You Seem So Happy on Facebook

This post has been bubbling up for a while, and it’s not anything that hasn’t been said before. This is a post about perception and image. It’s about the face we put on for the world, and about the assumptions we make about others’ lives based on the face they choose to put on every day.

I talked to my close friend Camille for hours the other day. She is one of those prized and dear friends that knows me in and out, and whom I can go without talking to for months and then call and pick up as if we never skipped a beat. We have talked about it all over the years – boys, music, dreams, addiction, sexuality, marriage, fertility, friendship, siblings, parental relationships, and death. She has been through her rough spots, and I have been through mine. She’s currently in a great place. If you read my blog in the past year, you will know that I am in a rough spot that feels like being caught in the trough of a wave; I occasionally see over the horizon of the cresting wave, but mostly i feel like I am stranded in the trough, trying to get to the top of the wave so that I can see out in all directions. I’m treading water. I have good days and bad days. I have good minutes and bad minutes. I have laughter and tears, and laughter through tears. I’m working on it. I am a work in progress.

When I told Camille that things were okay, but not the best, she seemed genuinely surprised. “Wow. I had no idea things hadn’t gotten better. You seem so happy on Facebook.”

You seem so happy on Facebook.

How many times have you heard someone say that? Or “They seemed so happy.” “Her life seems so perfect.”I bet her house is never messy.”

I have always enjoyed Facebook. I guess I’m addicted. There are things I hate about it, but its strengths outweigh its weaknesses. I use it often to quickly chronicle things my kids do that I just want to put down in writing so i don’t forget. I stay in touch with family. I get to see and stay in touch with people that I never thought I would see again 15 years ago. I reconnected with and stay in touch with childhood friends i haven’t seen since moving in 4th grade, people from high school that i always liked but never would have kept up with otherwise, and college friends who have gone their separate ways, but whom i get to witness doing amazing things and living precious lives right in front of my eyes. Without Facebook, so many of you reading this would only be a sweet or funny memory. You would still be 7 or 17, or 27 years old in my mind’s eye. Instead, you are real people with real lives that continue with time; You grow, you change, you become things that I never imagined you would be. You often wow and amaze me.

I always get a little frustrated with people who hate Facebook because it ends up making them feel bad about themselves. It makes me happy to see old faces, to connect with new friends and learn more about them, and to follow bands and authors and comedians that I like. I don’t look at other people’s lives and think, “Wow. I really need to get my kids into more activities. Mine only play one instrument, know one language, play one sport.” “Wow, look how happy they look. They really have the perfect marriage.” “I wish my skin looked like hers.” “She must work out all the time. I wish I had a personal trainer.” “Why didn’t they invite me to lunch?” “Why didn’t they invite me to that party?” I guess it’s a matter of self-esteem for some. I haven’t had trouble with self-esteem since early high school. One day I just realized comparing myself to others was too exhausting.

There’s more to this, though. Not just the fact that we often compare ourselves to others, but the fact that we assume that the pretty family photo on the beach is that family’s life. Life is not a beach. Life is messy, and full of things that go unsaid. And honestly, we don’t really want to hear all the messy details. We want the pretty.

The perfect meals, pretty front doors, the crafts, and art, and jokes and music. The beautiful, smiling children. The wedding gowns. The couples who look as in love in photos today as they did 20 years ago. So for those who are comparing themselves to others, and thinking they wished their lives looked more like someone else’s, they need to remind themselves of what people don’t say on Facebook. It’s their anniversary. Of course they will wish each other a happy anniversary with a pretty wedding photo of the glowing newlyweds. You don’t not wish your spouse happy birthday, or happy anniversary, or “Congratulations! I am so proud of you for working so hard to get that new job.” You do all those things. We see them all, and we compare ourselves to them, but what are the things that are being left unsaid?

They don’t much talk about how depressed they are, or how confusing their sex life has become to them. Unless they are me. (I kid. Kind of.)

You tell your brother you love him on his birthday. Even if he knew about the treatment you had growing up all those years. Even though he never spoke up about it or acknowledges it now. It’s all there between you, but only the two of you see it.

You smile for the family photo in front of a Christmas tree, even though you know you are leaving your spouse after January 1st. It is just easier to smile. Your sister is smiling, too, even though she knows and it is still a secret. What else can she do? No one wants to ruin Christmas.

You post all those photos about your vegetable garden, or your love of yoga, or how much you ran that morning and what a high you got from those endorphins. None of your Facebook friends know that you absolutely need those endorphins, or the sunshine and dirt, or the deep breathing, just to make it through another day of the emotional desert that your life has become. The running, and flowers, and downward facing dog might be all that person has in the world that gives them joy.

The one who posts nothing but photos of her kids. What you don’t see: She is miserable and hasn’t had sex with her husband in over a year and doesn’t have the financial means, or the will to leave, or doesn’t want to hurt her children.

What an amazing handbag that person just bought. It’s beautiful. What you don’t see: She is $20,000 in debt.

Wow, those two couples seem like the best of friends. What we don’t see: Last night, two of them made out at a party. And not with their spouse.

The friend who travels and works, and lives in that amazing downtown loft with the view and seems to have the most fabulous life. She is lonely. She cries herself to sleep, thinking she will always be alone and never find someone to love, and wonders why she is so defective.

Can’t wait to see the new Marvel movie! What we don’t see. He is just thinking, how do i voice my worry to my depressed girlfriend? I love her and i want her to be happy, and I don’t know how to help her.

The person who cracks the jokes, posts the cat videos. . . what are they hiding? Bulimia, depression, heartbreak, divorce, addiction, that they hate their body, or wish they were dead, or hate their spouse of 50 years and wishes they would just go ahead and die, or the fact that they found out about their spouse’s affair and they’re just keeping it quiet for the sake of the kids, their own affair, the cancer diagnosis, their realization that they are gay, but can’t say it yet, the infertility, the impotence, the fears and guilt about their children, that they cried themselves to sleep because their mother does not remember their name, or the fact that they still haven’t gotten over their mother or father’s or dog’s death. These are real examples of things people have told me. People who confided in me, but who, if you looked at their Facebook profiles, seem pretty happy.  I cannot even begin to imagine the breadth of untold secret pain of so many people who seem so happy on Facebook.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what is being left unsaid. A few people have told me, “I wish you would post more, blog more. I miss your writing.” What a wonderful compliment that is to me. I take it as such, but the truth is, there are often things that I leave unsaid. There are many reasons for omitting the dark, painful, brutal truths. I want to try and be positive. Focus on the good things. Be grateful for the beautiful moments. I don’t want to be a sad downer. As my mama taught me, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” I don’t always take that lesson to heart, but i try sometimes. And so I write less. I post less.

A lot of y’all are probably thinking, “I thought she said everything. She says things that I could never say. I have always admired her brutal honesty and her ability to say the things I think, but don’t have the courage to say.” Writing this down, it sounds arrogant, but it is true, because people tell me this all the time. “Thank you for saying what I wanted to say, but was scared to say.” “I totally agreed with you on xyz, but I would never have said it in public.” What can I say. I have a big mouth, and I value the truth above almost all else.

Almost all else. I also value people’s privacy, their feelings, and my loved ones. There are so many things I don’t say because it might be painful to someone I know or love. Or because to say it would destroy everything. Or would be giving in to the darkness, and giving up. And so there is a framework to social media platforms like Facebook. There are things we really cannot say out loud. Even me.

When people ask me how I’m doing, I say okay. This is not a lie. They sometimes seem surprised that I am not completely fine now. I am better than I was. I am hopeful. I am trying to be more content in the moment, to slow down and enjoy the little things. I am trying to be grateful, and live in the moment. Those little contentments and momentary joys are the face I put on for the world.

But I still have some depression. I am still confused about a lot of things in life. I know that some things will not get better, that many things are a compromise, that so much of it is out of my control, and that the only surety is change. I am anxious about the unknown factors and variables in mine and my family’s life. I sometimes worry myself sick about friends, about my career choices, and about my marriage and family. I often feel like I’ve failed in promises to myself about what I want in life, about the things i planned to do but never did. I doubt my decisions. I wring my hands, don’t sleep, don’t eat, binge eat bowls of shame, drink too much. I keep things inside because I don’t want to cause others pain. I wake up sweating with my heart pounding about things I would never voice on Facebook, or on this blog. And I know I am not alone.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in my 40s, it’s that we are all just children masquerading as adults. We hurt and yearn and cry and wish like children. We have situations that seem insurmountable, endings that are inevitable, situations that make us feel stuck in concrete, and which break our hearts. We never know quite what someone else is going through. We never really know what someone’s childhood was like, or what demons they battle, what road they have walked to get where they are, or what confusing crossroads they are at right this moment. The biggest lesson I have learned so far is that things are not always what they seem. We never know what is going on in someone else’s life, and that maybe it’s best not to judge someone unless we’ve walked their path. Chances are each person is on some journey of his or her own, one that might be slightly more or less difficult, more or less apparent, or just really different than our own.

So, the next time you are thinking, “They seem so happy,” think twice about it. Few of us live perfect lives.

p.s. If you do live a charmed or magical life, please list all your secrets for achieving perfection in the comments. All of them.


Update: Just wanted to add a big “Thank you” to all of you who shared my post. I take that as a huge compliment and it really means the world to me.

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18 Responses to “You Seem So Happy on Facebook”

  1. Dave Edwards says:

    Anne, We were not friends per se in High school. We knew of each other and have friends in common. We are friends on Facebook because we have so much in common. I really enjoy your writing and have determined that we actually do have a ton in common. I actually believe had we known each other in college we would have been part of the same circle of friends. Keep up the good work. It really helps to know that someone that comes from the same background and is the same age has the same thoughts and feelings.

  2. Becky says:

    My cousin Henry, the day before he took his own life, posted something on facebook to the effect of “Life is good”.
    So yeah, the whole thing about being happy on facebook is totally a farce. And I’m just as guilty as the next person of perpetuating that. But then there are those who put everything out there – something things are just better off left offline.
    You totally hit it out of the park with this one Anne.

  3. Tony says:

    Wow…I told you all that in confidence…. Just kidding. I do enjoy your writing….its like reading a diary… Love it… Thanks for being a great ear and reaching out .. Your a pal…

  4. Tori says:

    This is really something else. A really good something else. Thanks for writing this and thanks a gazillion times more for sharing it.

  5. Lauren says:

    I’m going to go ahead and *assume* that your PS is just a joke, so I won’t. But I could write a book. Seriously. One day, when all the people who would be seriously hurt by me going into the horrific details of my childhood are gone, I probably will. Maybe I will get rich like Tony Robbins!

  6. Dogwood Girl says:

    Lauren, go ahead and write it. You can publish it later. That’s what I do with a lot of my writings!

  7. Dogwood Girl says:

    Thanks, Tori! Coming from you (a great writer yourself), that means a whole lot to me.

  8. Dogwood Girl says:

    You always make me laugh, Tony. Glad you liked it!

  9. Dogwood Girl says:

    Thank you for the kind words, Becky. So sorry about Henry.

    As far as it being a farce, that was not really my point. I was not judging people for only posting the happy. I think sometimes those happy posts are us trying to stay positive, be reminded of the good things in our lives, etc. But it doesn’t mean that people don’t have other, painful things going on in their lives. Know what I mean?

  10. Dogwood Girl says:

    Dave, I always liked you and I too am sorry we didn’t get to know each other better. Us having this discussion is definitely one of the “positives” of Facebook. Without it, this discussion would not exist. Glad you liked the post.

  11. Karen Rowland says:

    Your post/blog shared by a friend whose friend is a friend of mine & cousin to my husband. I have friends on FB whose posts run the gamut of always positive to almost always negative. Thanks for sharing – for some of us that is so difficult.

  12. Mary says:

    This is my first time reading your blog, and I was intrigued by your “P.S.” I actually do feel like I found the secret to a magical, charmed life about 18 months ago in a book called “The Inside Out Revolution,” by Michael Neill. What he writes about in that book helped erase 30 years of PTSD for me and 15 years of depression in my husband — all by stopping all the stuff we were doing to supposedly help ourselves. This doesn’t mean we never feel sad or anxious now, but when we do, it simply doesn’t last very long at all. I’ve seen that pain can still come, but suffering is optional. I also recommend the book “Clarity,” by Jamie Smart. It’s difficult to describe how clearing up a simple misunderstanding about life has changed everything for the better for us.

  13. Dogwood Girl says:

    Thank you for the recommendations, Mary. I really appreciate it. I will check them out.

  14. Dogwood Girl says:

    I am glad you enjoyed it, Karen. Thanks for reading!

  15. Phil says:

    Low expectations.

  16. Dogwood Girl says:

    Phil? Care to elaborate? Oh, wait. I’m dense. You meant, that is your secret to happiness.

  17. Julia says:

    Loved Phil’s comment — it’s partly what popped into my head. But also, just do your best each day to do what you think is right, esp for those you love, have a healthy enjoyment of the absurd, in yourself & others, & let the rest go, go, go…’re so right, you never know what others are going through & everybody’s got their load. I would also say, give a lot of love away everyday — I rarely say that out loud because I think people tend to find it ridiculous, but it’s a great, freeing, fun, lifting way to live. I mean, take all the time you can, even if you don’t initially feel like it, to ask people how they are & listen to their reply. Even if you don’t know them. Smile at people. Really be in each moment as much as you can. And keep on truckin’ — this too shall change and pass! Your future teenagers await for crazy fun times ahead! Just in time for the peri-menopause years — I’m loving those!

  18. Dogwood Girl says:

    I love you, Julia. Thanks! (We need to have another brunch together.)

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