Friends Are for Facebook

02/26/2015 03:53 pm ET | Updated Apr 28, 2015
Tim Robberts via Getty Images

There's a photo of me on Facebook, smiling happily with three of my friends. I'm on the end. It's a little blurry, somewhat grainy, and one of us may or may not be holding a glass of wine. It was posted on February 2, 2014. Superbowl Sunday.

Once a photo of you is up on Facebook, it's up on Facebook. For all to see. And like. Comment. Form opinions about. Create imaginary scenarios. Jump to conclusions. It wasn't my photo and I didn't post it, but I am in it, clearly happy to be where I was at that moment: with my friends, laughing, having a good time... in the hot tub.

The light is glaringly bad as it reflects off the water in the early dark, our unfocused faces are all smiling too wide, and the hot-tubbly mist is swirling everywhere. It's an unremarkable, not particularly special portrayal of four friends hanging out on a Sunday. It was an enjoyable afternoon of football and fun but nothing worth remembering happened (other than the Broncos lost), and there is little to mark that day out of the hundreds that came before or after.

Except for that photo.

I remember that unmemorable, out-of-focus photo because soon after Superbowl Sunday a lovely woman I peripherally know stopped me in passing.

"You're Nicki, right?"

"Yeah..."

"You know, I think I've been seeing you on Facebook. Don't you write a blog?"

Before I could reply, "And weren't you just in a hot tub?"

I remember that conversation, and consequently the affronting photo, because the frantic butterfly wings of my heart took flight as I fleetingly worried she'd wrongly assume I led a life of happy hot-tub leisure and little more. That she'd immediately imagine a scenario of Nicki-the-Stay-at-Home-Mom doing nothing more meaningful than writing a bit of a blog, and drinking a bit of wine (not that there's anything wrong with that) because that's what it looked like that day, on Facebook.

I know. So what. Even if it's true, so what.

Except it's not true. A life of blog-writing and wine sounds definitely delightful, but is probably not true for anyone.

Scattered amongst horrific news stories of beheadings and shootings and a world gone mad, between the images of a beautiful daughter who is suddenly ill and a son who is suddenly missing, are apparently perfect portrayals of laughter and fun, parties and puppies, new homes, new cars, dream jobs... and we can't help but feel the tendrils of envy and longing whisper against our skin.

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Sharing on Facebook and other social media is how we connect. How we feel connected. Another way for us to build community, to feel part of something bigger than ourselves. It's human nature to want and need contact with other humans, validation and support from friends. To share our happy times, our sadness, our pride, joy, love and disappointment. It's how we feel alive. And not alone.

And sometimes it's how we feel so alone.

"Friends are for Facebook," my husband says when I show him glowing photographs of exotic vacation locales (and by exotic I mean anywhere else), weddings both lavish and simple, smiling families all in beautiful shades of white. He says it again when I worry out loud that an article I posted doesn't seem to be getting much traffic, when I wish I hadn't made that inappropriate comment on that friend's photo.

"Friends are for Facebook," with a wry smile and a hint of cynicism.

He is reminding me to keep perspective. Reminding me that I don't know what chaos and imperfection occurred before that perfect photo was taken. Reminding me that the words and comments and likes and shares presented so neatly in minimalist grays and blues on the tiny screen in my hand are created by real-life people with feelings and hopes and wishes, just like me.

Friends are for Facebook. And Facebook flattens our lives. Makes our messy, rich, complicated, euphoric, depressing, wonderful and disappointing lives shallow and one-dimensional. What you see is what you get, we think. We forget what's behind the screen. And sometimes in our attempts to feel more connected and less alone, we feel lonelier than ever.

I scroll through my Facebook feed and see those mostly smiling faces, seemingly adorable and well-behaved children, read those oh-so-positive status updates... and remember: the custody battle that might be happening for those kids, the complicated relationship behind that golden sunset, the struggles we endure every day. Everybody is struggling.

What you can't see in that moment of misty, happy-go-lucky togetherness in the hot tub on Superbowl Sunday are the swirling sadness and deep despair that surrounded me before that day. The beautifully captured moments are definitely truthful moments, but I don't forget what's behind them. Nobody I know leads a life of only rainbows and butterflies, hot tubs and wine.

Friends are for Facebook. But also, friends are for Life.

This post originally appeared on Red Boots. You can follow Nicki Gilbert on Twitter and on her blog.