I spend far more time on Facebook than I really should. On one hand, this is a tool that helps me keep in contact with people I would not otherwise speak with, and have not, for a long time. On the other hand, it is a “time suck” and I suddenly find myself wrapped up in other people’s drama. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about social media, its role in my life, and the role I would like to have it play in the future.
A few weeks ago I clicked on a link that would show me my past ten years on Facebook – a visual illustration of the good and bad times that have occurred. The video was pretty cool, and reminded me of some of the biggest things that have happened in the last decade of my life. But, to be honest, it really only showed the pieces I had chosen to share in the first place.
I had already weeded through pictures of me with my ex, photos that I didn’t like, and postings on my wall which were inappropriate or unhelpful. So, the video was not really an accurate portrayal – it was a recap of the moments I chose to share about myself.
This doesn’t mean that it wasn’t true – it just wasn’t the whole truth.
Almost two years ago (wow, has it really been that long?), my wife Susan deployed to Afghanistan. I would frequently update my status on Facebook when I received good news about how she was doing, and when she was coming home. These posts made an appearance in my Facebook video. But the posts about the nights I stayed up crying, worried for her safety, did not. The posts about the struggles of spending our first wedding anniversary apart weren’t in there either. And this is because I didn’t post about those moments on Facebook. I chose not to put those moments on display.
Social media can be a way for people to connect with one another in ways that they would not normally connect. But that connection requires us to be authentic and true.
When Susan deployed, I found the American Military Partner Association (AMPA) and connected with the group via Facebook. This was an amazing opportunity for me to connect with other same-sex military spouses. It was especially helpful to me as the wife of a Reservist, who does not live on or near a military installation. AMPA was a window into a new community of supportive people who were struggling with some of the same issues I was. But, again, I was not always fully open and honest in those conversations. I felt pressure to keep my life in order and present it as “together” and “stable.” I did not speak in the group forums about my authentic experience.
Deployments are hard. Life is hard. We know this. So why aren’t we better about sharing that burden with one another?
I am a person who loves groups, but prefers more close-knit friendships with people. Through AMPA I met some amazing people – in person, face-to-face. One of those people is Lauren Lamoly, who some of you know. Lauren and I shared a lot about the difficulties and celebrations of being military partners. We spoke about deployments and our experiences of them, and we built a strong and lasting friendship – a friendship that would not have started if it were not for Facebook or AMPA. I am thankful for this.
I am also thankful that when my wife returned from her deployment and went TDY, she was able to attend a pool party hosted by AMPA members. She had dinner with Ashley Broadway-Mack and Heather Mack, and started a friendship with them. These are friendships and connections that would not have happened if it weren’t for Facebook or AMPA.
There is tremendous potential in AMPA and through social media to build lasting and intentional friendships and connections. There is an opportunity for us to share our experiences, in their entirety, in a way that is meaningful and purposeful. But this potential and opportunity requires us to be authentic and true about our lives. I’m not suggesting that we all air our dirty laundry for the whole world to see, but I am suggesting that we don’t have to censor the things that are difficult and hard.
If I am going to spend too much time on Facebook, or any social media outlet, I want it to be time well spent. I want to know if you’re having a hard time, and I want you to know when I am. Because, inevitably, we will all have bad days. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone “there” when we do? I think so.