Last weekend, I attended a wedding. A number of guests were people to whom I haven’t spoken in months or even years, for no reason other than the fact that our daily lives don’t intersect. As I anticipated the reunion, I imagined a Romy and Michele-style experience in which conversations would begin with, “What have you been up to since 2010?”
And I was nervously excited about that.
But these conversations took an unexpected path. I was greeted with opening lines like, “You were all over the place this week!” and “What was that dinner you made?” or “I love that book you’re reading.”
They were knowing remarks, as if we had shared those experiences together. The tone was familiar, though not in the “it feels like no time has passed,” sort of way. My expectation of reunion-type conversation was grossly inaccurate.
I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was — these questions all stemmed from recent instagrams or blog articles I’ve shared. They were undeniable snapshots from current events in my life. Despite this obvious justification, something simply didn’t feel right about the conception of these conversations, and in the moment, I couldn’t understand why. For whatever reason, they weren’t topics I would have chosen to lead with. Still, the company — and the conversations in themselves — were delightful.
Sunday after the wedding, I returned to my apartment for the first time in a week. I passed my roommate on my way in.
“Hi! Was this weekend one of the weddings?” She asked.
“Yes! It was a great time.”
“And were you gone during the week too? I wasn’t sure.”
It sometimes happens that we don’t cross paths during the work week, even when we are both in town. When my roommate asked the question, the peculiar feeling I had with those wedding greetings suddenly returned.
“Yeah, I was in Ohio. I’ll tell you all about it, and I want to hear about your week too.”
How ironic that I had gone dark on this person who is deeply entrenched in my daily life, while those who follow from afar seemingly had not missed a beat. The difference between her and them? She doesn’t have instagram.
We can all agree and accept that social media presents a curated version of our life experiences. We know that there is more behind what we filter out. In fact, I see my social presence as a completely different entity from my living and breathing one. My real-life story intentionally has different chapters than the ones I share online. And people in my day-to-day world know that.
But for geographically and figuratively distant friends, what they see is the only — and entire — story.
This is what caught me off guard at the wedding.
It has me wondering whether social media is not just presenting a curated version of our life experiences, but also creating a curated version of our reality. The fleeting, caption-worthy moments we share for Likes are the ones people (setting aside close friends) know us for. They serve as a jumping-off point for our in-person conversation. It is what they ask about, and what we tell them about.
Whether they intend to or not, others write the story of our lives, and their perceptions of them, by what we share. And we do the same to them. We overlook the existence, let alone the significance, of people’s unshared moments.
In most cases, that’s where the real story lies.
While I initially struggled with this truism, I’ve decided that this is the status of social media. There’s nothing we can do about it, whether we like it or not. We can, however, remind ourselves that people have unshared stories. We can account for this by leaving blank pages in the life stories we craft for them. And we can encourage them to tell these stories, should they desire.
Monday evening, my roommate and I ate dinner together at home. We regaled one another with the goings-on in our lives, taking care to mention what we deemed meaningful. Perhaps what made the conversation most captivating was that none of it could be found in a caption. We established the filters of our stories. Not social media.
And that feeling of connection was anything but fleeting.