A good friend from college had a marriage I often looked up too. They seemed like a very organized and affectionate couple who often posted pictures online of trips together, just the two of them, cycling across some far away state. They posted pictures of rewarding times with their children. They declared their love on social media, hearts and kissy face emojis, along with declarations of respect for each other. Then, one day, I was texting her and she casually mentioned her “single mom gig.”
I paused. We’d been pretty close friends as undergrads, but in the four years since we’d graduated, I’d moved to a few different states and only kept up with her via the occasional text and social media. I had no idea she was going through a divorce, and nothing she’d posted online had given it away. I was shocked to find out that their marriage, the way they presented it, was not at all what it seemed.
This isn’t to say that there was anything scandalous. I later found out that no one cheated. No one was abused physically or mentally. They’d just drifted apart during the 15 or so years they were together, and eventually, toward the end, had become more like business partners managing a family.
I have to assume most people reading this have experienced a similar situation. Between the ages of 18 and 28, all I did was go to weddings and visit friends in hospitals after having a child. But between ages 28 and 37, all I seem to hear about are divorces and second (sometimes third) marriages. I cannot count how many times in the past 10 years I’ve been scrolling through Facebook, paused on a profile picture, and said, “Who’s that guy?” Then I do a little digging because that’s what I do, and realize that the couple who seemed so wonderful online and to the outside world (and who I had given an awesome stand mixer at their wedding) is divorced.
This isn’t a commentary on marriage, or divorce, or keeping up appearances online. That’s not what I’m getting at here. What I am trying to point out is that if I was that wrong about numerous couples based on their social media presentation, imagine what people are getting wrong about my marriage? Or your marriage, for that matter.
I’m not going to name names, but I will admit that I have been online, seen a post, and thought to myself “How does he put up with her?” or “That was a jerk move, Dude” or “That marriage isn’t going to last.” Obviously, I’m more judgmental than I’d like to admit. But honestly, why do I make these predictions based on a picture with a short caption? Why do any of us? Clearly what we can see online isn’t the reality of any situation.
If you don’t believe me, just take a moment and watch the new documentary on Netflix about the Frye Festival, where a bunch of folks thought they were going to spend the weekend in a real life Instagram world, only to get duped out of thousands of dollars and ended up spending the night in hurricane tents without water or enough toilets.
Here are the facts: no one can know what’s really going on in a marriage, good or bad, so we should stop making judgments about whether a relationship is strong or not based on social media posts. Our relationship most likely appear very different online than what we experience in our very real, not online lives.
We all do it. We all post pictures we want people to see. We crop out the dishes in the sink, and we don’t post pictures about the dark times when everyone’s fighting. It’s just the nature of things, but it also causes social media to be an incomplete picture.
And what works for one couple might not work for another couple. No one knows except for the people in the relationship.
It’s time we started to accept that and refrain from judgment.
And listen, I’m with you. This isn’t going to be easy. It’s pretty difficult to turn off those knee jerk reactions. And you know what, those are normal. As humans in the social media age, I think it’s pretty easy to fall into judgment while sipping your Diet Coke and scrolling though social media and lounging on the sofa. But our real lives are far different from our online lives, and that’s a fact.
Yes, social media is a great way to maintain connections. Yes, it’s a wonderful way to find amazing essays (like the one you’re reading now). And it’s a great way to show off your kids and your life, but it’s not the reality, and we cannot be casting judgment on other relationships based only on social media posts. So this is my challenge to you. The next time you see something online that makes you assume things are good or bad in a relationship, pause for a moment, collect your thoughts, and acknowledge that you’re not seeing the full picture.
It’s not the full reality of the situation. So put your judgment (positive or negative) to the side.