We Have to Stop Blaming Social Media for Everything, Starting With Our Relationships

If you ask Google (and editors who have a penchant for fatalistic clickbait) social media is the incarnation of the devil. Type “social media to blame” into the Googles and a few minutes of reading headlines will be enough to make you storm Facebook HQ… armed with a knife. Yes, social media is apparently to blame for an increase in knife crimes, murders, the worsening mental health of teenagers, the rise of populism, loneliness, low self-esteem, violence, self-harm, eating disorders and body dysmorphia, fake news, political bias and polarization, the sharp rise of STD’s, the failing economy in Turkey, insincere consumer experiences, the UK riots, teen suicide, fad diets, narcissism, your inability to find gainful employment, diminishing interest in awards shows, and lack of interest in sex. To name, um, a few?

Correlation does not imply causation.

I noticed this video being shared amongst many of my friends on Facebook and it struck a nerve. Steve Bartlett jumps right into it: “According to dating experts and marriage counselors, the one thing that has killed the most relationships this year is this…” Social media.

His supporting points:

Point Number One: Dating apps like Tinder exist now, with countless seemingly perfect potential partners available at our fingertips and just around the corner. This causes a “Thank you, next!” mentality that makes us more likely to move on than work through issues that come up in even the most solid partnerships.

Point Number Two: We don’t see the realities and difficulties of real relationships depicted on social media, only the celebrations, highlights, and adventures. This causes us to be disappointed when the relationships we have are not perfect,  so we cycle over to Point Number 1 and swipe away the tears.

It’s here that he really finishes his opening sentence. “According to dating experts and marriage counselors, the one thing that has killed the most relationships this year is this… unmet expectations.” Wait, I thought you said it was social media, Steve? It sounds to me like it’s not actually dating experts and marriage counselors that are blaming social media, it’s Steve. “And the problem is, social media is making our expectations unrealistic.”

The difference between what you expect and what you get equals your level of satisfaction or frustration. These unmet, unrealistic expectations in a new social media world where we live under a false illusion of choice has meant that people are now dipping out of perfectly good relationships in search of that fairytale relationship that doesn’t actually exist and they will never find it. Social media has made perfect to look normal and therefore good has become disposable.

Here’s what I have to say to Steve, and to everyone else posting this irrational, even irresponsible clickbait: Take responsibility for your actions. All of you. Starting with the content you create. Because the very point you’re making about social media, in theory, you are actively participating in propagating yourselves. You have a responsibility as a content creator to consider the message you’re sending when you write blog posts and make videos that enable your audience. You have a responsibility to encourage your audience to take responsibility. People need to hold themselves accountable for their circumstances and when you put out a video blaming social media for where things are broken it’s obtuse. Relationships are broken because people are broken. That’s human. That’s okay!

We’re told that love should be a fairytale but ironically fairytales might just be the enemy of love.

I wonder if Steve realizes that fairytales have always sent this unrealistic message. Madame d’Aulnoy invented the term Conte de fée, or fairy tale, in the late 17th century. Those stories made little girls and little boys think they should be princesses that need to be saved and princes that will do the impossible while being able to offer their beloved a kingdom few possess. You’re right about one thing though: 100 years ago, Steve, things were completely different. It was 1918. Gender inequality was prevalent. Women were not legally permitted to obtain a court order against a violent husband. They were not allowed to work or vote. They were not legally allowed to file for divorce in the 19th century. Is this really a reasonable comparison? Fast forward several decades, keeping up with the Joneses was a thing. Women lacked the ability to be entirely independent, keeping them trapped in unhappy marriages. Men would wear a scarlet letter of failure if they wanted to end their marriages. They were seen as abandoning their helpless wives, so they stayed. They cheated. Both genders! And the men, they sent their wives “to the moon, Alice”. Was this really a better time for relationships?

We have always had societal influences. Pop culture influences like TV shows and rom-com’s have been around for decades, telling these false stories long before social media was ubiquitous. We have always had a facade. We have always only shown our friends, neighbors, and colleagues the highlight reel. The fairytale mentality is nothing new. Social media only amplifies the things that already exist within ourselves and within our society. So we should be blaming ourselves, not the medium within which the message is delivered.

People who are struggling with their relationships, mental health issues, self-image concerns and the like should be looking internally, not externally. The raw truth is that it is not social media that causes these breakdowns. Though the mediums have changed over the years the circumstances remain the same. 100 years ago we might not have had Tinder or Facebook, but “comparison is the thief of joy” has always been a truth. In fact, even more so in the past than today, the pressure to maintain appearances was prevalent.

What is it you propose then, Steve? How can we rectify this imbalance on social media that deludes us all into unrealistic expectations that our lives should be like our Facebook stream? Shall we plaster our personal, intimate relationship dramas on social media so that there’s a more balanced representation? That is a Bad Idea™. That will most certainly not help couples stay together. I know the people I am friends with on social media and I know their struggles and victories because they share them with me in real life, through dialogue. That’s what friendship is. I choose to view the things celebrated on social media as reasons to keep moving forward, reminders that in a “social media world” filled with all of the digital noise and dating apps there are people out there who are still building something profound, and sometimes it even works out for the long haul.

Once you have something, something worthwhile, in 2018 it takes an even stronger person to realize that. To not take it for granted. And to work hard to keep it.

This is where the expectations part is the most important. I think if we have to blame something, how about instead of blaming social media or pop culture or fairytales for the unrealistic expectations that have always been a presence, why not blame religion and government? These two things propagate a broken model that is statistically proven to not work. This is a fact. What we should be doing as a society is understanding the context behind data such as increasing divorce rates. Did they skyrocket because we are failing at building relationships because Tinder is on our phones now or did they skyrocket because we were empowered finally to leave toxic, miserable, abusive situations to go find the right partner for ourselves?

We should be examining whether or not the absurd boundaries set by religion and government about things like monogamy, for example, are reasonable. We are not biologically programmed to partner for life, so if we are going to try to do that “in 2018” we need to be shifting “our expectations” towards collaborating with our partners about what those expectations should look like and what a partnership in these modern times really means. Genuine love, according to science and psychology, is built over time, not in the year before a couple gets engaged. Those expectations are built over time, too. We should be learning to be malleable with each other while maintaining our personal values rather than adopting the values of previous generations that lived in a societal context that is entirely different and not a sound example of success.

It’s my personal opinion that a life partner is your best friend along the journey. That we are brought together by attraction. First, that attraction is physical, but ultimately the attraction should also grow to be one that is about the way their mind works, the way they approach their goals, what their chosen path is, whether or not they are compatible with you on a deeper level, a sexual level, a philosophical level. Do they share the same outlook about what a life partnership entails? Do they realize they will fall in and out of love with you over years, decades, countless times and will they remain your partner as this inevitably happens? Yes if you are there for reasons that have nothing to do with fairy tales. Are they working on personal growth, being honest with themselves about who they are and who they aren’t? Are they on a lifelong journey of learning and becoming? Maybe some people think this outlook lacks in romance but I disagree. Building a home together, traveling together, sharing in financial goals, all while empowering each other along the way, driven by deep friendship and deep love to bring out the best in that person whether you are giddy with fleeting chemicals that wax and wane or not… That is a different kind of romance that has nothing to do with princesses and princes and has everything to do with mature love.

I encourage people to look at where they are to blame for their role in the way our society is shifting rather than blame the medium that is only putting volume on a tune that we have all participated in orchestrating. Starting with you, Steve.

I just started a new blog for a book I’m writing, Any Memes Necessary. I invite you to check it out and come along with me as I take the leap into a new project! Thank you for your ongoing support.