Viewing Life through
Facebook-Colored Glasses

by guest blogger Renee James, essayist and blogger

You know those aphorisms designed to help you address some of life’s challenges? The ones that contend that life is a marathon, not a sprint; and that the race belongs to those who can go the distance, stay the course, blah, blah, blah…?

Wrong. We’re not all trying to hit our stride, savor the passing scenery as we make our way along this lovely, captivating trail we call life, take the hills as they come, enjoy the flat, even stretches, and never lose our momentum along the way.

We’re not marathoners. We’re hurdlers. Life seems to set them up over and over again, at odd intervals, and we clear them as best we can.

I stand by this little theory, although it feels at odds with what I read daily on Facebook, where almost every post seems to indicate a hurdle-free life. And yes, my news feed regularly features requests for prayers or support or strident denouncements of cancer/Democrats/puppy mills/Republicans/polluters/haters, and the like, but more often it chronicles the fantastic, fabulous, super-fun, and super-rewarding lives everyone is living, including stories about their amazingly supportive partners and astonishingly accomplished children.

Look, I love reading happy news about babies and weddings and love and awards and graduations and winners and promotions and kittens and general good cheer. Making a choice to post your own personal “good news” channel is anyone’s prerogative. Maybe these blissful people simply ban any talk of hurdles from Facebook-land. Or they just go around them. God bless, maybe that’ll work. But I wonder, what happens when you can’t do that? When you have to clear the obstacle or crash? What happens to all your “likes” then?

And that’s my point. Years ago, a smallish circle of friends and family shared the good and the bad, the yin and yang of our lives, and they not only accepted it, but they welcomed it and recognized it as “real life.” They often helped us clear those hurdles—maybe not easily, but they were there for us.

I’m just a little perplexed about why, in this age of social media that have been almost universally embraced, we portray a half-life of only positive news to a much wider circle. Are we that insecure? A little honest pain, lovingly shared, would mean so much more than endless words of good cheer, especially when the hurdles we face include people we love in situations we find difficult. Maybe in the case of Facebook friends, more is less.

My moment of truth: As a mother of young adults whom I love beyond measure, I’ve faced challenges I never imagined would come my way. I feel some measure of kinship toward any parent who shares a story of anxiety, fear, disappointment, embarrassment, or sadness about some of the choices their children have made. What a refreshing, unguarded, and risky glimpse into the hurdles he or she has faced in life. And what a testament to friendship. There is nothing more comforting and supportive than hearing another person say, “I know how that feels. Maybe I can help you deal with that (depression/addiction/divorce/mental heath) hurdle in front of you.” Or this: “It’s hard, right? Hard to hold on to the love when you feel so much pain. When you’re sort of terrified about what may lie ahead.” And this: “It gets better.”

I don’t see that on Facebook.

And I don’t see this as a “perspective” thing; as a simple glass half full or half empty construction. We’re losing touch with the very real circumstance—maybe for an entire generation—of intermittency, of the vicissitudes of life. Of the concept that sometimes things are incredible and other times incredibly painful. In one of my favorite essay books of all time, Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh observes the waves on the shore and concludes, “each cycle of the tide is valid, each cycle of the wave is valid, each cycle of a relationship is valid.” None perfect, but all valid. Seems to me we give validity to “better/perfect/awesome” and cannot quite recognize anything less.

Our partners, our children, our parents, our friends and family, ourselves…guess what? Not one perfect. Lindbergh reconciles and accepts that, too: “When you love someone you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. It is even a lie to pretend to. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand. We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return.”

But the tide can’t return unless it goes out. Maybe the next time we catch up with a friend, in person or online, we need to have a little more faith in the ebb and flow of life and embrace it, not fear it or, worse, ignore it. Let’s replace the expected but empty “How are you?” with a more surprising but honest “What’s keeping you up at night?”

Let the hurdling begin.

Renee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and also wrote an award-winning op-ed column for The Morning Call, the Allentown, PA, newspaper, for almost 10 years. Her essays were included in the humor anthology,101 Damnations': A Humorists’ Tour of Personal Hells(Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. Her blog, It’s Not Me, It’s You, addresses topics that mystify her on a regular basis.

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6 Responses to Viewing Life through
Facebook-Colored Glasses

  1. Karen Domina July 26, 2013 at 9:05 am #

    Wise words… life-lived insights. Grateful for your sharing, Renee.

  2. John July 26, 2013 at 12:16 pm #

    If you don’t see that on facebook then it is not because it doesn’t exist, but because of you and the circle of people you are friends with. FB is full of real life stories and postings…if you are willing to look for it. Yes there are people that only post the positive things in life, but many, many more post both, positive and negative events. It all depends how YOU and the people you associate with are familiar with each other. The circle of “friends” on FB are far greater than the tiny circle of family and very close friends that would gather in the past, Do you feel fine to laundry the dirty wash of you and your spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend/family to people you just barely know? Would you be happy to announce this stuff to all your co-workers from the mail room clerk to top management? Most people don’t, and most people did not do this in the past either. Many people are trying to keep up a positive momentum in an everyday environment where they are bombarded with negativity and negative news 24/7 and thus they are happy about happy news from friends. And frankly, I don’t blame them a bit.

  3. Yen July 26, 2013 at 10:15 pm #

    I totally agree w John

  4. Renee July 26, 2013 at 11:07 pm #

    Thank you for the comments, everyone. Much appreciated. Some of the words I wrote seem to. have been a bit over looked….

    The good parts of FB – the re-connecting, the shared photos and milestones, the encouragement and congratulations – as I noted, they’re all good and fun to part of. And I agree with you, John and Yen, and wrote that if people choose to frame their posts as one long positive story, go for it.

    But all that said – my dimmer view is about the incremental but real descent into a very, very blurry view of real life vs facebook life and what it’s doing to us. I’m squarely in the real life camp and yes, I like facebook. And yes, I’ve posted sad news from time to time, and thoughts or circumstances that troubled me.

    My question is: if so many people count on facebook (or twitter or whatever) to spread the news of their lives and create a portrait for the world to see, why won’t they trust it to help them through the turmoil? Where will they take the pain? To the friends they don’t spend in-person, real time with?

    And if the answer is, “Well, the news about my DUI is not exactly the kind of thing I’d share with my boss / minister / co-worker / accountant (who are all my facebook friends),” my question back is this: What if that’s all you have? Has what started out as a way to connect with people in your immediate environment – a campus – become little more than a virtual stage for all of us to take our bows daily?

    This isn’t hyperbole. According to The Atlantic’s “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” in one survey, “the mean size of networks of personal confidants decreased from 2.94 people in 1985 to 2.08 in 2004. Similarly, in 1985, only 10 percent of Americans said they had no one with whom to discuss important matters, and 15 percent said they had only one such good friend. By 2004, 25 percent had nobody to talk to, and 20 percent had only one confidant.” Those kinds of figures are troubling, aren’t they?

    For people who came of age when pink “while you were out” notes still showed up our desks and the height of technology was a “hold” button on our two-line phones, facebook is a poor substitute for human touch. And although we know that – intellectually – numerous studies like the one in The Atlantic article address the facebook effect – where many of us feel slightly more depressed and slightly less successful or happy as a result of spending time on facebook (and with technology in general.) A world where everyone is more successful, more enlightened and more complete than we are, all presented in an environment we know is fake. Confounding.

    My fear is this: Are we witnessing generations of people coming of age who have no earthly idea what a truly intimate friendship is? Or why one good friend is immeasurably more valuable than 768 “likes” to your status updates or the bragging rights that go with your wedding proposal video that went viral? If that’s true, they – and we – will be the poorer for it.

    Questions, no answers. Just thinking and happy to share the discussion with you.

  5. Alice Green July 27, 2013 at 11:38 pm #

    Dear Renee, Just want to say that I agree with the point you are making. I am not on Facebook and really feel no need for it, mainly because I do have friends who support me and I support them in our joys and sorrows of life. But we do it through personal face to face visits or, if distance makes that impossible, through email. Some of my friends are on Facebook, but the things they share, (pictures of grandkids, their own vacation trips, etc.) are not the things we share together in our visits or in our emails. When I need to a real friend’s shoulder to cry on or they need mine, it doesn’t feel intimate if it’s shared on a social network that might have 50 or more people reading it. I hope that those folks who are on Facebook and other sites, also are developing close, intimate friendships with others who will be there for the long haul. Friendships are such a treasure!

  6. Sandy July 31, 2013 at 11:51 pm #

    We are so bombarded with negative news in the media that I find it totally refreshing to read the positives in people’s lives. At times I feel I need a break from “family problems” to which I do not have the solution(s) to, particularly since no one follows advice regardless! Although some FB comments are annoying if not inappropriate I welcome great news anytime and appreciate not reading about life’s tribulations that I have no control over. I am a good listener though, if you care to call.

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