Yesterday, a Facebook friend who is a fitness trainer posted a status that read something like, “If you have time for Facebook, you have time for a workout.” In theory, I agree. In reality, getting a workout into my day is much more challenging than a quick visit to Facebook. I can log into Facebook, post a status update and comment on someone else’s in less than two minutes. I can’t put on my sports bra and yoga pants in that amount of time. Also, the gym is closed at 2 am when I am awake and on-line.
However, the real reason I don’t compare Facebook to a workout is that I HATE exercise. I envy those women who go to the gym and call it their “me-time.” They talk about how gratifying it is. They say it centers them. It gives them more energy and a sense of accomplishment, but for me, it’s only “me-time” in the same sense as a dental appointment. I exercise not for pleasure or purpose. I don’t feel myself reaping any tangible reward from lifting weights or running on a treadmill. For me, it is just a part of overall health and hygiene. It falls into the same category as that mammogram I keep postponing or my annual flu shot.
Facebook, on the other hand, is fun. I’m that person who is keeping up with classmates from elementary school, high school, college, and graduate school. I’m in touch with lots and lots of cousins, aunts, and uncles—mine and my husband’s. If I have ever worked with you, served on a committee with you, worshipped God with you, or lived next to you, there’s a good chance you have received a friend-request from me. I won’t even mention all the folks I’ve “friended” on Facebook after getting to know them on other on-line communities, like Babycenter. I post pictures and status up-dates. I share jokes. And best of all, I comment on and “like” other people’s postings.
Lately, however, I have come down with an acute case of Facebook Envy. You know, that momentary belief that other people are leading richer, fuller, happier lives than you are and you know this because, darn it, just look at what they posted on Facebook! I don’t think this is an unusual phenomenon. Most of us have at least one uber-glamourous friend, whose life is filled with exotic travel, fine dining, and fascinating adventures.
In my case, however, I have found myself envying people like me—ordinary folks doing very ordinary things. For example, a friend posted that she was headed to the beach for a long weekend. “Ocean City, here we come!” And my immediate thought was “Oh, sure, YOU can go to the beach. I, on the other hand, will have to move heaven and earth just to get to the grocery store. Must be nice not to have to think about granny-care!” The same friend posted a picture of her son in a soccer uniform clutching a trophy, and I thought, “Yeah, must be great to be able to sign your kid up for a sport and be fairly certain that you’ll be able to take him to practice and to the games. I can’t do that. Why? Granny-care! @#$%ing GRANNY-CARE!”
In those moments, I’m not the person I want to be. I’ve never cared for people who can’t be happy for others. If you win the lottery, I want to be the first person to congratulate you and I want to do so without a smidge of envy, self-pity, or sarcasm. I want to shake your hand at the finish-line even if I’m not running in the race. I want to wish you only the best as you start a new job, move to a bigger house, or win an election because feeling anything but genuine happiness for someone else’s good fortune is petty. I don’t like me when I am petty.
So, what am I going to do about the Facebook Envy? Well, I could stop logging into Facebook, but the reality is that I am stuck at home this week. I have no granny-care and so the Internet is my social life and my link to the outside world. Without it, my life is all mopping up spills, grinding up pills, and trying to keep my children from making too much noise while Grandma naps. Oh, the joy!
Besides, I think I’ve already taken the first step towards the cure: I’ve admitted that jealousy is a very petty emotion.
The second step is to recognize that most people, myself included, use Facebook as a forum for sharing the happy good stuff in life and not the harder things we all experience. For example, announcing an engagement on Facebook is fine, but a break-up? No. If you are over 16, why on earth would you do that?
My friends who only know me by what I share on Facebook probably think I have a pretty enviable life, too. My children are beautiful and healthy. My husband is always smiling. I live in a charming old farmhouse surrounded by nature. We spend our weekends going to festivals. Perfect.
I have my reasons for not sharing the harder stuff. On one rare occasion when I “vaguebooked” negatively by posting something like, “I just want to run away and hide,” people assumed I was struggling with some parenting issue and told me that all moms of small children have those days. For the most part, their assumptions and sympathy made me want to yell, “IF YOU CAN’T HANDLE A COUPLE OF CHILDREN, PLEASE DON’T ATTEMPT THE ELDER-CARE BECAUSE IT IS REALLY GOING TO KICK YOUR ASS!”
But I didn’t yell. I didn’t explain. I didn’t post the rage. Instead I sent a private message to one friend from high school who had suggested that I go into the bathroom and lock the door until I regain my composure. That’s what she did when her children were small and it worked. I sent her a private message asking, “This hiding in the bathroom? Was that before or after you brushed your mother-in-law’s teeth?” And that opened a meaningful dialogue in which I shared the harder aspects of my life.
With her children in college and her own mother-in-law in a nursing home, this friend hasn’t experienced my specific sandwich-life, but she knows all about pre-schoolers and all about dementia and so she has a pretty good idea of what my life is like. She’s now praying for me.
I’ve since shared the specifics of my life with a few other Facebook friends. They are all praying for me now, too. Every time anyone offers to pray for me, I want to hug them. Thank you! I live on prayers! Thank you!
I suspect my Facebook experience isn’t that unusual. We all post the easy stuff, the fun stuff, the good stuff in a place for the world to see, but share our hardships with a select few. There’s a good chance that the folks I envy are toiling with illnesses, financial crises, disappointments of all type. Why? Because that’s life. We all have our struggles.