I hope I’m not the only one who occasionally falls through a social media rabbit hole and finds myself looking at the wedding photos of someone I don’t even know. These are the extreme cases, of course, but when I get there, I can’t seem to stop. I love looking at that expression on the faces of the bride and groom, the way he’s holding her hand, or the blurry images of their first dance. I want this. I think.
But I’m only looking at photographs. Most of the time, I don’t know these people’s lives. Real lives are so often more complicated than they appear on Instagram.
Whenever I get tired of the posts about wonderful husbands/wives/girlfriends/boyfriends, I think back to the moments when the curtain was pulled away and I got a glimpse of reality.
Once, when I was photographing a wedding, the groom looked at my fellow photographer and I in the middle of their couple pictures and asked: “Do you still need me for this?”
A few years ago, I asked a teenager to take a picture of my boyfriend and I in the last stages of our relationship. “You guys are such a cute couple,” she said shyly. I knew the end was approaching, but I thanked her with a warm smile.
But when I really want to remember that social media doesn’t tell the truth, I think about a particular acquaintance of mine. When we first met, several years ago, she was heartbroken over a recent breakup. We bonded over this at coffee, since I had recently gone through a breakup as well.
The more I heard about her former beau, the more I disliked him. When he came into town some time later, I met him briefly. He was unkind to my friend, and barely acknowledged her friends. I hoped that she was well rid of him.
But then one Thanksgiving, I saw her at a Friendsgiving celebration. She was suddenly talking about her boyfriend. “What boyfriend?” I asked.
“We’ve been together for three years,” she said, casually erasing her pain over their previous breakup.
From then on, most of my interactions with her happened on social media. She was suddenly so busy with this new (old?) relationship. Every night she was taking pictures of dinners they were sharing together. Each post was an opportunity to gush about how happy she was. But I remembered the ways he’d acted, not only the ways I’d heard about, but what I’d seen. Instead of sighing and wishing I might be lucky enough to find what she had, I wasn’t convinced.
It seemed like ten minutes until they got engaged.
I found out via Instagram, of course, complete with a new engagement hashtag. If you were to click that hashtag today, you would see that my friend bought her wedding dress the day after her engagement. You would see her choosing cakes, making salads (to fit into said dress) and registering for presents with her fiancé.
The girl who cried with me in that coffee shop and didn’t like how this man treated her is gone. They married just a few weeks ago, complete with a hashtag. I’ve wondered, just a little, what she will find to post about now, but I expect that the hashtag about her wonderful husband can’t be far in the future.
But here’s what I’m really wondering: when the dust settles, will she be happy? She’s got what she wanted, what I want, what most of you likely want, but all of those conflicts and struggles she told me about still remain. Marriage can be wonderful and mutually life-giving, but no one said being in close relationships with people was easy. No one said sharing a home, a life, big decisions and so many other things with someone else was a walk in an Instagram park.
So, the next time you’re tempted to jealousy over someone else’s picture perfect story on social media, remember that they are choosing what to show you. Maybe their story isn’t as dramatic as that of my friend, but maybe it’s not as perfect as you suppose.
Nothing against hashtags, but I’d rather have a relationship that feels good from the inside, something that I like looking at in real life, not just online.
Cara Strickland writes about food and drink, mental health, faith and being single from her home in the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys hot tea, good wine, and deep conversations. She will always want to play with your dog. Connect with her on Twitter @anxiouscook.