On Facebook, “ladies night out” never ends with you getting cornered by a former Arizona State sorority girl who is two mojitos past dullard. On Facebook, the valet doesn’t lose your dirty Honda for twenty minutes while you calculate how much sleep you’ll get if there’s no traffic on the way home. On Facebook, it’s all sombreros and private jokes and close-ups of sushi and magnificent, unattainable Bourbon-hued camaraderie. Your online “friends” have more community, more sisterhood, more fun than you do. Science can now prove it.
When it comes to parenthood, all the children on Facebook do adorable, precocious things with both pets and instruments. These angels wear stain-free sailor suits. They make sand castles, kiss puppies and giggle with rash free cheeks. That’s why every time you sign off, you feel just a little bit depressed by the vividness of their joie. Their brightness dampens you. This is something you’ve always known, but now science has an explanation.
Thanks to researchers at Stanford, we pretty much have proof that social networking is bumming us out.
Okay, I’m extrapolating here, but what they found (in a paper titled “Misery Has More Company Than People Think”) is that as human beings, we tend to overestimate how much fun our peers are having, while underestimating their negative experiences.
After perusing the photo album “Jordan Turns Two,” you will never know the cake wasn’t moist, the pizza made everyone gassy and Jordan had to be carried out like a surfboard when the pony peed on his shoes. You will never know most of the kids left sunburned and at least three viral infections were spread like cheap dip.
Personally, I don’t post much, but I lurk. I watch. I silently compare myself to these gleeful visions, especially to other moms, whose online family portraits have often been shot through a lens of manufactured, carefully produced joy and spiked with a dash of selective storytelling. No matter. It still sends me into a mood.
It’s not that I don’t have moments of transcendent joy, it’s that I don’t know how to share them.
No, not spiritually, I mean I literally can’t figure out how to make photo albums or upload images efficiently. Or, as I’m on the verge of mastering some major misrepresentation of the totality of my life with one kick-ass shot of my toddler’s dimples, he actually needs me to stop him from tumbling down the front stairs. I have neither the time nor the aptitude to fake you out.
I guess I don’t get the spiritual part either.
Last night, when my son got home from daycare, he pointed down the block, so I walked with him. He ran ahead. He ran four straight blocks, his hair flying up, little shoes smacking the pavement, going nowhere, just toward the flat-out euphoria of his body moving through space. I welled up and thought remember this remember this remember this.
Sure, he cried when I washed his face in the bath later, and left most of his rice on the floor, and whined when I put his arms in the sleeves of his pajamas, but I had that moment.
The thing is, that moment is boring. In fact, I’m sorry for boring you with it. If there’s a way of sharing the beauty without sounding braggy or hacky, I haven’t figured it out.
I do know this: I rarely feel happier or more connected after checking FB or Twitter.
There is often documentation of some social function from which I suddenly feel horribly excluded.
Intellectually, I know it’s just an illusion. Stanford proved it. No one is as happy as I think they are, and of course, I understand nobody posts a shot of their positive herpes test with a :-(
Armed with this new information, I can at least adjust for the human condition. I can assume your reunion was 33% less “awesome” than it looks, and that your kid probably crayons the wall after eating a frozen dinner you failed to chronicle for an album titled “Sodium won’t kill him.”
This column originally appeared on the Huffington Post.