A few weeks ago, our family had a particularly rough week. Over the course of two days, we suffered injuries, violent stomach bugs and the death of a loved one. It was brutal, exhausting and a bit overwhelming.
After we survived this hard week, as we knew we would, I realized that if you weren’t in my inner circle, my sphere of people who see me each day, you wouldn’t have been able to tell from social media that anything was wrong. My most recent post had been from a few days prior, when we’d had a magical (though frigid) time at the Ashland Christmas parade and tree lighting. I glowed about how special it was to make sweet family memories with our dearest friends in our small town.
I joined Facebook in the early days when it was just for college students. As the platform evolved, what was acceptable or typical to post online did too. Over the past few years, like many, I made a conscious change to what I post online. I was fatigued by the fruitless arguments and division that arose on social media. I had been guilty of engaging with some controversial posts and occasionally posting a strong opinion, and it always left me feeling angry and distanced from my “friends,” totally defeating the purpose of the platform.
Since that time, I aim to post only happy and helpful things online. I mostly share things about my kids, my work and my writing these days. I know I’m not alone in that, as my social feeds have also grown considerably more positive over the past few years, with only a handful of exceptions.
So, when things get hard, my account gets quiet. Social media wasn’t built for silence. When someone goes offline, it’s easy to never notice their absence. If you do notice, it’s easily assumed the algorithm just simply hasn’t brought them to the top lately or that they’re taking a digital detox.
Sometimes, life is hard. Some weeks, months and years aren’t happy enough for social media. In those times, we cleave to our real community: the friends and family who are in our spaces and come alongside us as we struggle through to the other side. Yet, as our communication methods have migrated to social media (is it even an important moment if it hasn’t been announced on Facebook?), if we’re not intentional about reaching out to those we’re truly connected with when we’re struggling, we may not benefit from their community.
No one is going to, or should, share all their struggles online. Because social media is intentionally cultivated by most, we also cannot impose the pressure of the perfect lives of those we follow onto ourselves without intentionally reading between the lines, er, posts. It’s the space between social posts that represents so much of what’s true in real life: the tough, the messy, the less than beautiful moments. Those are the moments, however, we discover the inimitable value of our real life social network.