When everyone is invited to the party except you
Dear Neil: When we wake up in the morning, the first thing my girlfriend does is get on her phone, and she’s gone for an hour or two. At nighttime when we get into bed, she spends 2-3 hours checking Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. She doesn’t say a word to me while she does this. If I try to engage with her, then she is zoned out. It’s the same when we’re out with friends, also.
— Ignored in Savannah
Dear Neil: I am madly in love with my husband, but he doesn’t give me the attention that I give him. He’ll keep me on hold on the phone while he checks out Messenger or YouTube. He is always online, so we seldom get to talk about anything of importance. I would like to be more important to him than social media.
— Not Important in Germany
Dear Neil: I dumped my girlfriend of two years last night because she is constantly on her phone. Her drive for acceptance from her Facebook friends outstrips her desire to spend time or connect with me.
— Fed Up in Anchorage
Dear Ignored, Not Important and Fed Up: There appears to be an emerging trend regarding social media, not just in our culture, but also worldwide. It involves several interconnected factors:
Constant self-promotion, image regulation and image enhancement, in order to feel accepted, admired, valued and respected by other people.
The need for almost constant attention and validation, which often comes in the form of “likes.” There is a genuine desire for connection, emotional engagement and belonging and people hope they can get such connection and belonging online with people they don’t know, or don’t know well.
Constant self-comparison, which is the essence of what many people are doing on social media. I either get to feel superior to others, or I’m able to feel that I’m okay because I’m not doing as badly as others.
The creation of an online persona that looks good but isn’t genuinely us. This persona says to the world that we are very fun-loving, we go on the most fabulous trips, eat the best looking meals, have the sweetest friends, the closest family, the hottest lover, the cutest dog, the best life and we are smiling all the time. We are seeking other people’s admiration, approval, support, encouragement and envy.
It is a convenient way of distancing from people, especially the one you’re in a primary relationship with. How close can I be with you when almost all my attention is elsewhere, promoting a made-up self? If I’m in a relationship with you, then you know I can be moody, anxious, needy and insecure. But other people don’t know me that well, so they’re the ones I’m trying to impress. It’s too late to impress you, so why bother giving you my time, attention and presence?
Many people are flat-out addicted to the attention, validation, respect and envy that it feels like they’re getting from others on social media. And like any addiction, it can be extremely difficult to quit.
It is easy to confuse “friending” somebody with having a friend. It’s easy to confuse “likes” with being liked. When you’re in need, your online “friends” often prove to be hollow and empty. You cannot let your drive to have “friends,” “followers” or “likes” substitute for genuine friendships with people who actually like you.
All of this leads to another dynamic, which is that social media makes it appear that everyone else has been invited to the party except me. Everyone else has the perfect life, the most friends and is having the best time except me. And if I feel that, then I will begin to feel despair, depression, loneliness and hopelessness.