Hi. I’m Katie, and I suffer from social media anxiety. At first I thought I was crazy. I still think that. But after discussing this topic with many people, both men and women, it is evident that I am not the only one who experiences this. We are all crazy. And I blame social media for it.
Initially, it seemed like an advantage to have every conversation or interaction logged onto our phones or somewhere on the internet. Everything we do, say, post, type, tweet, is there for us to go back to. But at a certain point, we have to ask ourselves, is it helpful?
The weird thing about social media is that at the beginning it seems to make personal interactions easier (by making them less personal). Why risk the humiliation of a face-to-face interaction when you can have that SAME exact awkward moment on the internet?! I mean, what? The thing is, while it can sometimes make the whole putting yourself out there thing slightly less intimidating, I find after that happens, it just makes things more complicated. In other words, we communicate more, but say less.
When there is uncertainty, our brains search for answers. To find answers, we need clues, evidence, patterns. Everything seems to have a hidden meaning. But when it comes from social media, rather than using tone of voice or body language to help us, we resort to…punctuation.
In the initial stages of a relationship, when neither one really knows how the other feels, we often turn to social media to play detective. The problem is, we give our own meaning to the clues that we find. It’s like we have to hire a team of analysts just to make sure we’re interpreting messages correctly. Instead of speaking to someone directly, we attempt to put clues together from 3rd party sources. I truly believe the screen grab was invented to get second opinions on your confusing chat threads. I know I am not the only person who does this.
I’ll use my most recent dating situation (not sure what else to call it) as an example. Everything had been going well when one day out of the blue, I got this text message. Are you guys ready? Cause I wasn’t. It said: “Hi.” YEAH. I KNOW.“Hi?! What am I supposed to do with that? What does he mean HI? Is he about to break things off with me? Do I respond like I normally would or do I match his sudden unenthusiastic tone?” That sounded way less crazy in my head. I know you guys are dying to know how I responded. Strap in, cause it took me a half hour to come up with: “Yoo.” See, I debated for a while about one or two o’s. I didn’t want to sound as unenthusiastic as his “Hi.” But I also didn’t want to be all like “Hey!!!!” if he was about to say something bad. I figured “yoo” was a good middle ground.
Do you see how ridiculous this is? How much thought is put into interpreting & projecting the meaning behind possibly the simplest words in the English language? Is yo in the dictionary? It should be. Anyway, turns out, he followed my “Yoo” with an enthusiastic update about his trip. You’re telling me after all of that decoding, the hidden meaning behind his baffling text message was actually “hi”? Fuck. My. Life.
When we worry for no reason, we begin to search for one. Whatever we find we interpret and use as evidence to confirm these worries. The human mind has a remarkable ability to distort one’s own reality. It is a terrible habit, which for lack of better words, I call “digging”.
There are generally two types of diggers: Those who ignore red flags, and those who create them. One person blindly searches for any sign of interest, deflecting clear signals that say the opposite, while the other person searches for signs of rejection, while deflecting any clear sign of interest. If I sound slightly more familiar with the second category, it’s because I am. I suppose there are also people who don’t do either. I feel the same way about them as I do about those assholes in my high school trig class who just seemed to “get it”. Who are you??
In the book, “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy”, (Yeah, I read it. Moving on.) Dr. David Burns writes, ”Your feelings are created by your thoughts, and not the actual events. All experiences must be processed in your brain and given a conscious meaning before you experience any emotional response.” In other words, if we approach things from a secure, optimistic perspective, we can see the same events or interactions in a completely different light. For example, hi can mean “Hey, I am starting a conversation with you because I want to talk to you.” Or it can mean “Hi…I’m about to reject you.” We think we are reacting to someone else when in reality we are reacting to an interaction we are having with ourselves.
In other words, we see what we fear, not what is actually there. Of course, it takes being self-aware to recognize this. It is not a conscious process. After all, why would I actively want to make myself unhappy? I don’t. But subconsciously, I have a fear of rejection, so I search for reasons to bail so I can get out before I get hurt. (I have a therapist, can you guys tell?) Everyone should, to be honest.
In his article, “Psychology of Text Relationships, J.R. Suler writes “We are tempted to think that a text archive is a factual record of what was said. In some ways it is. But saved text also is a container into which we pour our own psyche. We invest it with all sorts of meanings and emotions depending on our state of mind at the moment.” Well, damn. If that ain’t some real shit, I don’t know what is.
Digging doesn’t just occur at the beginning of relationships. Often the worst digging begins when something ends. We become archaeologists of our past, digging in hopes that we’ll find something that can either rewrite it or give us the answers we seek to explain our current situation. After you break up with someone, have you ever made the mistake of going back months into your chat threads? Looking back at your interactions in the beginning before you realized you were completely wrong for each other? You re-read responses you wish you hadn’t sent. “Did I miss something? Could I have seen this coming? Why did I say that? I wonder if (fill in the blank) hadn’t happened if we would still be together?”
The truth is, even if we could find all the answers we were looking for by searching through the archives of our relationships, they wouldn’t really matter. The case is closed, but we keep opening the file. If you broke up, move forward. If things changed it was for a reason. If your ex said things that hurt you, looking at it won’t make you heal. In fact, you’re just reopeningthe wound.
I’ll leave you with another gem from Suler’s article that inspired me to write this. “Unless you’re simply searching for practical information (phone number, address, etc), what prompts you to go back and read old text may indicate something significant happening in the relationship or your reaction to it. Doubt, worry, confusion, anger, nostalgia, what motivates you to search your archive?”
Good luck getting that out of your head the next time you scroll through your chat threads.