Keeping Up With Strangers: Social Media and The Comparison Trap

June 18, 2012  |  

Sometimes, I wonder if I would lead a much more satisfied life if I deactivated my social media accounts — Twitter and Facebook especially.

Don’t get me wrong, I love social media. What I don’t love is the power it can wield over my mood when I least expect it.

I first noticed this phenomena during my Senior year of college. I was having a great day, rushing through classes and looking forward to meeting my best friend for lunch. I stopped by the school library to print off a term paper and mindlessly clicked through Facebook. There on my newsfeed was an old classmate posing in a picture with a guy I had recently stopped dating. I could tell from the background that they were at a popular mall in my hometown and I was absolutely devastated. The picture was nothing in and of itself – just two people standing side-by-side smiling. It wasn’t clear why they were taking a picture, when the picture was taken or who took it. Unfortunately for me, the facts surrounding the photo were largely left up to my wild speculations. Obviously, I could have assumed they were old friends who bumped into each other at the mall and decided to take a picture. Instead, I decided they were on a date, probably one of many, and that he was in love with her and not thinking about me anymore. My mood went from 100 to 0 in about 45 seconds and whatever conversations I’d planned to have with my best friend at lunch that day were totally eclipsed by my need to talk about the picture and figure out what it meant.

Another (decidedly less emotional) instance happened only a few months ago. I had just run four miles straight – my longest distance ever. Breathless and excited, I shared my feat with my Twitter followers. As soon as I pressed send, I scrolled through my Timeline and came across another Tweeps status announcing: “Just ran 10 miles. Easy Saturday” and my entire countenance fell.

Those instances are only two of the (way too many) times I’ve allowed what I read on social media to make me feel bad about my own life. Enamored by other’s success and blessings, I either minimize or completely forget about my own.

Twitter and Facebook are great tools to keep up with friends, hear about the news, complain about poor customer service and talk to the occasional celebrity who tweets or Facebooks back, but it can also be detrimental to self-esteem and personal satisfaction. At least, this is true in my case. Some days, I find myself scrolling through my Timeline or looking at my Facebook newsfeed and playing the comparison game: I just got married, but she passed the bar; or she got a promotion at work, but I lost ten pounds; or I got an iPhone but he got an iPad, the list goes on and on. Of course, there are no winners in the comparison game. The only result is to be repulsively bitter or impossibly vain…or both at the same time. Still, it is a constant struggle to keep from playing this lose-lose game.

The thing is, Facebook and Twitter are basically platforms for everyone you care about (and don’t care about) to broadcast their lives. And, besides those people who don’t seem to have a single good thing to say about themselves, most people only announce the positive. The amount of grandstanding on these sites is incredible. Everyone does it though, including me. I get annoyed by all the “I just got my Master’s/JD/Doctorate!!!” shrill graduation posts, but have no problem tweeting about having #TheBestHusbandEver. I don’t Tweet or Facebook to promote envy in anyone else, but it can be hard for me not to let other’s posts promote envy in me…even when (especially when) I don’t know the Facebook friends or Twitter followers in real life.

I think the key to not letting social media get the best of me is to use it in moderation. When I do use it, I need to practice self-awareness and resist viewing everyone as some sort of competitor in the “Who’s Happier, More Accomplished, and More Likely to Succeed in Life” contest. Just as I know that I tend to post positive things and glaze over the negative, others tend to do the same thing and just because someone is having a great day doesn’t mean I’m having a horrible life. Further, I’ve found that if I am focusing on the things in my life that I want to improve and taking the necessary steps to improve them, then I will be less inclined (and have less time) to look around on social media to see what everyone else is doing.

What do you think? Do you compare your life to those you follow on Twitter or friend on Facebook?

Alissa Henry is a freelance writer living in Columbus, OH. Follow her on Twitter @AlissaInPink

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  • Dee Dia

    slowly weaning myself off facebook by logging in every other day hope to get to once or twice a week…i think it is overrated..i prefer twitter though especially for breaking news

  • so true…people have “Amazing perfect lives” on facebook i am slowly weaning myself off it only log in every other day hoping to get to logging in once or twice a week…i prefer twitter though it’s not so much in your face like facebook is plus i follow major news agencies on there for breaking news…the one thing that Facebook is good for is exposing cheaters and performing background checks so to speak on people you are just starting to talk to lol

  • guest

    I didn’t want this post to end. We’re seeing eye to eye right now

  • Deena

    I know a couple who constantly posts how happy and in love they are, how they can’t wait to get married – but truth is, they fight all the time. I know how they are in person and ol girl just walks all over her man. Sometimes I get a little down when I look on fb and see how happy people are, but that’s when I log off and go live my life.

  • Nope

    Social media just wouldn’t be the same without women going through everyone else’s profile, photo albums, taking 1000 pictures of mostly themselves, cross referencing posts with Google searches, lurking on the page of the dude they like/woman(en) they hate, comparing themselves with every other woman in their feed (which they just do in person anyway), and all around tool for her natural predisposition to be nosey. I honestly think women keep social media afloat.

  • fitnessforlife

    I had friended a relative that I don’t (I truely don’t) know about 2 years ago. They never did really interact with me, and I wondered about that since we’re 1st cousins. Well, I went and fully filled out my profile, adding all the places I’ve lived, my jobs, my schools. This relative, a few months after, started posting pics of them traveling to the places I indicated as having lived in the past. I thought that was weird. And, still, they never said peep to me. I didn’t respond to the pics, because I’d responded to prior posts and they ignored me.

    I had some weird things happen in adding childhood friends and former high school classmates. And yeah, sometimes it’s me comparing my life to theirs and becoming offset because of it. And it’s easier to do when they don’t interact with you. It seems that I am less capable of objectifying them in that way if we interact and share thoughts, disagree or a agree every now and then. It helps when facebook isn’t all about ‘show and tell’.

    So, I cleared my friends lists and only include people I deal with and interact with now. It’s so boring to have all these people on my friends list that don’t interact with me, but they get the privilege of viewing my timeline and my thoughts. And I hate when people request to friend me, and when you add them they don’t say anything. They don’t interact. The same with linked in, especially if they don’t know me – don’t just send a request, introduce yourself.

    I think some people deliberately try to incite jealousy in things they post. When I feel they do, I just remove them.

    • Childfree Diva

      I have left family members and and former classmates off my friends list. In fact, if someone comes across my profile, they will get a whole lotta nuthin’. I already had a couple of bad experiences in dealing with former classmates just from talking on the phone. No way was I going to carry that over on Facebook, and I do think that when you get back in touch with former classmates, most of them are really just sizing up your life to see if you’ve changed much from “back then,” what you have, what you don’t have, etc. Family members are bad for this whole keeping up with the Jones’ thing, too!

  • Just saying!!

    Omg Amen!! I needed this!!

  • Valenci

    Thank you so much for writing this article. Social media is an illusion because at the end of the day, you really don’t know what is going on with people no matter what they project. We all have to take the time to remember that.!

  • Valenci

    Thank you so much for writing this article. Social media is an illusion because at the end of the day, you really don’t know what is going on with people no matter what they project. We all have to take the time to remember that.!

  • Valenci

    Thank you so much for writing this article. Social media is an illusion because at the end of the day, you really don’t know what is going on with people no matter what they project. We all have to take the time to remember that.!

  • sammi_lu

    Ahhh if only people’s lives were as awesome as they portray them to be on Facebook and Twitter..I’ve been weening myself from FB because of the nonstop vanity and overkill of every insignificant detail folks feel inclined to post. I’m sorry but I just don’t give a hoot that u just ate dinner and now you are #fatfull. My latest addiction are blogs..Pinterest..and Instagram respectively.

  • Shine

    This was a wonderful article

  • Oh wow!

    Wow this article sounds just like me right now. One of the reasons why I decided to make myself off of Facebook because I found myself comparing my life to others.

  • LaTasha

    I totally can relate to this

  • Mia

    I’ve learned a long time ago. Facebook is “Fakebook”, the place for the truly unhappy. Only miserable people get caught up in that mess, happy people are too busy living their lives.

    Its like writing in a diary, only good girls utilize them. Bad girls never have the time! lol

    • KJ23

      My friends and I call Facebook “Fakebook” too!

    • prettiestintheworld

      On point! My life is so fulfilling and I’m much too busy for social media! I have my own thing going on and a FABuLOUS life without having to showcase it to the world on those superficial, fake sites.

  • bluekissess

    0mg I thought I was the only one. I get upset when people complain about work and I’m looking for work, a boyfriend that is lame but gets back with him. I’m single and I get upset that I don’t have anyone, kids I see others having and I don’t have one. Although I’m happy for them I also tend to think about my accomplishments. So I totally understand

  • Grace

    Bravo! This was perfect timing!

  • sabrina

    Girrrrrrrrrrrrrl, I feel you. I say this all the time: a lot of people use social media to brag about their lives. They’ll showcase all the good things, but won’t say a word when they hit a roadblock or something devastates their lives. I had this one FB friend that I couldn’t stand online, but really liked in person. She’s a gorgeous girl, but comes off too conceited, arrogant, and boisterous online…but she’s not even like that in person!
    Having the option to remove someone from your timeline was the best tool FB came up with so I don’t have to look at everyone’s boisterous mess everyday. I don’t get jealous of other people (for the most part) because I know my time will come soon (or has come). But sometimes, you just can’t help but let certain things get to you.
    Let’s not even talk about Twitter.
    So you are definitely not alone.

    • Nell

      I have thought for a long time that I was the only one that felt like this. At times, it had me mad at myself for feeling this way. I had a hometown friend on Facebook just like your friend. This girl never ever posted anything negative and always had amazing pics of her and her family posted twice a day. I came to the conclusion that maybe she just wants to show how happy she is and I should not be envy because I to have a wonderful husband. Also, I don’t post the worst stuff that happens to me, so why would I expect anyone else to.