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family and social media

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Many adults learn that a little distance and a good amount of boundaries is what helps their relationships with family run smoothly. Friends are the family we choose because, most of the time, we definitely wouldn’t have chosen our actual blood to be our families if we had any say in the matter. It’s common to love but not like family members. You have an undeniable bond, but then there’s the fact that you can go onto have completely different values, beliefs, morals, and lifestyles. It’s why there can be so much drama within families. We don’t have to be completely close with all of our family members. Part of being an adult is identifying who you see eye to eye with in life, and who you don’t, and then figuring out how to tactfully navigate relationships with the latter. And that’s where good old distance and boundaries come into play. Social media shatters those boundaries.

We’ve all gotten that friend request from a second cousin or aunt and thought, “This is not good.” They just think it’s fun to follow what’s happening in your life, but you have intentionally curated and edited what you show them about it. You’ve had that option because you typically only spoke in person or over the phone. You chose what they saw…and what they didn’t see. You also, in that very same way, got to choose what they commented on, and what they got no say in. Your social media is, typically, for your peers who fully get you, and for strangers who, well, who cares what they think. Family falls in a weird place in between those two groups, which is why being friends with them on social media can get awkward in the following ways.

They miss the point of your posts

Your family doesn’t understand your humor. They understand it so little that they don’t even realize when you’re making a joke. So when you write a post that’s meant to be satirical, they think it’s genuine, and they speak to it as if it’s genuine. Maybe you post a selfie with your roots grown out and the caption, “Growing out my hair. Hopefully my husband still wants to bang me.” And an aunt writes, “It’s important to keep up appearances in a marriage and not get too comfortable. It’s too easy to stop putting in an effort for our spouses, but they deserve it the most!” And you’re left just shaking your head.

They want to show up and support

This is something that everyone struggles with: family members who want to support you but don’t know how. In fact, maybe they even do things that are to your detriment when they think they are being supportive. When I was younger, I had a brief acting career. I made the mistake of sending my stepfather a link to watch a movie I was in. Then, I posted a celebratory Facebook post about the movie making it into a festival, and my stepfather commented on the post, “I saw the movie and, though it had some laughs, I do not personally think it’s very feminist or that women like to be depicted this way in movies. Just my opinion!” He thought it was supportive and that he was being a feminist by critiquing the movie, but he didn’t realize he’d just publicly insulted the writer and director who’d given me an opportunity.

They pick political fights

You can often find yourself having to break up a comment fight between your family and friends on social media over a political issue. Somehow, your cousin who leans very much to the opposite end of politics as yourself thought it would be a good idea to befriend you, knowing damn well what side you lean to and what you might post. And then, he makes his comments – that are very polarizing – on your political posts. And then your friends call him an idiot, trying to come to your rescue. And now you have to say, with much embarrassment,  that that “idiot” is your family.

You get in trouble for oversharing

You think your life is your own and that you try to have discretion about what you share on social media. But you quickly learn that other people don’t think that’s the case when you post photos or stories that involve your family in any way. Even when they really don’t involve anyone else, you get in trouble. Making a simple post about coming from divorced parents can prompt a call from your mother saying that you shouldn’t be talking about her divorce on Facebook. It’s literally public record that she’s divorced, but apparently, you aren’t allowed to say that online. Or you get in trouble for posting something about a family member passing away because other family members didn’t want that to go public yet.

They tag you in embarrassing photos

Family always think it’s so fun to tag you in old “memories.” It’s not so fun when they tag you in 25 photos from that vacation when you brought your ex-boyfriend for your current boyfriend to see. He now gets to watch you kissing and sitting on the lap and cuddling with some other guy in Cancun because your aunt decided to tag you in these photos. Oh or how about when family tags you in naked baby pictures for your employers to see. Or when they tag you in pictures from a time you were overweight – an era you’ve worked hard to cover up on social media.

“Why wasn’t I invited?”

Some of the family generally doesn’t know what’s good for them, and that it’s actually for the best that they not be made aware of everything going on in all the other branches of the family. You quickly learn this when a second cousin messages you upset because he saw a photo you posted of your other cousin’s small, intimate wedding ceremony…which they just so happened to not be invited to. Everybody was perfectly happy before all of this data sharing started to happen on social media. Now you’re playing mediator between two angry cousins. Then there’s the one aunt who sees you had her ex-husband (who you knew and loved for two decades before their divorce) over for coffee when he was in town. Now she’s accusing you of being disloyal to her.

You get shamed for living

Your family really isn’t ready to understand that you’re an adult. They’ll always see you as a child, but you have some very adult content on your page. That doesn’t mean X-rated content but, you drink alcohol. Sometimes you wear revealing clothing. Something you get lap dances from male strippers at your friend’s bachelorette party. Sometimes you make jokes about your sex life. When your family finds out they get so upset, feeling like you’re being inappropriate, and saying as much in their comments. Their very public comments. They’ll always see you as the 5-year-old who ran around with cake on her face in a Disney princess nightgown. They aren’t ready to know about the adult you.

If you block them, they know

You try to block some family members, or at least add them to limited lists so they can’t see all of your posts, but things get awkward when they realize that’s happened. That triggers a phone call about how you should really “Confront your issues” and that “Maybe we should go to therapy together.” They cannot look in the mirror and realize perhaps their own actions prompted the blocking. Instead, they are certain that it is your issues that led to that decision, and you really need to work them out. Ugh. Everything was so much easier before that friend request came in.

You learn more than you want to

Just as your family learns more about you than you want them to, you also learn more about them than you wanted to know. You had no idea what a pervert your uncle was until you saw all of the photos of big-breasted women he posts with sexual innuendo captions. You had no idea that your aunt wrote a blog about her sexual escapades as a divorcee until you found her posts on her Facebook. You didn’t know your cousin was a member of QAnon until you saw some posts in your home feed. Everybody was better off when they stuck to seeing each other at the holidays and discussing the weather and the rising costs of healthcare.

They give feedback on your work

You probably post a bit about your career pursuits on social media. You post your artwork that got into galleries. You post your articles that were published. You post a link to the new app you developed. And then your family comes flying in, ready to be “helpful” by letting you know all the ways they think your app could be more user friendly or telling you about an art class you could take to make your fruit look more realistic, or pointing out a typo in your article. Supporting family shouldn’t be complicated, but man does your family make it that way.

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