If someone would have told me 15 years ago that social media would control so many aspects of our lives, I’d think they were bonkers.
Sure, social media can be useful. But it’s also regularly on the list of things that lead to stress in our daily interactions. It also has way too much influence on our romantic relationships. And according to research, much of that influence has been negative.
You might even be shocked (or not) to find out social media has also impacted the way we feel about ourselves.
Several years ago, I found out that my ex-significant other was cheating on me via Facebook. My story isn’t uncommon, and neither was the resulting anxiety I had associated with my romantic partner’s social media profiles. Several years and a marriage later, my own experience paired with regular accounts of virtual affairs had left an emotional scar. I thought I would feel better by avoiding the things my husband posted and limiting my viewing of his profile page. But with each software update, Facebook seemed to prioritize showing me everything he’d liked and commented on.
I tried to talk to my husband about my feelings, but nothing seemed to help, and each time I would bring it up, we’d find ourselves fighting. Not because he was doing anything wrong (he wasn’t), but because my trust issues surrounding social media could not be easily resolved.
Sadly, we’re not alone. In 2014, a study by Pew Research Center found that a growing number of couples reported social media as a source of relationship conflict. And there’s no surprise why.
Social media gives us an opportunity to offer an idealized and edited version of our relationships. We share long sappy statuses on our partners’ birthdays. We upload images of the gifts they get us on our favorite holidays. It’s almost as if if it didn’t get posted on social media, it didn’t happen.
By extension, feeling left out of your significant other’s virtual life can make you question how much they really think of you. Like many of my fellow social media users, I found my husband and I experienced a handful of unnecessary virtual life quarrels. On the days I felt insecure, I found myself bringing up my absence from his online world, and I was terrified it was a sign that he was trying to hide something. Even when I wasn’t talking about it, I felt uncomfortable. I’d accepted my discomfort as a symptom of life post-social media — until my mom and I had an interesting discussion.
The conversation started like many others. I was complaining to her about something my husband had said online and how it annoyed me.
“I don’t understand why y’all put everything online,” she said. “I don’t understand why you have to be Facebook friends anyway. You’re married and live in the same house.”
At first, I thought what she said was ridiculous. I’m his wife! Why the hell wouldn’t I be his friend on Facebook? But the longer I thought about it, the more I considered the question. Why did I have to be my husband’s Facebook friend? Why was I letting our social media presence (or lack thereof) impact our happy, secure home life?
Research has already shown that, regardless of how foolish I felt, I wasn’t alone in social media having a negative impact on my relationship. So why was I willing to add an unnecessary stressor to our dynamic? I started taking the issue more seriously and decided that it wasn’t necessary for us to be connected in our virtual lives.
One way or another, likely the preoccupation of parenting, caused us to have less time to fight about stupid things like social media. But the anxiety I felt anytime I would see his name in the virtual world never went away.
So one day, when we were having a social media discussion via messenger, I just did it. My hand shook a little as it hovered over the friend button and I slowly scrolled down the options of “see first” and “unfollow.” But the moment I clicked “unfriend,” I breathed a sigh of relief.
As dramatic as it sounds, our relationship didn’t disintegrate into dust upon me clicking the “unfriend” button. And when I told him that I’d unfriended him a few days later, he hadn’t even noticed! Here I was stressing about deleting him, and he didn’t even pay enough attention to detect the change.
In the world of social media super moms and Instagram couple goals, it’s easy to feel like an outsider when you and your partner don’t seem on trend with all of the other relationships visible online. But we need to remember that we’re only seeing their highlight reel; we’re never getting the full picture. You don’t have to be outwardly affectionate online to have a healthy marriage/partnership.
Recently, I’ve been in active pursuit of mental clarity and I can’t believe I was willing to let online perceptions of my relationship impact that. There’s been a lot less quarreling since I’ve given my husband social media breathing room.
I was also surprised to find it didn’t make it any more challenging for us to communicate during his breaks at work. Throughout the day, we still send each other hilarious memes, “what do you think of this” political videos, and a shit ton of sexual innuendo. We are good.
Sure, I would love to exist in a world where social media doesn’t have such a heavy weight on our relationships and our mental health. But I don’t live in that world, and it turns out deleting my husband as a friend was the next best thing to helping me manage the stressors in my life. Worth it!
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