2013 was a rough year. I moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles. I walked away from the thriving business I’d helped to build. And I closed the door on my marriage. Today, professional contacts still invite me to Bay Area events and are surprised to learn that I haven’t lived there in almost three years. New colleagues express shock when I name myself as the co-founder of a well-known online media property. And casual acquaintances meet with disbelief the revelation not only that I’m divorced, but that I was ever married in the first place.
Before the rise of social media, I would not have expected anyone but my closest friends to know the intimate details of my life. However, as we increasingly broadcast our daily minutiae to an ever-growing network of loosely connected followers, it isn’t unreasonable to assume that our hairdresser can describe what we ate for breakfast before we even sit down in her chair. Take into further account the fact that since 2008 I’ve acquired a small degree of internet recognition through my blog, and it seems odd indeed that these pivotal points of my personal history remain shrouded.
Yet a look back at my Instagram feed from that tumultuous time reveals nothing of my divorce, my career upheaval, or the emotional havoc that came with both. The image gallery reads more like a modern homemaker’s almanac – roses, latte art, thrift store sprees – than the visual diary of a young woman mourning the passing of life as she knew it. There’s no mention of the midnight junk food binges or the crying jags on the bathroom floor, the bounced checks or the rejected credit applications. Given the shiny veneer I lacquered over my struggles, it’s no wonder that few beyond my intimate circle know I was a hot mess for the better part of two years.
It’s possible to scroll back to those photos and lump them with an issue that has garnered much attention lately: the concerns over FOMO (‘fear of missing out’) and its accompanying pressure to project a flawless online image that defies reality. And indeed, I’m the first to admit that plenty of those 'latte-grams' stemmed from the desire to hide my mess with a filtered facade. However, with hindsight I’ve determined that this desire arose less from a place of outward comparison than from a deep sense of self-preservation. More than I wanted likes and comments, I craved the healing peace of privacy.
Plainly put, I wasn’t ready to tell my story. Nor was it exclusively mine to tell. The recently altered relationships were too tenuous, the just-cut ties too raw. So I retreated behind the sheltering wall of social media. I drew pleasure from snapping sunny photos and giving them pithy captions uncoloured by my inner shadows. Meanwhile, I dwelt in my loveless, jobless present, reflecting on my role in the past hurt and drama, and on my vision for a kinder, calmer future. My online restraint represented an expression of the care and respect that I’d previously denied my marriage, my business partners, and myself; and my determination to maintain an upbeat social media presence inspired a continual quest for reasons to smile. I emerged from this contemplative time anchored as I hadn’t been before in my values, my responsibilities, and my intention to leave a positive legacy on the long memory of the internet.
In our current cultural obsession with buzzwords like ‘authenticity’ and ‘transparency', we forget that there’s a time and a place for airing our grief – and that the internet isn’t always it. While public vulnerability can indeed dilute the isolating effects of FOMO by grounding us in common experience, an equally solid foundation awaits us when we remove our hearts from our sleeves and hold them quietly, tenderly, to our chests. My Instagram feed from those difficult years stands not in defiance of reality but rather in support of a powerful truth: that even through a veil of pain and confusion, we can choose to seek and share a moment of beauty. And that when we’re wandering lost in the dark, even roses and latte art can be a radiant light at the end of the tunnel.
Enjoyed this essay? Buy available issues of Offscreen for more thought-provoking reading material in beautiful print.