“Shanann Watts’ Facebook page painted a portrait of a happy married life.” This was the opening sentence of a TIME article discussing the recent tragedy of the death of a young mother and her two small daughters. Her husband was arrested in connection to the murders. The situation is horrific. My sincere condolences to Shannan’s family and all those who loved her and her daughters.
This blog post isn’t about the magnitude of that tragedy. It is simply that first sentence used to intro the TIME piece that I’d like to discuss.
“Shanann Watts’ Facebook page painted a portrait of a happy married life.”
I hated the sentiment of that sentence the moment I began to process it, and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to reach through the computer and throat-punch the author(s).
I get it—the point being made, I do understand. People on the outside, or in this case, perhaps very close to the couple, still may not know the truth of what is/was going on inside the (a) marriage. I’ve made similar points in my own writing on this blog. You just can’t know a relationship unless you’re actually in it.
What irritates me is this sentence somehow frames Shannan as a liar because she painted a portrait of a happy married life. I’ll preface by stating… Maybe she was lying? Maybe she wasn’t? Maybe her married life was anything but happy? Maybe it was love-filled? Maybe the struggles far outweighed any joy whatsoever? I have no idea. I didn’t know her—a point I’ll explore more in a moment. But, friends…was she supposed to post pictures of her dwindling bank account statements on Facebook? What about her arguments with her husband? And the in-the-trenches-worst days with her kids? Should she hash those out on her timeline feed? Should she detail those intimacies and struggles on social media?
I’ll argue that the prevailing cultural/societal answer to those last two questions is unequivocally, a big fat “NO.”
We all post our highlight reels…for a number of reasons. Be it fear of judgement, in an effort to ‘stay positive’, to maintain some level of privacy, or because it just feels good to “polish” life, we are all guilty of sharing the highlight reel far more than any of the minutia of daily living. Of course, there are people who DO post the intimate details of their daily life and struggles. And…what is the reaction?
Honestly, have you EVER seen someone get real on social media about the nitty-gritty struggles of daily life and not in some way receive judgment, unsolicited advice, or down right nastiness in return? Don’t get me wrong, there are usually cheers of encouragement or commiseration from some, but there will also inevitably be the…“I have it worse.” “Stop whining.” “Well, just do this.” and any number of other variations on cliché responses waiting in the comments to chastise a person for being honest about how tough marriage, finances, parenting etc. etc. etc. can be. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m saying this is the REAL world response we see again and again on social media.
It makes my blood boil to see people lambasted for portraying a happy life on SOCIAL MEDIA…WHEN OUR CULTURE TELLS US THAT IS ALL THEY WILL TOLERATE.
I’m sorry for yelling.
Our culture, especially social media culture, is mostly unkind.
It makes me sad, and somewhat sick to my stomach to write that. I so desperately want it to be the opposite. There is kindness. There are so. many. good. people. But—and it’s a BIG disjunctive conjunction—we share stories about “random acts of kindness” and “how to choose kindness” because they are the exception, and not the rule.
For crying out loud, Facebook was born from the evolution of a college campus “hot or not” digital survey, expressly created for the purpose of judging how members of your potential dating pool look.
Social media will never be a substitute for REAL, ACTUAL, INTIMATE, HONEST human interaction.
I’m going to go a little further with the highlight reel sports analogy—please, forgive me.
To really know a person…you have to be there for the early morning workouts, the two-a-day practices, the late night training room therapy sessions, and the endless hours in the locker room before and after the big wins and the crushing losses. You will never know a persons’ struggles simply by watching their highlight reel.
And until our culture makes a massive shift in the direction of kindness, I wouldn’t expect anyone to feel safe sharing anything less than their “best of the best” on social media. Hell, we tell women (and men) they are “brave” for posting unedited photos (when we aren’t judging and criticizing their imperfectness)—stretch marks, sagging breasts, small breasts, wrinkles, acne, too much fat, too few curves, too small, too tall, too masculine, too sexy…the list goes on and on and on. According to Webster’s Dictionary brave means ready to face danger or pain; showing courage. Danger and pain…for being your unedited self? I guess, in this digital age, it is brave to post unedited photos. I desperately wish that was not the case. At the same time, I understand the pressure and can conceive of why it isn’t worth it for many to be that kind of brave.
So…let’s all agree to give a little grace to those who “paint a portrait” on social media. Maybe his/her life really is that freaking perfect, or maybe it isn’t. Either way, try to remember you’re probably watching the highlight reel…because the world loves a highlight reel.
**The featured image in this post is part of my own highlight reel. While the photo is several years old, I can expressly remember how many takes our patient photographer had to endure in order to get ONE that was “Christmas Card” worthy—kids fighting, toddlers ignoring the camera, Mom sweating in frustration—all that happened too. And among the shots the photographer trashed, there was this shining highlight. And there is nothing wrong with sharing it with my friends and family on social media.**