Facebook and I recently took a long break from each other. To clarify, I’m not a Facebook hater. I maintain the same account I opened over ten years ago when my alma mater joined the community. I used to enjoy posting updates and photos. It was exciting to see the number of “likes” increase and read the comments associated with my posts. I would (almost obsessively) check in to view people’s reactions. It was an ego boost. I regularly liked and commented on friends’ posts as I scrolled through my newsfeed. I genuinely enjoyed sharing in their excitement. Until I’d notice that a friend had more comments and likes than my post and I’d start to compare my post with hers; soon I’d start sinking into disappointment that I wasn’t as popular or, apparently, “likeable.”
Due to this ugly comparison trap, I slowly stopped posting updates and pictures and instead convinced myself that I would just use the system as a platform to “keep in touch” with my friends. My fixation changed; rather than obsess over who liked or commented on my posts, I began to cultivate an obsession with seeing the updates of others. Pretty soon this obsession grew to jealousy as I compared my life with the lives presented through glowy status updates and picturesque photos. I felt there was no filter that would make me look half as good as the pictures I’d see online; there was no way to positively spin the chaos often found in my house; and I hadn’t taken, or had any plans to take, any envy-worthy vacations. In sum, my life looked pretty miserable and boring compared to literally EVERYONE ELSE’S [Facebook] lives. These fixations would always lead me to the question, “What am I doing wrong?”
When I was not on social media, I was aware that sometimes my life was downright awesome. I’d look around my house and appreciate the cozy warmth of the well-lived in spaces. I would recognize the joy in raising my kids and revel in the wonderfully unique personalities present in my little family. These gratitude-filled reflections were all too often shattered when I would go online and see a post about a friend’s perfectly beautiful, adventure-filled life that looked nothing like mine and I would spiral into ugly comparison and envy mode. Logically, I knew these updates were just slivers of their lives, not a sum-total. I would tell myself to simply applaud them for the beauty and perfection in the moment they shared. But, my emotions didn’t always follow this logic.
Eventually, I realized my obsession was feeding a lot of downward emotional spirals, rather than happiness for my friends; but even with this realization I couldn’t stop the habit of scrolling. I knew something needed to change.
My phone tracks how much time I spend on it every day. On the one hand, I appreciate knowing how long I was on my device and, on the other hand, it’s just one more thing for me to obsessively check and worry about (thanks, technology – I really needed the reminder of how I’m wasting my time). It’s easy for me to mentally justify how often I check my phone, or how much time I commit to refreshing various apps. But then I see the data and breakdown of just how much time I spend every day, and I compare this to how I want to invest my time and energy.
I realized I didn’t like the way I was spending my time. I didn’t like that I was so focused on people and situations that weren’t part of my here and now; plus, from my perspective, Facebook isn’t always conducive to conveying the nuance that’s always present in everyones’ lives – nuance that helps establish deeper connections. I liked certain aspects of scrolling and seeing updates on people I would’ve never otherwise heard. But, the truth is, it’s not a good substitute for deeper connections. The positives with maintaining threads of connection didn’t outweigh the negative energy and time that I was investing on a regular basis. The hard truth was that my obsession was taking a toll on my mental health and after deeper reflection on how I wanted to spend my time, obsessing over Facebook updates was not on the list. So, I started with a break.
I’ve done short Facebook breaks before but always broke down and allowed myself a “five minute scroll” (which, inevitably, turned into a half hour). This time I took the word “break” seriously, and stopped logging in for several months. Sometimes it was hard not checking and scroll, scroll, scrolling. I missed certain things: reading updates on various aspects of friends’ lives, seeing pictures of their kids, feeling somewhat in-the-know and at least marginally connected. But do you know what wasn’t hard? Not having to perpetually deal with the inevitable comparison-trap spiral. Since establishing some space from this online platform, I’ve experienced fewer ugly comparison spirals and have been more present-focused and grateful for my uniquely imperfect, unexpectedly beautiful life.
Wendi, her husband, and their two kids are currently perfecting their best “ya sure you betcha” accents, having recently relocated to northern Minnesota. She is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters and a member of the podcast Moms Who Wine.
*photo credit: personal photo*