“I will not compare myself to strangers on the internet.”
I read this on Instagram the other day, posted by Lisa Bevere. It sent me into a tailspin of thoughts.
How many times do you find yourself scrolling and scrolling and scrolling. You told yourself (again) that you just need to pop online to “check out the date of that event notification,” or to “see when your friend’s birthday is,” or was it that you wanted to “see if that guy you just met has a girlfriend.”
The next thing you know, you’re seeing what your ex is up to, and, “Oh his new girlfriend – what does she do?” Or, “Ooh, is your crush doing anything cool where you can conveniently show up?” You spiral deeper into thoughts such as, “I wonder if your mutual friends are good enough friends that they’d be in any pictures together.” Or, “I wonder if that kid is his own child or his niece/nephew?” Or “Is that girl in his picture just a friend? Or that girl? Or that girl?”
And then you keep… scrolling.
Have you ever been going through some guy’s pics and see a girl and click the tag button to catch her name and it sends a tag request? Yep. This girl has. Awesome. Have you ever searched for a guy but accidentally put his name on your wall rather than the search bar? Yep. Done that too (more than once). And you know what? It serves me right. That’s what I get for stalking.
Harmless enough, right? Well… no.
The problem is that as I dig into someone’s life – and by life, I mean the aspects of their life that they choose to disclose on social media – it causes me to reflect on my own life and compare my life to theirs. However, I’m only seeing their highlight reel and comparing it to my full story. All of the issues that I’m insecure about, envious of, or struggle with start really showing themselves in my everyday life.
A very real example: Weddings. Singles are hyper aware of couples, dating, engagements, and weddings more than, say, someone that’s already married or not even thinking about marriage.
Singles see weddings everywhere. They notice it more on Social Media, in conversations, in TV shows, books they’re reading, etc. They feel more sensitive about being a “third wheel” or get more easily offended when a relative rudely pokes fun at their “unmarried relationship status” over Thanksgiving dinner. They feel like they’re drowning in wedding invitations, Facebook “relationship status” updates, and the like. They panic that they are the only single person they know. Weddings become overwhelming, and frustrating, and could even possibly develop into feelings of failure, bitterness, jealousy, and anger rather than celebrating the couple whose love and marriage the Wedding is signifying.
It is sometimes called the “red car syndrome.” When you get something new (like let’s say, a red car), you start to notice how many red cars are everywhere. You didn’t even notice before but now you see them all of the time. There wasn’t necessarily an increase in red car purchases. It’s not that suddenly, when you got your red car, a movement was started and everyone wanted one, too (although anyone that knows me knows that I would like to think I have that much influence!). But rather, you just became aware of it now.
Similarly, it is probably not the case that “all your friends are getting married,” but instead, the only difference is your awareness of it.
What is often in the front of our minds isn’t only what we have, but also what we don’t have. Many singles are hyper-aware of what they don’t have in their relationships. Whether it’s that they really want kids or they really want a boyfriend/girlfriend or they are in a dating relationship and really want to get engaged. These desires are what is going to stand out to them in their social media scrolling.
Every time you see people who are enjoying things that you want rather than being happy for them, we can become envious. If I can be real for a minute- this doesn’t bring change to your situation any faster. As a matter of fact, as Theodore Roosevelt is credited with pointing out – comparing your situation to theirs is actually a THIEF of joy. A thief. Comparison will take your joy. The “awareness” of the situation that you have is going to have a multiplied negative impact when your standard of comparison is someone else’s life.
There is actually quite a bit of research which connects Facebook usage to depression due to a concept of “social comparison” and is cited in articles by Forbes, Psychology Today, and the Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, and numerous studies, among many others.
I’ll be honest – even on my personal Facebook page – if one were to read through my wall, you’d think my life was pretty awesome and definitely wouldn’t catch the stressors.
- You’d see a post of some friends with posed pictures and well thought out captions from a recent Chicago trip, but wouldn’t see how exhausted I was from no sleep for like the 4 days before, or the thirteen hour car drive home in a downpour that followed.
- You’d see a pic of me getting recognized for an achievement in front of a coliseum of people, but you wouldn’t see the highlight of me going back to my seat, missing the chair, and falling flat on my butt – also in front of a coliseum.
- You’d see a cute pic of me with a bunch of my girlfriends, but no insight into the feeling of embarrassment I was fighting off because of my crazy chipped toenails because I didn’t have time to paint them before the trip and I couldn’t get the lid off of the nail polish I brought with me. Which is by the way, because I have like, no muscles and is also something you won’t see highlighted on social media. And in continued transparency, the one time I do work out, you’ll see that and get the idea that I’m a fitness buff.
- You’d see the victory of a 5K race but not all the months of running up hills training and wanting to quit like whoa.
- You’d see my rad braid mohawk but not the ridiculous amount of time (over 2 hours) sitting in my bathroom with my friend trying to figure out how Gwen Stefani’s hair stylist did the same thing and got the braid to have volume like that. Oh, and my hair isn’t naturally straight.
- You’d see me in some cute black leather shorts but not the stupid wedgie they kept giving me ←( I totally went there). Hopefully you get my point.
This is not to say that there is anything wrong with Facebook per say, but all of these examples are to demonstrate how we interpret the information coming across our news feeds.
Again, I say – is your standard of comparison someone else’s life? Perhaps even strangers? Remember my opening quote and repeat after me: “I will not compare myself to strangers on the internet”.
So what am I proposing here?
Your standard of comparison should be what God says about you. You are created in His image. He warns: “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice” – James 3:16. What I have found to be true countless times in my own experiences is that envy can lead to self pity, or feeling sorry for yourself. Sometimes when we feel that we deserve something we take it into our own hands, which is a slippery slope that can lead to compromise.
KNOW WHO YOU ARE TRYING TO PLEASE
We need to check who we are trying to please. “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” – Galatians 1:10.
As a single, I have realized that I crave someone be brought into my life that God has selected and prepared for me. If I seek Him and believe and trust in His plan for my life, then I don’t have to worry about what everyone else is doing. I will stop questioning why some of my friend’s lives have progressed faster in certain areas than mine. I will stop idolizing those circumstances. I will become content in my own trust that God is using it in the way that will glorify Him the most.
TRUST IN GOD’S PLAN
One of my favorite promises is Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope… 13 – You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”
I’ve said it before that it should give you comfort that He has plans and He knows what those plans are long before they come to pass, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart. NOT if you seek other people. NOT if you seek ideals. NOT if you seek unrealistic fairy tail standards. NOT if you seek perfection. NOT if you compare. BUT– if you seek God, our true and deepest satisfaction.
Finally, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” – Philippians 4:8-9.
If you are finding that social media, or the people you are hanging out with, or tv shows you are watching put you into a state where this statement on “what to think on” does not apply, then I challenge you to minimize, or even walk away from those things. Meditate on and think of things that are only uplifting and encouraging. When you can see other people’s situations and be happy for them, truly realizing that a perfect situation for you is coming in God’s perfect timing and being content in that, then you should be able to keep your joy and be excited about the future you have.
Thank God everyday for those things that He has for you in your future and regarding this card game of comparison – fold and walk away.