Recently, my 13-year-old cousin DM’d me on Instagram lamenting about some boy troubles. Basically, this boy she had a fling with told her via Snapchat that he didn’t like her like that anymore and she was crushed. Of course, she was! I was crushed for her. What a little douchebag. Unfortunately, though, I could relate pretty hardcore.
The first time I encountered an experience like the one my little cousin was sulking about was at the age of 14 via the Snapchat of the early 2000’s—AIM (TBT Y’ALL). And since then, not much has changed. Even as an adult, I’ve experienced disappointing jerks multiple times, who have now evolved beyond the “I don’t like you like that” messages to ghosting, or worse.
In my most recent episode of “Men and Social Media Driving Me Crazy,” I was in San Francisco when an old flame, whom I had not spoken to in months, texted me because he saw that I was in town. He suggested we get drinks and catch up, which I was down for. When it came time to hang, I followed up, and he responded with something along the lines of: “you know, I’m actually really busy and probably won’t have time to meet up after all.” I immediately deleted the conversation from my phone because I was so upset and unnecessarily crushed. Queue inevitable cycle of questioning and self-doubt: “Was I too eager in my responses? Did I not wait long enough to text back after he reached out?” Holy shit, the mind games that happen from behind a screen. Now, he probably didn’t intend to mess with my head, and maybe he WAS just genuinely busy, but the feelings were still what they were- shitty.
As mentioned earlier, I hadn’t heard from this guy in months. I had no clue he was living in SF and if he hadn’t been the one to reach out in the first place, I would have never known and not even given him a thought. But instead, for the rest of the trip, he was in the back of my mind and I couldn’t shake the bitterness over him not wanting to see me. This made me feel crazy and stupid.
If he knew he didn’t actually want to see me, why the fuck did he even text me? I really wanted to ask him this in an aggressive text back, but I knew that wouldn’t get me anywhere and I’d end up dissatisfied with some BS response. I felt discarded and sad that he didn’t want to catch up. I needed to remind myself that I am a cool human and am worth catching up with. Him not meeting me is no reflection on me. (Easier repeated 42 times in the shower than actually believed).
The whole situation was draining and unnecessary, and when my 13-year-old cousin reached out, bummed and recounting her own experience with boys and social media… it made me really sad to think that I could give her all the advice in the world but couldn’t reassure her that things would get any better. In 10 years she’d still be dealing with the same crap. What was I supposed to tell her? “Sorry, chick but buckle up because you’re in for a long ride.” How awful would that be to hear when trying to navigate your first heartbreak? Since I couldn’t just bombard her with hard truths, I tried to come up with something a little more encouraging.
So I sat. And I thought. And I realized that while 10 years later I’m still living in that sick comedy called Men and Social Media Driving Me Crazy, I feel much better equipped to handle situations now than I did at 13. Although I couldn’t tell my cousin that “chin up, it all gets better,” I was able to give her a little insight and share some things I wish someone told me at that age.
My main advice to her was to live her life for her, NOT for dumb boys- which is the hardest, hardest, hardest lesson I learned as I grew up with social media. This will likely be especially challenging for someone so young. In some respect, I think that young teens today have it much worse than I did just due to the sheer transparency of the tools at their disposal (who has viewed their stories, liked their content, not liked their content… etc). Because Instagram and Snapchat (and whatever other apps kids are using to interact nowadays) are non-negotiable elements of their social lives, there’s really no escape for them. I wasn’t engaged with social media until much later in my adolescence, and only recently has it become this black hole I get sucked into.
In my adult life I experienced a period of time where I’d post stories and check relentlessly to see if exes or crushes were watching them—and most of the time, they were. I’d go crazy posting stories I knew they’d see. Deep down I knew they’d never respond, or even really care, but there I was, trying so hard to make people who didn’t care about what I was doing think I was living this fabulous, exciting life. I got so wrapped up in convincing everyone on social media that my life was great, I lost focus on actually having a good time and doing things for me.
I reminded my cousin (and myself) that although social media and all the guys we interact with via these apps are never going to go away, it’s important to know when to take a step back. It’s been a long journey, pivoting my social presence from what I thought I wanted others to see to portraying my REAL life, but I’m finally in a place where I only post because it makes me happy. Slowly but surely I’ve weaned myself from compulsively checking the views on my stories, which has resulted in clarity and—at risk of sounding like a total yuppie—some serious inner peace. I’ve found that the best thing about growing up is learning how to enjoy things for myself and not letting anyone get in the way of that—and a big part of that is stepping back from the digital madness of social media.
Will my 13-year-old cousin see the value in my collected wisdom and be able to take my advice as she learns to navigate relationships and social media? Who knows. The bullshit will likely never change from teen years forward, but your attitudes and actions don’t have to remain the same. Social media is inescapable, but I can say with complete certainty that the weight of the social-media-mind-games will eventually melt away when you learn to live your life for YOU and not what some stupid boy *might* see on your Instagram while he’s jerking off in his bedroom.
Huge, huge, huge shout out to Sam Cillo for helping edit this post.