Vulnerability in the Age of Social Media
‘For all our differences, we are so much the same.’
I was terrified. My thumb lingered over the mousepad, the cursor poised over that half-inch, royal blue Facebook rectangle practically screaming at me, “Post!”
I’d already given my former-husband-and-writing-partner an opportunity to read my declaration that we had split, and that we were trying to make sense of our lives as co-parents. That we are a different kind of family than either of us ever envisioned, but a family nevertheless. It was a “press release” for lack of a better description. The need for such a thing is unique to this age. After all, I’m not famous. But now there are friends and “friends.” “Followers.” How do you tell everyone who thinks they know you…that they don’t? Waiting for my ex to give the post his literal thumbs up had been pretty nerve wracking. I hadn’t anticipated how anxious I’d feel anticipating virtual thumbs ups. Or none.
For almost two years since our separation, my Facebook posts and my tweets, made no mention of the Single Biggest Thing actually happening in my life. I still posted photos of us as a family. I still tagged my ex. Only those who were really paying attention might have noticed that my profile picture was just my daughter and me now, and that I had covertly changed my relationship status from “married” to “I’m not answering that question.”
But keeping up that appearance felt like perpetuating a lie based on fear of judgment. Too many in my real-life inner circle had heard my news and blurted, “Divorce is the easy way out.” For the record: just no. In life, the easy way is always stasis. Staying in an unhappy relationship for years or a lifetime, fearing the unknown. If you haven’t gotten or been part of a divorce, you will never understand the physical and emotional Herculean effort. There is nothing easy about it.
Coming out felt like the final trial in my mythological journey. Let the judgment come. I would be 100% me, in my real and virtual lives. Owning my mistakes and triumphs. My choices, all.
I clicked the little blue rectangle.
I’m not gonna lie. I’d love to say that I was the cool hero I aspire to be, posting, and walking away as I lit a proverbial match, confidently letting the motherf*cker burn. But I didn’t. I kept checking. And checking.
And something heartwarming happened. Hundreds of people commented, voicing their support of us, all of us, and our decision. Some old friends, who I had barely spoken to in years, had been secretly in the middle of finalizing divorces and direct messaged me, asking for advice, offering a hand to hold. Others who were going through their own life battles were inspired to post about them. So they did. In an age of isolation, we all felt loved, supported, and part of a community.
A couple months later, I tweeted about depression and anxiety and my great appreciation for Lexapro, which had given me relief from both (now it’s Prozac). Another deluge of positive responses, many from people fighting off their own mental health demons. It was life-affirming. For all of us.
In both cases, I didn’t receive a single negative reply or comment. Miraculous. A testament to the human condition to connect. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been the victim of trolls. (I.e.: when my #womancard tweet made the New York Times last year. Ah, the good old days when I was sure the bad guys would lose). But my experience on social media has been much more positive than negative.
We are social creatures. We come into the world relying on others. We leave it the same way. Here’s the thing. There’s a lot of in between. And we need each other then, too.
In the 21st century, we live in little boxes and drive little boxes and work in little boxes within little boxes. It is more important than ever that we find new ways to connect — even if that means using the little boxes we hold in our hands all day to do it. We can continue to stumble through our lives using social media as a mask to pretend our lives are perfect. Or to troll the Internet underbelly. To carefully craft personas. To be someone that we’re not. Or we can use it as its name declares: social media.
A synonym for “social” is “community,” itself defined by Google as “A feeling of fellowship with others.”
We cannot feel genuine fellowship if we aren’t real. Being real means vulnerability, sharing the parts of ourselves of which we are most ashamed. Shame is an emotion that comes from doing or thinking something we fear is unacceptable and will result in being shunned by the community. When someone accepts unacceptable parts of us, it brings us, all of us, ever closer.
I find tremendous hope in social media. On a macro level, in its ability to help us organize. On a micro level, in the elation we feel collectively when stories of survival go viral. In the pain we experience together when a beloved figure dies, or when grave injustices are committed. For all our differences, we are so much the same. And we cannot truly connect with each other if we aren’t vulnerable. Now more than ever, that connection is imperative. I believe it’s the secret to overcoming everything that lies ahead. In your life. In mine. In the country. And the world.
Dara Resnik is a former New Yorker, writer for Studio 60, Pushing Daisies, Mistresses, Castle, Jane the Virgin, Shooter and now I Love Dick on Amazon Prime May 12.