Almost every day I find myself sitting across from a client who’s struggling with relationship envy, only the relationship that they’re envious of doesn’t really exist. It’s a curated version of a relationship (or, relationships) that they see on Facebook and Instagram.
If you’re popular on social media, it’s because you follow certain unspoken rules:
You Post About:
Milestones: weddings, losses, engagements, celebrations and accomplishments.
Announcements: politics, current events, tragedies, the juiciest news.
Happy things: vacation pics, things that will make others laugh, your adorable children, your even more adorable animals.
You Don’t Post About:
Uncertainty: “I’m not sure if I’ll be able to pay my rent this month.”
The mundane: “It’s 10:13 pm. ET on Monday and I’m writing this week’s blog post.”
Misery. Recall that I said, ‘If you’re popular, you don’t post about these things.’ Exactly: rants about one’s ungrateful or poorly behaved children, gruesome images, dramatic cries for attention, expressions of your own rage.
Nonetheless, most people I know (clients + friends) actually believe the carefully produced life stories they see on social media. Particularly when it comes to other people’s relationships.
The tendency to believe what you see provokes a cycle of social comparison, where you compare the reality of your life (read: the unposted version) to the posted versions of others. Round and round you go scouting other people’s lives to see how yours measures up. It would be bad enough if it were a fair comparison. But the fact is, your friend’s social media feeds are a complete distortion of reality.
Take mine, for example:
It’s not that I intend to mislead you when you follow me on social media. I want to entertain you. And I did even before I had a TV show. I learned quickly that the posts which garner dozens or hundreds of 👍’s are the ones that follow the rules.
Here’s what I don’t post about my relationship:
Steph and I fight. We go through periods of time when we almost never argue, and other periods when I feel like I can’t say or do a fucking thing right. When we’re in a peak, I’m certain we’re going to stay there forever. I fly high for weeks at a time. And I probably get a little lazy. And then I’m shocked when I find myself in another valley. And I have to be very deliberate in the way I talk to myself during those times so that I don’t overgeneralize the moment that we’re in – begin to view it as a chapter instead of a page in my marriage. I remind myself that just a few weeks ago I couldn’t keep my hands off her. Which brings me to…
Our sex life has highs and lows. Here’s something I’ve noticed (and will absolutely forget in the next hour): When I’m more conscious of showing up in my relationship the way Steph needs me to show up, when I’m careful with the tone I use with her, when I communicate that I love her in ways that resonate with her (as opposed to communicating in the ways I’d like her to express her love for me), things miraculously improve in the bedroom.
Equally predictable: When I’m in the throes of a professionally creative phase (which can look a little like a manic phase or an obsessive phase, in which I’m neglectful of her), we start to feel like business partners. Exclusively. Which sucks.
Steph’s moody. I mean really moody. She and I secretly refer to her as MMF, which stands for Moody Mother Fucker. It took me a long time to realize that these moments aren’t about me, that she doesn’t want me to try and fix her mood, and that if I just breathe through it and allow her to be who she is, her mood passes.
Nothing is ever good enough for me. I see the world through a lens that searches for imperfection. I’m so trained to fix problems that my wife can’t open her mouth without me offering up unsolicited advice. And it’s much worse than that: Every household object that’s out of place, the microscopic toothpaste splatter on the bathroom mirror, the lightbulb that’s burnt out in our sconce – all becomes impossible for me to ignore (yes I know they have medication for this but believe it or not I don’t quite meet criteria).
My relationship doesn’t involve perfection at all. Just two imperfect beings who are somehow able to tolerate each other’s imperfections. And in making a life-long commitment to each other, we’ve made the decision to call those imperfections a marriage.