4:16pm on Facebook:
A college friend announces she’s pregnant… again
6:39pm on Instagram:
A former coworker shares 20 photos from his trip to Greece
8:02pm on LinkedIn:
A notification shows a cousin celebrating two years in a prestigious job
8:03pm in my apartment:
I turn on a comforting episode of Parks & Recreation and reach for an even-more-comforting pint of triple chocolate fudge ice cream
Oh jealousy, my dear ‘ol frenemy! It’s been such a displeasure to know you all these years.
Ever since my babyhood, when my mom had the audacity to ignore my cries for a brief moment to tend to my toddler sister, you’ve been there to make me wish I was in someone’s else shoes.
Or job. Or relationship. Or role in the camp musical.
And ever since the invention of social media, I’ve seen jealously pick up speed, strength, and cruelty.
The brewing category 1 storm is now a category 5.
Jealously has graduated from occasional pangs to constant remembers — or at least nagging claims — of my own inadequacy.
But I highly suspect that I’m not alone.
How could I be, when devices in our pockets, laps, and hands issue bright red flags and white pop-ups shouting “look at me! come see what someone else is doing or accomplished!”?
It’s like we’re each competing in a marathon (yuck) and in addition to being able to see and feel other runners racing past us (double yuck), there’s also an exuberant announcer blaring out random pace times (triple yuck).
Oh and add in spectators cheering on everyone up ahead, celebrating as they cross each mile marker (an infinite number of yucks).
We know we should recognize personal progress and set unique goals.
Focus on our own race.
But it’s awfully hard not to check our watches and sense the judgmental spectators, then worry that we’re moving too slowly. Or maybe aren’t on the right track. (Or oh gawd should we be competing in a different sport altogether?)
I thought about this last night as the daily social media humble brags flooded in.
I saw engagement rings, vacation selfies, and job announcements, and heard a voice saying “Hey, you there! Yes, you, the tired lady eating ice cream straight from the pint. Your life is lame!”
That voice is an asshole. (Maybe it was Mark Zuckerberg’s?)
I’d had enough. I decided to argue back.
I reviewed my supposedly lame life, or at least the Facebook mirage of it, by studying my own profile. For over an hour, I scavenged through the deep dark depths of long-forgotten chipper words and photos.
There was 17-year-old me, making her Facebook debut with college plans declared in all caps.
There was 20-year-old me rocking a new internship, 25-year-old me on a Caribbean cruise, and week-ago me sharing my latest pieces of writing.
Then it dawned on me. Maybe people have felt jealous… of me??!
Could it be that my posts have caused social media “friends” to feel less successful in their jobs? Less cultured in their travels? Less able to pull off a polka dot/floral outfit combo?
I don’t typically feel all that fabulous. Sure, I have my moments, but I’m less Olympic champion in the game of life, more at-home Olympic viewer.
I’m just OK.
Nothing special to see here, folks. Move along.
With the occasional exception of my family and closest friends, my social media connections don’t see my failures, my disappointments, or any of the other dazzle-free moments that could best be described as humdrum.
To thousands of people, I only exist through the select life-snippets I’ve meticulously crafted into triumphant stories.
Megan from middle school doesn’t know how many rejections I got before finally landing a job. Josh from summer camp never saw how I sprained my ankle a few days into my vacation, nor how discouraging some days were at my internship.
And David, my college crush, certainly doesn’t know that I sing to my cat every morning while endlessly scrolling through dating apps.
(Oh hey David, you’re reading this??!)
They only see the highlights.
“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” — Steve Furtick
Social media is a collection of highlight reels.
I dare you to try it for yourself; flip back through your social media account(s) and see what moments you’ve carefully selected to showcase.
As the hardworking editor of your personal anthology, what stories have you deemed worthy of publishing?
I bet no job rejections, relationships woes, or bouts of diarrhea.
When I looked through my profiles, not only did I note the curious absence of unfortunate personal news sharing, I also noticed a trend among what I did share: the timing.
Many of my enthusiastic brags were grandly proclaimed around the same time I was deeply grappling with Tough Shit.
- When I posed in my college graduate cap and gown? I was deeply worried about the future.
- When I accepted a prestigious internship abroad? I was struggling to find domestic employment.
- When I cradled my newly adopted cat in my arms? I had just moved thousands of miles away from my family and was living alone in an unfamiliar town.
Presenting an image of success, happiness, and wholeness is especially alluring when I’m sad.
This is another habit I suspect I’m not alone in — the inclination to cover up life’s lows by displaying a high.
Maybe we’re all magicians, shrewdly misdirecting our viewers.
Don’t look at the tears I shed last week… no, no, lookie here at this beautiful pie I baked! OooooOoOOh aaaAaaAhhhh!
So, I have a theory:
People are jealous of me.
People are jealous of you.
Yes, you, ma’am, eight months pregnant and terrified that you won’t be a good mother.
And of you, sir, with the six-pack abs, a six-figure job, and six million cravings a day for chocolate cake.
And believe it or not, they’re jealous of you, bud, a high school student earning stellar grades but few friends.
You might be losing your own imagined race, but to many onlookers, you’ve already won.
If you liked this, you might also like:
Got Depression? I Don’t but I’m Totally Going to Give You the Best Advice to Cure It Anyway
my #1 tip is snap out of it
Dear Guy I Saw Order Spicy Tuna Salad on a Chocolate Chip Bagel 3 Years Ago
I think I’ve finally figured out why you did it
P.S. Medium also makes me jealous of many of YOU! ;)