Everybody’s doing it: A short treatise on social “tugs”

And just like that, many of my close female friends are pregnant.

It happened all at once. Except of course, that it didn’t. Some were likely trying for months. Some got lucky on the first try. Some weren’t really “trying” at all. (And by the way, some probably still are.)

But there’s something about the cluster effect of it all that makes it stand out more to me. Last year, I had one close friend with children. This year, the number of pregnant friends in my life is close to hitting double-digits. This puts a rather significant percentage of people I see regularly in a new zone or phase that I am not yet a part of.

It’s not quite peer pressure, but it does introduce a “social tug” of sorts. When lots of people that you are close with suddenly decide to do a thing, it’s way easier to attribute that as validation that you should, too. And no matter what that thing is, it’s hard to completely silence that teensie voice inside your head that’s saying things like this:

If everybody is doing it, shouldn’t you be, too? If you don’t do it now, won’t you miss out? Don’t you want to be a part of the group? Do you want to fall behind?

This of course is hardly the first time in my life I’ve experienced this type of thing. I feel social tugs around my decision-making all the time. Whether it’s deciding where to live, how to vote, what jobs to take, or when to get married, there does seem to be a constant backburner task in our brain that’s scanning the “group norm.” It’s like our brains are asking: “What’s the average state, and where do you fall on that barometer?” about everything we do. You think it’s just coincidence that we were invited to 10 weddings in one calendar year?

It’s clearly an evolutionary advantage for us to behave this way. Our bodies and our brains want us to stay connected to our tribe — and so we seek out data in those around us to help us fit in and become a part of the collective.

Part of it is the desire to maintain that sense of community. We want to stay connected, and rifts in life events could cause rifts in friendships. The other piece, of course, is comparison: If people like me are doing this thing, what does it say about me and my identify if I fail to do that thing? Questions like these can be hard to answer. (And sometimes, it’s easier — though not always encouraged — to fail to really challenge yourself and ask.)

But the last piece of it is perhaps a bit more nuanced. To acknowledge a life change is to acknowledge our progression toward a new life cycle stage, and even to recognize our own mortality. In a technologically obsessed society, it’s easier than ever to deny this or instead to simply imagine that we’ll all live forever and our bodies will continue on in a future artificial intelligence world. But let’s be real: It’s not that likely.

And so we have social “tugs” to keep us grounded and to remind us how we connect and grow together.

Of course this data is extreme in a brand new way due to things like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Now, we have instantaneous notifications whenever somebody we know experiences a new life events, gets a promotion at work, or travels somewhere cool. You might think of these social media network effects as simply online peer pressure on steroids. When we know everything that everyone else is doing, our brains are on constant FOMO (that’s “fear of missing out”) alert. And frankly, it can be exhausting.

Some social tugs are better than others. And no tug should be treated as a 100% decision-making tool for anyone. But I do think that, in any social circle and community, it’s important to pay attention to how much our choices and aspirations are affected by external, social tugs.

In the end, the choice is yours. So make sure the decision belongs to you.