A couple of weeks ago it was the 20th anniversary of meeting my wife Rachel. I put a post on Facebook celebrating it along with a photo montage of us together. People left lovely comments and whilst we felt really appreciative of them it also made me think. I'm not a big fan of social media, particularly FB. I know from personal experience how people have been affected by seeing other people's 'perfect' lives online and comparing them to their own 'inadequate' ones. In most cases of course this isn't the case but it's often accepted as fact by those that see them.
Just taking myself and Rachel as an example, the day after our wedding three couples broke up. One of our friends explicitly told us she saw the way we looked at each other and knew she'd never feel that way about her boyfriend. Throughout our relationship the words, "Perfect couple" have been frequently used by friends and family to describe us. That's always bothered me and made me feel uncomfortable.
Undoubtedly Rachel is my soulmate and my best friend. She's the person I want to do everything with over anyone else. I would include clubbing but as she goes to bed around 10pm on a really good night that's been out for years. Prior to that I used to love going dancing and drinking with her. Even then she'd often fall asleep with a drink in her hand standing up around midnight but never mind.
The point I'm trying to make is that we argue, we annoy the hell out of each other and at times we want to poke each other in the eye with a chicken drumstick. When the girls were young we argued all the time about how to be with them. We had polar opposite upbringings which made it difficult to parent together. Rachel was given anything she wanted materially and had no boundaries set by her parents. We didn't have any money so weren't given anything and my mum was very strict with boundaries.
At one stage when the girls were about 3 and 6 it got so bad I felt I couldn't take it any more and needed to leave. I told Rach how I felt (which was incredibly awkward and confrontational at first) and we worked on it. It's taken years but now we're in a much better place. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but what is? I know I'm also not always easy to live with and Rachel has been incredibly patient over the years. They say marriage is a work in progress and this is totally true. We do have an amazing connection and talk about everything but I'm sure as the years go on we'll still argue about stupid things like we do now.
I've got a few friends on Facebook who I know are unhappy in their marriages and have awful relationships with their partners. They'll post pictures of them together looking madly in love / blissfully happy and comments will follow like, "What an amazing couple" and "You're so perfect together." Whilst I know the truth, others don't and could easily see that and feel insecure about their own relationships. I appreciate that could say more about their own self esteem but you get the point.
I remember when I first started as Mr Banana Head and joined a FB group for children's entertainers. Everyone was posting about the latest expensive magic trick they'd bought and how it would improve their show. I felt the need to be on board with this and that my show with basic magic was clearly inadequate. Thankfully I quickly realised two things. Firstly, its not what you buy that makes your show it's you. Secondly, it didn't matter and I shouldn't focus on what anyone else was doing, just me. Sadly it wasn't that quickly that I avoided spending money on stuff that I'd clearly never use. Compared to others who could have bought a small house in Darlington with the money they spent on magic I got away lightly!
They'd always be posts in the same group about how many parties they had each day. Initially it would be blatant posts like, "I've got eight parties this weekend, how about everyone else?" When this got out of hand and they got shut down the posts became more sneaky. "Here's the cake from my fourth party today," became a favourite. Maybe using an entertainers group isn't a good example. People in the entertainment industry can be insecure and often become entertainers for the adulation they crave. Before I get shouted at and have disapproving fingers wagged in my direction, I'm not generalising here or suggesting it's most people so relax angry people.
Whilst social media can be a traumatic experience for adults, my really worry is for the 'children.' This post isn't focussing on online abuse (maybe that's for another time) more about how our seemingly perfect lives are viewed by others. My girls are 15 and 12 and thankfully quite well grounded. We've done our best to help mould them into secure young woman with a strong sense of self and who love themselves. Most importantly in my opinion we've also done our best to keep them from growing up too quickly and to enjoy the experience of being children. I'm not naïve and know this isn't always possible. We all have moments of insecurity and have our struggles. I've had many wobbles over the years I'm sure they will too. At least they'll (hopefully) feel happy to talk to us about everything and not be alone.
I think the Black Mirror episode "Nosedive" is a fantastic take on social media and should be compulsive viewing for teenagers. If you haven't seen it, go watch it now. I'll leave you with this; you're not perfect, your life isn't perfect but neither is anyone else or their lives. Be happy being imperfect, a little bit flawed and the best you can be. We're not here for long, why waste it with worry and striving for something (perfection) that isn't possible.
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