Almost a decade ago, I was deployed to a combat theater while serving in the military. My wife and I had just been blessed with our oldest daughter two weeks before I left the country. It was a challenging time in our marriage because here was my wife with a newborn baby living five states away from our family, and her husband was off to serve our country. It was a challenging time for me because I was leaving my wife and newborn baby. By the way, I only had two weeks with this little girl before getting on a plane to fight in Operation Enduring Freedom. By God’s grace, I am writing this blog post, and our daughter is approaching ten years of age.
Why do I tell you this story? One of the ways my wife and I stayed connected was through Facebook. Social media technologies like these can help in some situations of geographical separation. However, a danger looms in the background of such technologies that are impacting many people–especially women–on an emotional level.
During my deployment, I was convinced that our baby girl never cried, threw temper-tantrums, nor made any messes. I believed this little girl was the perfect baby. Why did I have such beliefs? The only pictures my wife would send me through Facebook were ones of her smiling, eating her first bites of baby cereal, and laughing. I was being fed images of what seemed like this perfect child although the reality at home was completely different. By the way, I want to be fair to my wife in this post. She posted these types of pictures because I was already in an intense combat environment. The last thing my wife wanted to do was to make me think that all was not good at home. I think what my wife was doing intentionally to me is what many people on Facebook are doing to themselves and others unintentionally.
Through this experience, I believe that Facebook has created a harmful false reality for people who engage in its use. I would argue that the false truths presented on Facebook are truly harming marriages, families, and individuals more than helping keep people connected. Why do I think this is the case? I would like to provide you with three reasons:
- Many Facebook Posts Create a False Reality. The Facebook “wall” seems to exist as an social media forum where people can create their own “online” life. Many users predominately only post the “good” things that are happening in their lives. Rarely, if ever, does anyone post the realities of their actual social lives. Not many users post the various marriage problems they are experiencing or the rebellious child in their lives or the insecurities they feel as a mom, dad, wife, husband, student, etc. However, on Facebook, they don’t have to because they can develop their “happily ever afters” in online social space. Facebook allows us a place of escape to post the lives we wish we were really living, but when we turn off the screen, we come back to reality that our lives do not reflect what we are putting online. This displaying of false reality contributes to the hurts of both the user and their “friends,” which will be addressed in the next two sections.
- The False Reality Fuels Desires for Perfection. When people create unreal Facebook posts, they may not realize that they are revealing the desires that they have within themselves. People are actually posting their “dream lives,” for the world to believe they are truly living. When many Facebook users post these false realities of their lives, they look at their online profile and realize they are not living this dream in “real time.” Therefore, many users begin to experience two types of realities: insecurity and obsession. People experience insecurities because they realize how imperfect their lives are compared to what they are posting on social media. Some people post these images to overcome their real life insecurities. These insecurities lead to obsessions. In other words, they obsess over making everything in their lives a reality of their online posts in order to control their insecurities. They hold their children, husbands, wives, and friends to the level they portray on their walls. Ultimately, this type of false reality weighs heavily on those who engage in this type of online lifestyle.
- The Danger of Comparison. While the last reason highlights what happens in the individual user, this reason looks at the many people who observe the lives of their Facebook “friends.” As people promote “filtered” or unrealistic realities of their lives, many of us review these realities and compare their fake realities with our own actual realities. I believe this is where many of our women are greatly impacted by the duplicity of social media. We look at these Facebook narratives and desire what we see other people “pretending” to have. Many of us make these comments in our hearts and minds, “I wish my husband was that sweet.” “Why can’t my wife look like that?” “Why don’t our children act like theirs?” On and on these comparisons go, and as we engage in such thinking, we begin to impress these unhealthy thoughts on people we actually have relationships with in real life. We can become so deceived by the “false realities” of others–we are deceived because we buy into the lie of social media comparison, that we put our real life relationships in serious jeopardy. The danger is that we try to make those in our lives live up to the expectations that we see being promoted in the lives of our online “friends.” In turn, this could destroy the real relationships we have.
As I mentioned at the outset of my post, Facebook was a helpful tool when I was deployed, but we should be cautioned that it can have a harming impact on our hearts, minds, souls, and real life relationships. I was amazed when I came home from my deployment. This little girls who I had seen only smiling and enjoying her life suddenly was a real person. She would cry in the early hours of the morning. She would sometimes not eat her food or try and get into areas of the house that could harm her so I had to be keenly aware of her surroundings.
One time she wasn’t feeling good and she regurgitated all of her breakfast directly onto the front of my body. I was covered from head to toe. I thought to myself that this can’t be the girl I had seen in all those “happy” photos, but her mom tells me she is just like her daddy. It was in that moment, I knew she was mine. Even in all of her imperfections, I would rather have the real flesh and blood girl than a false image I saw for all those months on Facebook. Why? A real relationship built on good times and bad times beats a false reality every time!