I’ve recently deactivated Facebook. I’m not on Twitter and while I’m on Instagram, my main source of social media is…or was… Facebook. I needed the step away. I was finding myself spending hours and hours on it and using it as a weapon to bully myself for not meeting the expectations I felt I must in order to be the best spouse and parent I could be. For example, having my feed filled with happy, clean, smiling children out with both their parents in nature…on picnics, hikes, outings to the park, adventures at a playground…only served to remind me that I was not doing those things and thus depriving my kids of those experiences. I don’t fault Facebook or those on my feed for those feelings I was having, but I knew I needed to take some time away to recenter myself and become confident in the person I am and the decisions I make.
So after a few weeks being Facebook free one of the things I’ve been pondering is the excessive amount of memes I was seeing. Memes that at face value seem to promote, encourage, uplift, and basically give permission to care about yourself. Memes that when I first started seeing them made me think “yasss!!!” and slam the heart reaction as fast as I could. But the more I started to see them, the more I really read them, and started to question them.
Take the above for example. The first time I saw this meme, I was all for it. If someone is mean to me, constantly putting me down, ignoring me…that’s signs they do not care. The second time I saw it, I thought pretty much the same. As with the third, the fourth, the fifth, even the tenth time I saw it. But at some point I started to think…how do I show people that I care? Now I will admit, I’m not a great friend to everyone every day. I don’t always reach out, I bail on plans, I can go weeks without talking to someone. And maybe it’s a poor excuse, but a lot of it is that time slips away from me. Between work, my family, my responsibilities at home, I have to work at my relationships. Every single one of them. Relationships with my parents, my siblings, my friends, even my relationship with my spouse and my kids. They all require energy, focus, and effort. And I will, every day, fail someone. But it doesn’t mean I don’t care. It means that I am human. That I make mistakes. So I’m sure I treat people as if I don’t care, but those actions are not my true feelings. And I own that flaw. But it made me so devastated to think that my flaw could be used as an excuse for someone to abandon me, to distance from me, because they interpreted my actions as “not caring.” And that’s when I realized that I was beginning to not give the benefit of the doubt that I wanted; that those who I was beginning to think didn’t care probably did care, but like me had SO much on their plate that they couldn’t give to me every single time I wanted.
Another sentiment that was making its rounds. Again, on first read I fully embraced this message. I don’t owe anyone anything. I only owe myself. But reread that list: interaction, time, energy, love, explantations, responses, apologies, insights, clarifications, elaborations…these are all things that foster connection and development. If I never gave these to the guy I met the night of his show I never would have married him. If I hadn’t given these to a small group of women at my college I wouldn’t have the lifelong friendships that I have. And maybe the sentiment is right, I don’t owe it to anyone, but I owe it to myself to give these things to people who don’t deserve it so that they can become the people who do.
Last one. But there are hundreds more I could talk on. But unlike the others, I didn’t identify with this one. Love can be an easy thing to start. But it is a hard thing to sustain. And that’s all kinds of love – romantic, platonic, familial. The more we let people in, the deeper the connection grows, the more vulnerable we are to pain…to be hurt and to give hurt. And sometimes when things are really hard, beyond repair hard, the most beautiful act of love can be to let someone go. And the first time I saw this meme posted by a dear friend, I was immediately left with a sour taste. You see, that friend and I were struggling to see eye to eye, on what was expected of me and what I could give during her immensely hard time in life. For transparency I’m talking about self harm and suicide attempts. I knew in my gut she had posted this to get a reaction from me. That this meme was being used in place of authentic communication. And when I asked about it the response was “I just liked it. It’s just a meme. Stop looking for deeper meaning.” And maybe she truly meant that. But I knew, I knew, it was our recent interactions that were causing her to identify with this meme, to give her permission to see my words and my actions as not real love, and to receive validation of her thoughts from the reactions and responses she got from people who did not know the catalyst of her post.
And maybe that is where the problem lies. Not with the memes. Not with what message they carry. But with how a person chooses to interpret them and to utilize them. By posting or sharing memes like these, we are telling the world what we think, which at its most basic is a big middle finger with a shut out and a shut down. Then we enter a self fulfilling confirmation by the notifications telling us people like our thought, even if they don’t understand it. These memes, which at first glance seem to be about giving permission to the reader to put themselves first might really just be giving permission to be self-centered. They become tools in our pursuits to be right and have our narrative be the truth.
But how do we stop it? How do we get those in our social circles to have real conversations? To be open to another person’s point of view? To stop thinking about our own side and try and understand the other side? Is social media to blame? Or is it our own flawed human nature that’s being exacerbated? Am I over thinking something that’s meant to be “cute” and simply proliferated because “I like it?” I don’t have those answers. I have some thoughts, but nothing that can solve what I see as a growing encouragement to disconnect and to stop thinking of others. And maybe it can’t be stopped on a global level. But it can be stopped on a personal level. For me that looked like leaving the place where these memes were in every corner of my “connections” with people. Forcing me to have conversations outside of a screen where the share button is all to accessible and the reactions don’t encourage real thought and reflection outside of our own validations.
What are your thoughts and feelings? I’d love to hear them.
Ironically, I do want to leave you with one last meme. One that I think perfectly reflects one of my thoughts for a solution.