool people as means to realize my own aspiration benchmarks; they are a constant reminder to be thankful for what I do have. Whenever I become overwhelmed by other people’s successes, perfectly framed on their Facebook and Instagram pages, I have to remember that nothing is as it seems.
Nobody’s life is perfect, and what I am seeing is a self-edited version. I’m shown carefully selected excerpts of from key moments, so that I will perceive them a certain way, whether that’s successful, beautiful, carefree, or having it all. I’ve learned that I can’t allow myself to build these people up in my mind. My peers don’t actually live in a fantasy; I’ve just put them in one.
And honestly, it’s not a fantasy I would want in the real world. If I actually had to live Penny’s life, I think I’d absolutely hate it.
She is constantly going to trendy restaurants, vacationing in exotic places, cooking gourmet food for a rooftop dinner party, and posing with her husband in outfits for an unknown audience. I’m a very casual-Friday person who considers boots dress-up clothes and artisan sandwiches fancy meals. I can’t do perfection. Following (albeit compulsively) Penny’s perception of her world is only interesting for me because it’s a glimpse into a life I’ll never have, because it’s not a life I’d ever want.
At the end of the day, humans are innately inquisitive creatures. We love watching animals at the zoo, lunatics on reality TV, reading intimate details about celebrity lives, and oohing and ahhing over design blogs. I love that social media gives us a peek into how other people live, much in the same way I loved MTV Cribs. It’s a break from my own BS, and maybe someone’s success will light a much needed fire under my ass to focus on my own goals.
And really, what’s the difference between perusing aspirational Pinterest boards and these real life people with awesome lives? In both cases, you’re looking at shit you wish you had, but it doesn’t mean you value your life any less. So embrace your social media envy, take it with a grain of salt, celebrate and learn from other people’s achievements, and realize that you don’t actually want someone else’s life. If you did, you’d already have it.