Social Media and My Need to Be Liked

You may not “like” me, but that doesn’t mean you hate me. Right?

This essay you’ve just started reading — what do you think about it so far? Do you like it, or do you “Like” it? Would you Forward it or Share it? Might you go so far as to Recommend it? In our world of click-based ego, I’m as guilty as the next poster — I mean, person — when it comes to obsessively checking for responses to something I post. Even with my barely-there online presence, I find myself jones-ing for the delicious dopamine rush that follows a friendly comment or a kindly share. Although I irritate the heck out myself in the process, I refresh my social media pages hoping for smiley faces and thumbs-up emoticons from obliging friends and family. If I get some positive feedback from a stranger, well, my self-worth blasts off like a rocket ship on a mission to Mars.

When nothing happens — when my post is un-shared or un-liked (not the same thing as disliked, mind you) or the comments section remains blank — my fragile little ego goes fetal. Curled up. Protective. Downright defensive, frankly. Screw you, my ego screams to absolutely no one but myself. I never cared what you think, anyway . . .

My ego is a liar.

Of course I care. Not as much as our kids and other digital natives whose self-esteem is tied directly to online approval but enough to feel just a teensy bit deflated when my ingenious words, hilarious pet video or some otherwise brilliant insight is completely ignored. Considering how little time I actually spend posting, sharing and liking in the first place, I’m the first to admit my sensitivity about this is really, really dumb.

Inanity aside, this whole business of recommendations has been on my mind because I recently made a good old-fashioned in-person referral. You know, the kind of exchange that happens when a friend says, My hairdresser is booked solid for the next two months and you say, I have the best hairdresser ever! When you see your pal a week later, it’s 75 degrees and sunny but she’s wearing a black beanie pulled low down over her forehead with her hair tucked up so far inside her hat there’s not a stray strand in sight.

Crap.

Turns out orange is not the new blonde.

I’ve been on the receiving end of a referral-gone-bad, too. A few years back, a trusted friend recommended her house painter during our kitchen renovation. Said painter went after my once mirror-smooth kitchen cabinets with a rough, nubby roller. It cost a whole heap of time and money to hire someone else to fix the problem.

It’s hard to know why a hairdresser, therapist, movie, restaurant or contractor is a perfect fit for one person and is disaster for someone else. Unfortunately, it’s also impossible to predict. Despite my less-than-perfect track record, I still offer recommendations, but these days I’ve taken to qualifying any endorsement: “I’m definitely not saying this will work for you, but in my personal experience …” My referral may come across as lukewarm, but at least I don’t feel quite as responsible when a friend’s hair color has shades of citrus.

Maybe Facebook should update its Reaction emoticons once again. I’d love to select a “Disclaimer” face, an expression that suggests a subtle shrug or somehow conveys, “IMHO” or, more specifically, “If you waste precious minutes of your life reading or watching something just because I did, don’t blame me.”

Like this idea? You know what to do.


Willow Older is a nationally and internationally published writer and a long-time professional editor. She lives in Northern California where she runs her own editorial services business and publishes a weekly newsletter called Newsy!.

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