Dear Neil: Looking over the multitude of postings I have made on social media the last 10 years, I began noticing a pattern. My husband and I lived in a huge house with every luxury available. We had nice vehicles and lots of money. Life was good, and the pictures I posted on social media reflected that. To the casual observer—those people whom I did not have a strong connection with, like old friends, school chums, ex co-workers and acquaintances—I’m sure my life looked full, happy and complete to them.
But slowly my wonderful life crumbled away. My husband and I separated for 4 months last year, we were betrayed by family members and backstabbed by several close friends, and our financial good fortune came to an end. The very people we had loved and helped all but disappeared, and I was not happy with myself, either. People don’t care enough about me to see how scared and hollow I have become. I have turned cynical and unapproachable, and I hold it against people that they can’t see my pain or help me.
If you’re my friend on Facebook and you look through my postings, you won’t see what my life is really like. You’ll see what I want you to see.
Dear Disenchanted: Facebook (and other such sites) are not the real world. They create fairy tale images and illusions about us, which we hope other people will be impressed by. And of course, other people are also presenting themselves in extremely flattering ways. They present that they are deliriously happy, are having the best time, taking the most amazing trips, eating the most exotic meals, they have the closest of friends, have the perfect romantic relationship and are living the ideal life.
Except that it’s all illusion. Real life has its unavoidable ups and downs. You establish a close friendship, get a promising promotion or create a wonderful marriage, but holding on to it all isn’t so easy, and inevitably things begin to go wrong. You get let go from your job, your marriage becomes more distant, you have a health problem or an injury, and some of your friendships fade away. The constant self-comparison that we call social media all but guarantees that we are going to be faced with a choice: Do I acknowledge my setbacks and speak of my adversities and struggles on social media, or do I continue to publicly present myself in the best light possible?
Don’t expect a genuine, caring friendship from the people you are “friends” with on social media. Much of the time, they are not real friends who actually care about you. Perhaps it’s time for you to take a break from Facebook, and look at how you can heal the various disappointments and betrayals that you described in your email. You do not have to remain unapproachable, and you can indeed reach out to new people and establish honest new friendships and connections.
And you might consider finding a good therapist who could help you make peace with your various losses and disillusionments, and help you redirect your focus toward creating a more hopeful future. We all suffer adversity, setbacks and reversals. That’s real life—which you do not always see on people’s Facebook postings. Don’t believe the illusion of social media. Believe real life.