If you’re anything like me, when you first meet someone you’re interested in, you play it cool while you’re with them, then get home and feverishly look for them on every social media platform possible. It should be around the time that you’re balls deep in Facebook pictures of them from 2009 that the opinions have started to stack up. They don’t have any favorite books, seriously? Are they one of those people who thinks it’s uncool to read? Oh no – the movies they’ve liked are all of my least favorite movies. At times like these, I wish our computers would implode on the spot. I hope to one day live in an age where they’re so intelligent that when we start trying to do this, they actually do implode on the spot. But I digress.
Social media preys brilliantly on our most primal of instincts. We want to feel validated and liked. We want to feel connected to others. And we want to feel in control.
It’s control that’s at the root of our actions every time we look to social media to embellish the incomplete picture we have of someone in our heads. We can uncover and decide who they are based on the mutual friends we share, the pages they’ve liked, who they once seem to have dated (or whether they don’t seem to have dated anyone at all), the kinds of pictures they’re tagged in. Then we can sit there and compare – ourselves to their exes; our interests to their interests; our compatibility to their compatibility. And then we attach – vehemently, to what we’ve decided this person is and what they could be to us and how we should present ourselves to best align with what we’ve seen to be true of them.
This is ridiculous for more than one reason. If you’ve ever liked a Facebook page because you’ve been invited to it and want to show support for a friend, you know it’s laughable to be measured up by your interest in that page. If you’ve ever posted a picture on Instagram, you know that you’ve chosen something that aligns with the image you’d like to present to the world, that captures something about you that is likely positive, that borderline denies that you might ever feel pain or a lack of perfect harmony in your life. If you’ve ever tweeted something, you know it’d be delusional to try to sum up the things you think about in 140 characters. So why do we put such unfair stamps and expectations on others?
When given the opportunity – the so simple, so easy and consequence-free opportunity – to control, we will take it. It’s in our basic human nature. And social media provides exactly that for us.
Recently I met someone interesting, totally unexpectedly. It was one of those situations where the second I first saw him, something about my world shifted a little bit and felt unusually light and maybe fragile, which has only happened a handful of times before and which I’m always hesitant to trust. I spent the day with him and my friend, and what tripped me up most was that, unlike the people who have caught my attention in this way in the past, he was really kind and considerate, and really ambitious, and really wanted to hear what I had to say.
When I got home that night, for the first time, I found myself conscious of having a choice. I could do what I’d done in the past. I had all the information that I would need to find the kid on any social media platform out there. Or I could just not do any of it. I could take the day for what it had been and not need or want anything more.
I’m not personally Buddhist, but I’ve read some of its teachings and one thing in particular has really stayed with me. It’s the idea that we as humans tend to constantly be filled with desire, to want, want, want, but that at the core of total peace and contentment is an emptiness, not the kind that’s so loud that it fills you up and eats away at you, but the lovely kind where you want for nothing. Where you look at what you have and what you’ve experienced and you say, This is enough. Where you aren’t always desperately seeking.
For the first time after meeting someone who I was intrigued by, I decided not to allow myself to slip into the territory of control. For the first time, I didn’t want to let myself know more than I should’ve known from our day’s worth of interacting. For the first time, I decided that I would try to want for nothing.
Here’s the thing: when we cash in for control and try to squeeze people into the fabricated frameworks that live fully in our heads, we deny them the ability to show us who they are. We beat all emotion and gut instinct out of the equation of connection and turn entirely to twisted logic. We make people into gridded, categorized profiles before we see them as alive and human. Whether we mean to or not, we inadvertently end up focusing more on our differences than our similarities, sliding us further and further unknowingly into an egocentric worldview. We retreat into a cyber space where we’re protected but, for all intents and purposes, we’re living inside our own heads.
How about we reduce our need for control? How about we let people show us who they are – in the time it naturally takes for our worlds to unfold? How about we become okay with the possibility that we’ve met someone who restored something for us – a belief that people can be kind and that you can have chemistry with someone new after you’ve gotten your heart broken and that you can feel real optimism for the future – and that they might not be anything more to us than that, that we may never see or speak to them again? How about we allow people to be whatever they are to us in the present, us on our journey, them on theirs, and if we happen to cross paths again, appreciate that fact when it happens?
This person I met, who knows if we’ll end up friends? I’d rather not need us to be. All I know and all I want to know is that I had the most unexpected day with someone who reminded me of what possibility feels like. All I know is that when I got home that night, I had a choice: to desperately start searching for more – or to appreciate the day and want for nothing.