I’m sitting in my living room doing my daily browse, for the seventeenth time, of my social media accounts. It always starts out of boredom or when I want to distract my mind.
It’s interesting how when I’m feeling lonely or down my first thought is to take a glimpse inside someone else’s happiness. Sometimes it’s motivating. Most times it’s not.
I get so far into jumping from one life to the next that I end up envious of people I don’t know. Social media is a weird trap. I’m always stuck between wanting to feel connected and wanting a brand new life.
Media has always been like this for me. I remember as a young tween I had every single issue of Seventeen Magazine. I would sit on my beige carpet in my bedroom, back up against my satin purple comforter, and flip through the glossy pages in awe.
I remember reading articles on boys and periods and it made me feel accepted and included in this society of other young girls. My favorite thing to do was read the embarrassing stories section.
There was something about reading a blurb from, Emma L. in Idaho, about how she accidentally spit on her crush that made me feel like I had a circle of far-away friends. I just hadn’t met them yet.
My experiences with reading Seventeen always had me longing for the ultimate girl experience they presented. I wanted the clothes, the makeup tips, and the boys.
Reading the magazine was the first time I really began to lust after what other people had or what they were doing with their lives.
I was fifteen when I joined Facebook. Quickly, I built my friend count by adding anyone and everyone who currently or had once attended my high school.
I got high on the idea of people wanting to be my friend. I would run home and rush downstairs to our desktop to check and see if I had any red squares highlighting my (nonexistent) popularity.
All too soon, Facebook began to take over my life. I would check it in the morning, in-between classes, once I got home from school, and of course before bed.
There was this excitement I had about being in the know. I loved putting pieces the pieces together of my friend’s vague status updates. It was like, Clue, the hormonal teenager version.
Don’t get me wrong, I had my fair share of vague statuses. Only at the time, I thought they were pretty crystal clear. They were not.
November 1st, 2008: “Has no clue…” You’re right. Also, what didn’t I have a clue about?
October 30th, 2008: “Really just needs to say it.” Then fucking say it.
October 9th, 2008: “Wants him to sing to me on Saturday.” WHO?
I look back on these and reflect on the times when I would constantly be putting myself out there. I so desperately wanted for someone to comment on something I had posted and say they understood. I wanted the solidarity I felt when I read Seventeen Magazine.
Instead, I got wrapped up in who liked whom and constant drama that occurs in high school. The worst part about my need to allude to my very strong emotions, was that, everyone always knew who I had a crush on.
I laugh now at how over the top I made everything seem. This boy, (I won’t name him solely because I feel like I’ve tortured him enough on the internet), would wave at me in the locker bay or smile at me in English class and not only would I run with a full smile to tell my friends, but I would also post some random status about it for everyone to see.
Because I updated my status every other hour and was constantly on my crush’s page it became, no surprise to me, that people would ask me about it every chance they got.
In some ways I can say that I liked having people to talk to about my boy problems. I later learned, most people who were asking just wanted another piece of the puzzle. More branches to fuel the fire.
When he announced he was in a relationship on Facebook, everyone wanted to know how I had felt about it. Suddenly, I felt so vulnerable. I hated myself for talking about it with untrustworthy girls. I hated that I was so forward on social media. Mostly, though I felt betrayed.
I had followed the advice of the girls in my high school. I read the how-to sections in Seventeen and Cosmopolitan.
I changed my hobbies, my clothes, and a part of myself to create this persona on social media in the hopes that he would notice something I said or did and cleverly come to the conclusion that we should be together.
Throughout my high school experience I was always altering who I was online. I think it’s something most teens do. I didn’t even know who the right, “me” was.
I’d update statuses about football games I didn’t watch, update a staged photo that was supposed to look candid as my profile picture, and attempt to give off this vibe that I was invincible. Like nothing ever got to me.
In actuality, my whole life was changing. My anxiety was in full swing. My mom and stepfather were splitting up. I started binging and hiding how I was feeling.
I was begging for the intimacy I felt when I would share stories about boys with the girls at my lunch table but because nobody was talking about eating three dinners or divorce, I didn’t feel like sharing.
With everything going on in my life I soon began to turn to social media as a way to escape. I could get lost in the profiles of many for hours without thinking about what was going on in my own life.
The only problem with this coping mechanism is that it only made me feel more isolated and even worse, covetous.
I think one of the problems with social media is that it can negatively affect our own outlook on life. In a delicate state, looking at my beautiful friends, amazing vacations, and out of this world prom proposals, I started to feel like I was the only one going through anything. Like I was the only one who had problems.
I came to the realization later on in my life, after many long road trips and hours spent driving around Fountain Lake, that my friends were going through things as well. However, if we all had stayed quiet and continued in our silence I can guarantee one of us would have spiraled.
I didn’t understand the effects social media had on me until I was in my 20’s.
So naturally, in my transition from high school into a college freshman, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram all played a big role in my day-to-day life.
Instead of experiencing the transition in person, I instead watched a lot of it play out on my phone or laptop. I remained with that familiar feeling of isolation. My anxiety had soared. It was my first time truly on my own.
I would be so lost in my mind that I wasn’t making any friends. That was until I reconnected with an old one. I sat in my college dorm on my twin XL mattress, laptop pressing hot into my thighs, and Pretty Little Liars playing somewhere in the background.
This boy and I messaged back and forth, catching up and making new memories. I told him things that I didn’t feel like I could tell my mom or my friends.
With the distance that separated us and only technology keeping our relationship alive, I became attached to my phone. It was embedded in my palm twenty-four-seven. I felt like an addict constantly waiting for the next ping to alert me to a new message. But I had finally had a closeness that I had been begging for.
Our friendship turned into flirting fairly quickly. It started off innocently enough. He’d ask me questions about my sex life, which was non-existent when I was eighteen, and tell me he liked my smile. It was a new feeling.
I walked on campus with this secret in my pocket hidden behind the lock screen of my phone. We began messaging and calling consistently throughout the day.
He would call to wake me up around eight in the morning before he went to work, we’d Facebook message all day, then after I’d get back from the gym we’d talk on the phone until the night became silent.
Facebook had become an extension of me that I used to communicate with this one person who seemed to make me feel better. I was still in the stage of wanting to share everything I was feeling on the internet.
However, he didn’t want me to post anything online because he had, “a crazy ex-girlfriend who was a complete psycho and they just broke up.”
I remembered doing a blog assignment for one of my favorite teachers and loving it. So I started one. I wanted to document the start of this relationship and especially all of the sweet things that he said.
Blog post from September 4, 2011: I just got off of the phone with my crush, and I honestly just feel like I’m floating. He had me believing that he had to go to jail for one year, he’s honestly hard to read. So I believed him and got really sad and basically started bawling, and he starts laughing obviously telling me he’s kidding.
Then when we were talking about it he said, yeah if you wouldn’t have said you were sad I was going to go further with it, I asked how and he goes, just by saying how I didn’t want to leave you.
I almost melted off of my twin XL. He told me he likes the perfume I wear, and told me to wear it. He said he liked my laugh too. I honestly just can’t get enough of this kid. I feel like all we do is just sit on the phone and laugh at each other.
I think my best friend was the first person to realize how obsessed I was with my phone. I can remember her being annoyed with me because I’d check it every two minutes when we were watching a movie in her dorm room.
There’s even a video of us, talking about our college experiences and as my phone goes off you can see her amping up for a rant. She didn’t like my crush. Which made me distance myself from her and seclude myself further into social networks.
I had this unhealthy habit of always being in constant communication with my crush. If I was at the gym an extra hour or attempted to get homework done I felt like I was doing something wrong. So I scheduled my studying while I was in other classes and caught up on reading while I was at the gym.
I failed my first test for the first time that semester. As someone who loves to learn and loves academia this had my stomach in knots. I started to have hot flashes before every test. I would cry when I’d get lengthy assignments.
I eventually felt like this avalanche of coursework was swallowing me whole. I was having an anxiety attack when I called my crush. He told me that college didn’t matter.
He was making more than enough money without it and if my dream was to write, college wouldn’t help me. I began to see clarity after his speech.
I suddenly felt like I didn’t need school. I didn’t need my friends. I only needed his support.
My grades crashed. And I didn’t care. I had what I needed to make me feel whole.
Blog post October 5, 2011: My crush called me and woke me up this morning at 9:30. I can say it was nice to wake up to his voice. Something I could seriously get used to.
When he called he sounded panicked almost though, and immediately I thought the worst. He said that he got drunk last night and did something stupid and for a good minute and a half I was seriously freaking out.
His words to me after the silence that seemed to last forever were, “I don’t want to tell you, because it’s going to mess up everything.”
At first I didn’t understand until I realized he was talking about me. He was going to mess up everything he had, with me.
After about five minutes he told me that some girl kissed him last night when he was drunk. He kept saying how stupid he was and asking if i was mad.
Of course I was but I told him I had no reason to be. After this confession I became obsessed with checking his social media. I was always looking for girls that liked a lot of his posts or girls that posted photos with him.
It’s excruciating having a secret relationship and seeing that person active online with other girls. It’s confusing and messy. None of it made sense to me.
Our relationship turned murky. Soon our conversations were all about sex. Something I had zero experience with. The language of our relationship became angry and needing.
I was experiencing anxiety attacks at least every other day but I didn’t understand the correlation. He’d become distant when I wouldn’t want to talk about sex and full of love and adoration when I’d beg him to call me or answer my messages.
Every time we’d fight, I’d check his Facebook account. I’d refresh his page over and over waiting for the evidence I needed to see to slap me in the face but it didn’t come.
So it had to be all in my head. I was doing something wrong. I was being difficult. If I would just give in to what he wanted I could have that whole feeling back again.
We agreed to meet homecoming weekend. I was so nervous to ditch my phone and see him in person that I was sweating. We drove around the lake a few times. The conversation always spinning back to the things I wasn’t ready for.
I said no once. I pushed his hand away. He didn’t speak to me. Just stared. Drowning my fragility in the brown pools of his eyes. I did what he asked.
Blog Post October 23, 2011: It’s over. I feel like a small part of me has been slowly tugged from my body and given to someone else. I was scrolling through Facebook waiting for my Advanced Literature class to start when I saw it.
My crush had updated his relationship status. Finally, I thought. I was ecstatic. I no longer felt ashamed or sad. It was all going to work. Until I saw a comment someone had posted.
The girl had asked him to tag her in it. He was in a relationship with someone else. The girl he apologized for a month prior. I couldn’t breathe.
All of the air evaded my lungs and dispersed into the hallway. I was sweating and shaking. I don’t remember when the tears came. My entire world for the past six months had erupted on my phone screen. I had my first panic attack.
A classmate helped me to the guidance counselor on campus. I had calmed down but all of my nerve endings had went numb. I felt evicted from my own body.
She explained to me, several times, that what I had went through was a psychologically abusive relationship. I didn’t fully believe what she said. How could I have been in an abusive relationship and not know it?
I believe that the power we have with technology and our apps makes it incredibly easy to manipulate someone in a not so obvious way.
We can control what they look at and who they see on social media. We can control our phrasing in online messaging. We can participate in constant communication without having to ever be next to each other.
It’s dangerous. It’s exhausting.
The following weekend I went home again. I needed to be in a familiar place. My anxiety had eased a bit when I was in the company of others so I thought it’d be best to be in the presence of a friend.
We spent that summer playing Capture the Flag with a group of friends out at the fairgrounds, tanning and tubing on the lake, and endless sleepovers where we’d talk and reflect sharing the most intimate details of our lives until that point in the early morning where everything that comes out of your mouth sounds like you’ve discovered the truth in life.
I had no time to obsess over Facebook or check my messages because I was surrounded by what I needed. Closeness. Friendship. Belonging.
I want to say now that I’m twenty four and much wiser than I was at eighteen, so I no longer get wrapped up in Facebook or Instagram — but of course I do. It’s something I still struggle with.
I can spend hours looking up, that one girl that graduated a year ahead of me’s, boyfriend’s cousin’s daughter who now lives in New York City. I still fall down the rabbit hole.
It’s hard not to get swept up in what other people are doing, what they have and what they’re experiencing. It’s hard to detach from the device.
I sometimes feel that there are so many expectations when it comes to browsing your favorite social media app. Suddenly it’s easy to feel inadequate and lost.
The best thing to remember is that what everyone puts on their own personal social media is the part of themselves they want you to see.
I don’t update my status when I break down crying because somebody honked at me on the highway. I post pictures of my friends and I laughing. I post pictures of things that make me happy and update my status to something I’m passionate about.
We rarely see the entire person on social media. We barely skim the surface.
My goal moving forward is to limit my use on these apps and become more present with my surroundings instead of present online. Not to say I won’t share a cat video or two but I won’t be accidentally liking a photo you shared seven years ago. Well maybe. It’s really a work in progress.