A quick look at my Facebook profile reveals the self I want to be.
Smiling, here I am with my two attractive kids on holiday, skiing no less, so we can’t be doing half bad, in an album I shared from my husband’s timeline. My profile picture gives me good lighting, peachy skin, a jawline I barely recognise. I litter my timeline with professional accolades: links to my work that have been taken up by national institutions, or on Twitter, witty remarks most often cast out to strangers in the hope of momentary approval or recognition, although it backfires when I am unfollowed after a rant.
But inside I am dying. In real life, I feel like a failure. I don’t live up to the image I would portray as a mother. I am a terrible cook, and I get stressed too easily on the school run. I get grumpy when I’m woken up too early, and I’m really not so good at playing pretend. I am bored by my children’s prattle, and have never once been interested in their video games although I have feigned it once or twice. I know I read them stories, test their spellings and they are always clean and tidy, although sometimes this is against their will. But they hardly ever talk about things to which I would willingly listen – about their friends at school, the pictures they have drawn. But they are growing away from me and I can’t take their pleasure to see me just because I’m mum for granted any more.
My job might sound glamorous, but it isn’t. It may occasionally be challenging, but it’s not exactly hard. And I get lonely stuck behind my desk, yet I hardly keep up with the friends to whom I would keep up appearance, and almost never get invited to parties, despite, in the past, handing out many invitations of my own. In any case, I feel too tired to do much at the end of the day but drink tea, or more probably wine.
My carefully selected pictures conceal a multitude of sins. My hair is going grey, and my skin has been dreadful since Christmas. I’ve put on ten pounds, which it seems too much like hard work to shed. I hide indoors when I am not at work biding my time until I feel better, but the cabin fever makes me argue with my husband when we finally get a chance to be alone.
But the chances are, I’m not alone, and if I took the time to
check in on people, I’d find they are feeling the same. But rejection and social anxiety have chipped away at my confidence, and I find it harder to ‘reach out.’ Christ, how I hate that expression. Perhaps that is my problem. I’m too cynical, too cool for school. But I get frustrated with those who do: those who bemoan their bad days, hangovers, and conversations they’ve overhead on the bus. It’s not cool to gripe. Put your best face forward – if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. At least, this was the refrain I learned from my childhood. But that means I end up saving my frustrations for my nearest and dearest and there’s only three of them; or venting my spleen on here for the rest of the world to see. But I also take issue with the other ones, those who write jolly inanities about their kids, pouting selfies, or shots of their feet from a sun lounger. Bore off I think, and rarely feel coerced to ‘like’ something for the sake of being friendly.
Perhaps that’s the problem. I’ve cultivated my self image into a bland, inoffensive, if cooler than thou faux success story that’s not impressing anyone, where I’m afraid to say anything controversial and don’t make jokes in case they fall flat. My restraint makes me critical of those with worse table manners. And in any case, it’s just a front to my much more shady operations on here. It’s no wonder I don’t get invited to anything.
It would be a relief to condemn that smiling imposter in my profile picture to an ignominious death, rather than turning my misery on my rather earthier self but we all know Facebook suicide is impossible. But getting out in the real world again and catching up with actual friends, rather than caring about the vacuities of people I don’t much like, or don’t even know on social media would in all likelihood do more for my mental health than any amount of likes and shares that give me such temporary esteem. I might even find more time to pay attention to the three people who really do mean something to me, rather than spending my days besides them slumped on the sofa, tablet in hand.
It’s time to jump ship. But it’s hard to swim against the tide.