I've been really lucky. I have parents who have always told me that just because everyone else is doing it, does not mean that I have to do it too. I have a husband who has been willing to cast aside any pre-conceived notions he had about love and sex and marriage and relationships. I have a girlfriend who has let go of any socially contrived expectations in the name of being happy by following her own path instead of a path that others have prescribed for her. But last night, something happened.
You see, although I have been lucky to be surrounded by people who get the whole "do what works for you, not what others do" thing, we are not immune to outside influences. Not at all. We—myself, my friends, family, and significant others—get that pang every once in a while. That "if everyone else is doing it, maybe I should be doing it too" feeling that creeps into your stomach. It might be a movie or an article or even just a conversation. Last night, it was a website.
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My girlfriend was browsing Facebook and found herself "face to face" with friends from her childhood and from college, all with wives or husbands, and babies and houses. And when we went to bed later, she cried.
"Sometimes, I just want to be normal too," she said to me with sad, green eyes. "I want to put up pictures like that. I don't want to have to explain myself. I don't want to worry about what other people think."
It made me sad. Really sad. Here was this incredibly strong, intelligent woman who was feeling pressured by these images of supposed normalcy and correctness. She felt bombarded by messages that seemed to be about the "right" way to do things and made her feel as if all of the love and happiness we have was, in that very instant, wrong. It's hard not to feel that way when the conventions that everyone accepts are staring you in the face, taunting you. "You don't have a husband. You don't have a baby. Your girlfriend's married. You should be ashamed. You're doing it wrong," their happy pictures and messages seem to say.
But, I reminded her, that that's not at all what they are saying. They are saying, "I want to share my life and happiness with you. Won't you share yours with me?" They are saying, "This is how I'm making this 'life' thing work for me. How are you navigating it?" They are reaching out across cyberspace for approval and acceptance and a feeling of connection. Not to mention that there's no way of knowing whether their shiny Facebook façade is just that: a façade, hiding lonely marriages and difficult pregnancies and failed careers. We can never really know what is going on in other people's lives.
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