Words by Abby Jones
In late March, Holl and Lane Magazine Editor, Sarah Hartley, took to her Facebook group and asked her followers if they had anything to “get off their chest.” She offered a “safe place” to say things people had “been holding in.” Sarah, herself, started off by bravely posting about a personal struggle. After this, it was as if the floodgates opened. Sarah had given her largely female followers space to finally be honest about their lives, their troubles, their imperfections. All of this on Facebook, home of overly-perfect child pictures, and vacation albums where absolutely nothing goes wrong.
As I read through the multitude of posts, talking about everything from serious health issues to messy homes to never having enough time in the day, I could feel the writers exhale their stress. Many of them thanked Sarah for her willingness to share her own problems, allowing them to share theirs. Several people responded with help for each other from their own experiences or just moral support for someone they had never met. For me, it was a post by another reader who wrote about “feeling like a complete failure on a daily basis,” that brought me to reach out to her and say I felt the same.
I am not advocating that Facebook needs to become a public space where everyone simply dumps their problems. That would cause a mass exodus, and who would look at my cute cat photos? Rather, that the need to post only our best moments is indicative of a larger societal issue. No longer are we simply trying to “keep up with the Joneses” (a little irony for me), but we want to ensure that we appear to be busier being more perfect than everyone else. Reality gets lost, and in its place is the desire to create, and more importantly share, that pretty picture of what life “should” look like. Past research has demonstrated that users of Facebook feel increased resentment and jealousy of their peers feeling as if they cannot measure up to the images they see.
It is no wonder that the comments to Sarah’s post were so plentiful; there is so little room in our society to be honest about what is wrong or even just not-amazing, and particularly to do it in a supportive environment, with no judgment. Even in sharing our problems we have become competitive. When you ask someone how they are, it seems like nine times out of ten they will answer with “busy.” When we are asked what is going on in our lives, we feel obligated to complain about how over-scheduled we are and how our richly full lives are a burden. Just last week, I heard someone at my neighborhood coffee shop complain about how their Florida vacation was troublesome because they had so much else to do. I admit, as I looked at the snow covered street, I had little sympathy.
Many years ago, I spent the day with my friend and her two children at the Baltimore Aquarium. While I loved these children, this was a rough day. They started complaining and bickering on the way there and did not stop till we got home. At one point the older one even dropper the younger on his head, after being told many, many times to stop picking him up. Yet when I opened my Facebook the next morning, my friend had posted the one good picture of the children she had taken all day and reported that we had “a great time in Baltimore.” Again, I did not expect my friend to post a picture of her children shoving in front of the penguins or the youngest sprawled on the floors in tears, but this may have just been the moment to be silent.
No statement could be truer than, “the grass is always greener on the other side.” I have had my non-single friends, as we leave a party, say I am lucky to go home to a quiet apartment. All I can think is that I am going home to my non-conversational cat. Yet, we can each do our part to create a slightly more honest and less competitive world where being imperfect is acceptable and being empathetic to those facing problems is expected. As the modern “town square,” Facebook could be a good place to start.
Abby grew up outside of Albany, NY in a family of five wonderfully outgoing people. College took her to Washington, DC, where she then lived for almost 20 years--getting an MPP, working in politics and then earning a PhD at her beloved, George Washington University. This past year, Abby has been serving as a Visiting Scholar at the Annenberg School for Communication at Penn. She loves Holl and Lane for their honesty!