It's Valentine's Day: the day of flowers, candy, and candlelit dinners, that is, for those fortunate enough to be part of a happy couple. For others, Valentine's Day can bring on a few twinges—of loneliness, pain, envy, resentment, or some combination thereof.
But things have changed a little in recent years. I don't mean that lonely people no longer feel those twinges. What I mean is that now they get opportunities to feel them all year round.
An article in The Washington Post talks about the concept of "Facebook envy," that feeling that can ambush a person when scrolling through status updates and seeing happy announcements or reflections. According to reporter Ian Shapira, this is a rapidly growing phenomenon.
There's no shortage of people who feel pain while scrolling through Facebook: Chronically single people may envy friends' wedding pictures, for instance, and those who've lost a spouse can feel overwhelmed by friends' wedding anniversary announcements. Infertile couples say they protect themselves by hiding most, if not all, Facebook posts from pregnant friends who can't resist hitting the site's "Share" button to show off, say, the latest in maternity ware.
Staffers at Shady Grove Fertility, a large provider of in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments in Montgomery County, said more and more patients talk about Facebook envy during consultations ….
At the McLean-based National Infertility Association, executive director Barbara Collura said many couples cannot fathom why friends post so frequently about their pregnancies. "What you're hearing in the infertile world about their pregnant friends on Facebook is: 'My God, they're obsessed. There's no filter.' "
Single people can feel much the same way while seeing page after page of variations on "Today is Husband Day! If you have a wonderful husband (or wife, or son, or daughter) like me, paste this into your Facebook status!" (I've always wondered what would happen if I posted, "I have no husband, son, or daughter! If you don't either, paste this into your Facebook status!") I know of at least one single woman who, like some of the people in the Post article, had to stop spending so much time on Facebook because she could no longer face a constant stream of, "My husband is awesome, and our house is awesome, and we love our lives!"
It's easy to put all the blame for this situation on technology. When we didn't have a way of keeping in constant touch with so many people, feelings like this didn't hit us so often and were easier to manage. Bragging Christmas letters came only once a year, and one could always throw out the especially fulsome ones after a glance or two. Or one can always blame the happy couples themselves for not being more careful to "filter" themselves a little.
But I have to say that reading that Post article forced me to face up to my responsibility for my own feelings. I started to feel a little uncomfortable as I read how some couples felt guilty about announcing their pregnancies, because they knew many of their friends would feel bad. Is it really fair for us who haven't yet been blessed with marriages or children to hold our friends hostage to our own hurt feelings? Why should people with great news feel like they have to tiptoe through a minefield to share it?
I'm pretty sure I will never enjoy the "Husband Day" status updates. But as I've thought all this through, I've decided to discipline myself to avoid resentment and envy as much as I can. As justifiable as those emotions may seem to us, there's a reason that Scripture warns us against envy and covetousness. Long before Facebook, the God who made us and loves us knew that those feelings could consume us if we let them. I may not be where I thought I'd be at this point, but I don't want to live my life eaten up by bitterness, unable to bear the thought of anyone else having a happy relationship.
That's why, instead of dwelling on what I don't have this year, I want to concentrate on my gratitude for all the love I do have: the love of God, of family, and of friends. This Valentine's Day, I'll send cards to my godchildren, enjoy a nice meal with my parents, and do my best to "rejoice with those who rejoice," as Paul admonishes us in Romans 12.
And maybe take just a short vacation from Facebook.
Gina Dalfonzo is editor of BreakPoint.org and Dickensblog. She wrote "The Good Christian Girl: A Fable" and "God Loves a Good Romance" for CT online, and "What Are Wedding Vows For, Anyway?" "Why Sex Ruins TV Romances," and "Don't Think Pink" for Her.meneutics.