Loving in Real Life
I love social media and I use it daily. But it tricks me into feeling like I have connected with other people when I really haven’t. And it does tis to all of us…We check Facebook or Instagram and that hungry growl for connection in our soul feels slightly appeased when, in reality, we are as underfed spiritually and relationally as we would be if we chewed a piece of gum for nourishment. We haven’t given anything beyond the click of a mouse, and we haven’t had to sacrifice any other activities to do it.
From Chapter 1: Calls from the Bathroom: Building an Authentic Foundation
In 2020, a few of my closest friends got really mad at me for some things I posted on social media. The first time was during the protests following the murder George Floyd, and the second was after January 6. About .01% of my subscribers unsubscribed, and I lost a handful of Instagram followers. Big whop. But upsetting my girlfriends – hurting their feelings -- distressed me.
Like Sam I am, I meant what I said and I said what I meant. But on Instagram, I said it like no one I loved disagreed and was listening.
I’ll be honest. It felt amazing at the time – to write the unvarnished truth from my head. I was rewarded by a lot of “Amen’s,” fire emojis, and private messages telling me how brave I was. I was building a little online community of like-minded people that helped me feel less despair.
But people who loved me and were afraid to get on the phone with me because of how angry I sounded – people with whom I have traveled; people for whom I’ve stood at hospital beds and gravesides; people who called me first when they found out they were pregnant, or when they got a raise; people whose kitchens I know almost as well as my own.
I let my online life affect my real life. And I don’t think I changed one person’s mind.
As I’ve talked with women from all sides of the political spectrum at speaking engagements, I learned that for the last three years, whatever side you were on, you felt like almost everyone else was against you. So, we looked for “our people” online. And we found them. But we lost some of our real people in the meantime.
My book was published nine months before California went under a shelter-in-place order. Bummer for me, when the first chapter contained a section called “Making Friends in the Flesh.” Post Covid-trauma, I’m more convinced than ever that we need to spend less time and energy online, and much more time with people in person, strengthening our bonds and learning how to support and encourage one another.
Here are some of the reasons:
We don’t get the full stress-reducing benefits of bonding with other humans if we aren’t with them in person. Oxytocin, nicknamed “the cuddle hormone,” is released through loving physical contact, but also when we have eye contact with others. “Oxytocin is shown in some research to lower stress and anxiety. Oxytocin has the power to regulate our emotional responses and pro-social behaviors, including trust, empathy, gazing, positive memories, processing of bonding cues, and positive communication.” (source: https://www.psycom.net/oxytocin) In other words, the more time we spend with safe people, the more we bond with them, and that bond reduces stress – and self-perpetuates our social skills.
Social media dos the exact opposite of in-person bonding: its use is linked to heightened levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and dopamine addiction. We feel anxiety in between hits of dopamine, which are produced by “likes.” Studies show that the more outraged we are in posts, the more judgmental, the more clicks we are likely to get! So social media literally rewards us for being contentious, which decreases our social skills.
Love takes sacrifice – especially of time. I have to be willing to give up something else in order to spend my Saturday morning with you. And that makes you feel prioritized and important. I love a clean house and an empty laundry basket, but they don’t love me back when the chips are down. I have to let some of my to-do list go so I can see my friends, because the quality of my relationships determines my satisfaction with my life.
On social media, we tell people what we like and think, but we don’t actually show them what we are like to be around. As honest as we can be online, we can never be three-dimensionally authentic, so we can never be fully known. And we stay lonely.
It’s much harder to demonize someone that you spend time with regularly. You might not like someone’s political beliefs, but if you see how nice they are to their neighbors, how patient with the server at the restaurant, how passionate they are about their work, how good a listener to you? Then we stop seeing people as a sum of their opinions, and more as what they are – flawed people, made in the image of God.
We don’t express ourselves as gently online or even on the phone, as we would if we can look into someone’s eyes. Anonymity in communication is no good, my dudes. I will say things on the phone that I’m too scared to say to your face – and that’s not a positive.
I know I’m not saying anything brand new to any of you. But it needs to be said. Over and over again. Because in 2020, we realized how important our relationships were to us, but as a culture, we haven't made more time for them, despite our vows to slow down and savor the simple life. We are, in fact, in the midst of a loneliness epidemic.
And I believe, as Jesus modeled, that loving locally and having a group of friends with diverse beliefs and interests is the key to changing the world.
Friendship Refresher Challenge: Call a friend this week and make plans to be together in person. Don't be a perfectionist about it! You can grab coffee on a lunch break, or an early dinner weeknight after work. Yes, you will have to let something go to make this happen, but you'll both agree that it's worth it. Also, take a picture together! You'll be so happy to look back on these someday.