Facebook Reality

There are aspects of my work that I will miss, and aspects of my work that I am happy to leave. Talking to nice people fits into the former category, begging insurance companies to uphold their obligations falls in the latter category.

Yesterday, I was talking to a client. She is a nice lady who I have known for a number of years. She was recounting a recent trip back home, and she was surprised that the trip had gone well. You see, she comes from a large family of successful siblings. She noted to me that she typically feels like the failure of the family. She is a single mom, and all of her siblings are married. They seem to have charmed lives, financial wealth, fantastic kids… well, you get the picture.

I looked at her and said, “Let’s review your life.” She had a look on her face that suggested both surprise and concern. I reminded her the following:

You have successfully raised a wonderful daughter, on your own.
You have supported yourself for most of your adult life.
You own your own residence, in a nice community.
You are saving for your retirement.
You have friends that care about you and a daughter who loves you.
You drive a safe care.
… and so I went on.

I concluded by reminding her what a great success she was. She not only managed to take care of her needs but her daughter’s needs as well. Naturally, her life isn’t’ perfect. There are always areas of wants. Perhaps a little more money, a bigger place to live, a solid romantic relationship. However, her wants were insignificant compared to all of her successes.

As I was counseling her I was also thinking. Why is it that we are so programmed to look at other people’s lives through rose-colored glasses, and our own lives through dingy and dirty ones?

Of course, there are many reasons. One is the reasons is what I like to call Facebook reality.

I share stories with my patients if I think that they have therapeutic value. I’m not the stereotype blank screen of the 1960’s psychiatrist. I think it is important for them to know that I am like them, a real and relatable person.

This is the story that I told her…

A number of years ago I started to make dinner with my kids. My wife had returned to the paid workforce, and the kids were complaining about the switch from homemade food to frozen pizza and bagged burgers. I thought it would be both fun, and a learning experience to make real meals together. We would plan, cook, eat, and clean up together. This has been a wonderful family experience, and my kids have become competent cooks of real food.

Part of this new tradition is that I post a photo of our finished meal on Facebook. That food shot is taken before we sit down to eat. I prepare the plate carefully. I choose the nicest piece of chicken, the plumpest crescent roll, the most artful salad. I’ll usually take the photo at several angles, and I’ll pick the most flattering one. I then edit the photo. I crop out distracting elements, add a vignette, and do other things to draw attention to the food. It is only then that I post the photo under the title “Cooking With Dad Thursday.”

This ritual has become a somewhat of a family inside joke. It doesn’t show the burnt rolls or the piece of chicken where half of the breading has fallen off. It is reality, but a carefully crafted reality that shows only the best that we have to offer, and that best is shown in the best possible light.

I asked her if she was dealing with Facebook reality when she visits her family. Only the best pieces of her sibling’s lives are shown to her, and only in the best possible light. How easy it would be to feel like a failure if the only point of reference that you had was artificially perfect.

We see Facebook reality everywhere. The model with perfect makeup hawking a beauty product. The “real lives” of people on TV who live in multi-million dollar homes. The neighbor’s recounts of their fantastic exotic vacation. It is so easy to become dissatisfied with our truly real lives where we compare them with the Facebook reality of others.

I think it is important for all of us to remember how fortunate we are. How the positives in our lives usually greatly outweigh the negatives. Our lives were never meant to be perfect. We can choose to celebrate our blessings or choose to live in a cesspool of dissatisfaction and envy.

Breakfast for dinner
Only the best piece of chicken and the plumpest crescent roll.