Before moving to South Carolina, when I first discovered a Navy wives page, I wanted to know everything: where to get a quality haircut in Charleston, how long my husband’s average work day would be and what to expect living on a military base. In awe of how quickly and thoroughly other spouses responded to my questions and messaged me introducing themselves, I felt confident I would quickly find new friends once I actually made the move.
But when I did end up in my new home state, my reality was quite different than what the friendliness on social media led me to believe it would be.
Most of the women who had reached out to me never followed up with making plans or were unreliable about keeping them. And meeting neighbors wasn’t even an option. I rarely see people walking outside or at the nearby dog park or even sitting on their porches. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a ghost town rather than a military base.
With 74 percent of online adults using some form of social networking site in 2014, it’s hard to deny the importance and impact social media has on our lives. For military spouses, it’s an especially significant tool, helping us form connections from across the country and allowing us to ask questions, sell old furniture and clothes, vent and sometimes meet new people.
Unfortunately, the whole meeting new people thing — and by meet, I mean face to face contact — can be seriously hindered by social media too.
When we’re using our precious time (American users ages 18-34 report spending 3.8 hours per day on social networks) glued to our computers or phones, reading other spouse’s posts or Facebook stalking them to see if they have friendship potential, we lose out on actually getting out there and having real life. We mss those in person encounters with the very people we so desperately want to connect with.
It’s easy to sit behind a bright screen and make indefinite plans to grab coffee or go see that new movie with a few clicks of the keyboard; it’s harder to follow through. Waving at someone walking by or initiating a conversation with a complete stranger may feel scary at first, but by avoiding those opportunities and retreating to Facebook, we’re just wasting time. It’s much more efficient to say hello than to wait for the next notification.
And while there is conflicting research on the subject, it’s hard not to believe that the constant urge to grab our phones or laptops and scroll through status updates doesn’t actually make us more isolated, lonely even. Sure, online connections can be rewarding, but can you really get to know someone through their latest Instagram post? Their last tweet? We only share what we want to online; in person, you get the real deal, the genuine emotions and flaws every person has. And knowing those flaws and quirks is how we form friendships, isn’t it?
I’m not implying that anyone should immediately deactivate their Facebook or delete their Twitter, because it is possible to make friends online. I met my best friend in South Carolina through a Facebook post, although we had about a 10 minute interaction before making solid plans to meet. But perhaps, it is best to shut the laptop every once in a while and instead start a goal to make one (or more!) legitimate, emotional connections with another human–rather than a social media persona.
In case you’re still doubtful of my plea to unglue your eyes from a screen and get out there, here are some added benefits of cutting off your addiction to social media:
1. You’ll feel more in tune with your emotions. Did something really, really good just happen? Like a promotion or getting approved for that beautiful apartment? Was your first thought to post about it on Facebook? Yep, I’ve been there, done that. We could all benefit from trying to enjoy, embrace and hold on to those moments of happiness instead of posting about them.
2. You won’t get Facebook envy, or struggle with the fear of missing out phenomenon. As military spouses, FOMO is even more prevalent in our social media interactions. I get seriously jealous when I see pictures of my closest girlfriends from back home out at the bar or read about family parties or weddings I had to miss out on. Let’s all remove ourselves from the interwebs and remind ourselves that our lives are pretty awesome; no need to compare them to anyone else’s.
3. You might feel closer to your spouse, family or even yourself. My phone recently got ran over by a car (I know, tragic), making me realize how attached I was to it. Instead of sitting in bed, scrolling through feeds, I am forced to do something else, like have a conversation with my husband, who I don’t get to see that often, read a good book or actually process my own thoughts and feelings from the day. Considering we have a “National Day of Unplugging” on March 7, it’s pretty obvious we all could use some time off the Book.
Hopefully it doesn’t take a car smashing your phone to pieces for you to realize it might be time to take a break from social media. And maybe you completely disagree with me and think your online connections are your closest ones. But I’m not budging on my stance: I think everyone could benefit from unplugging more than one day a year. Your happiness, ability to make friendships and overall wellbeing are worth it.