Sharing is caring?

Over the past few months I’ve been taking a bit of a step back from social media use. I haven’t quit altogether, but I’ve been quieter. If you follow me, you may have noticed. In all likelihood you haven’t noticed at all. I am not offended. That’s how it goes. We scroll, press like and move on without really engaging, noticing or absorbing.

I think my retreat has been partly due to my viewing being dictated too much by the algorithms and advertisers, but it is mainly because life events have led me to turn inwards and engaging with the outside world, even friends and family, has felt too daunting and draining.

I have….stuff going on. Stuff with me and my health and stuff with my older child. Together it is a lot of stuff. In a way it’s been going on for years but it is sort of coming to a head now.

So what do you do when you have something big going on in your life but you are kind of a private person? What do you do when your main form of interaction with people apart from family and close friends is via social media?

It’s not like an announcement such as “hey I have a new job!” or “aww, my goldfish died 😦 ” it’s more that whole new dimensions have been added into my life now, that affects all aspects of my life, likely for the rest of my life.

I’m part of that generation (not sure if we have a name – after Gen X but before Millennials?) we are comfortable using technology, the internet, social media etc having used it most of our adult lives but we didn’t grow up with it. I’m old enough that it feels weird to make personal public disclosures about sort of private matters on those kind of platforms. Particularly when some of the stuff concerns my child. I’m still reluctant to put stuff out there like that. It sort of feels too big and too small at the same time.

I want to tell everyone, because it impacts everything. I can’t answer a simple “how’s things?” without thinking, “well…do you really want to know?” I might be a private person, but I’m an open one, I hope an honest one. Yet I’m not sure I’m ready to have those inevitable conversations, deal with the questions, the sympathy. That would make it real and perhaps I’m somewhat in denial. Perhaps I’m not prepared to deal with the emotions that would bring out.

Sharing personal updates on social media can be a valuable exercise. It can put you in touch with others who have been through the same experience. It can also have a downside of feeding you false, misleading or biased information. When it comes to medical matters that’s something to be extremely wary of.

There have been many times over the years that my current stuff has been active where I’ve wanted to put some feelers out there to say, “hey I’m going through this… anyone else?” I’m sure that if I had done so, many people would have responded with helpful and probably some unhelpful advice. We never want to feel like we are going through anything alone. If my immediate friends and family aren’t in the same position as me it’s quite likely that our wider network will have someone who has trodden this path before and can be of some solace and guidance.

I have found myself drafting, redrafting and discarding several posts, ultimately deciding against pressing send because either a) it would take too long to explain or b) I would end up being cryptic and not really saying anything.

Generally I think social media is a really useful tool I use Facebook primarily to keep in touch with people whose emails and phone numbers I no longer have. It allows me to share photographs and updates with friends and family all over the world. Most of my kids’ activities have closed parents groups on Facebook for news, updates and info. I was later to the party with Instagram but I enjoy sharing the odd photograph and I find it a generally more relaxed place to be, although I have fewer contacts there than anywhere else. Twitter – well everyone’s talking about Twitter these days. I started using it many moons ago to chat with people from the music scene, especially other fans of the smaller bands that I liked. I was able to connect with like minded fans and band members themselves from time to time. For a long time for me, it was a place to chat to a small group of people, most of whom I hadn’t met (although over the years I have met up with quite a few) in quite a closed circle. Over time it evolved to be a place where I would connect with people I knew in real life and people I met along the way. As the circle expanded it became less like a place for conversation and more like, well Facebook, with status updates and likes rather than real connections. Through Twitter I have been able to have exchanges with not only members of bands that I follow but a few random celebs as well who have noticed or responded to my tweets. I loved that democratising, accessible aspect of it. When I changed careers about 3 or 4 years ago, I shifted to using it primarily as a work tool. It has proven to be a fantastic networking platform. It has provided me with great contacts, networking, research findings and sharing of good practice for my work and beyond. Recently I put out a request for info on an essay topic I was considering and was overwhelmed with the amount of responses I received, including suggestions of papers to read, academics to follow, and offers to chat and discuss. These days, well who knows, along with many others I’m reconsidering my usage of the platform thanks to the bizarre actions of Elon Musk but for now I’m hanging in there although I set up an account on Mastodon just in case… I decided a while ago that I was too old for other platforms, so I’ve never touched Snapchat, Tiktok or anything of that ilk.

But it’s not real interaction, is it? It’s not having your family over for a meal and getting into the nitty gritty of your life. It’s not going out for a drink with your friends and venting about your kids/relationship/lack thereof and putting the world to rights. You never know who is going to see a post, what you miss if you don’t check it for a couple of days or whether someone is offended that you didn’t press like on their latest update. If I post about my stuff will people acknowledge, offer empathy then move on because it’s just another post in an endless succession of updates from people and companies? Will they forget as quickly as they scroll? Have I been guilty of doing that to others who I should have reached out to properly? Absolutely. I have a list in my mind of people that I mean to check in with, either because of something I’ve seen them post or just because it’s been way too long. I’m sure we all do, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok.

I fully realise that I’m being annoyingly cryptic in this post. If you know me for real, I’m actually more than happy to talk about it. Perhaps in future I’ll write about it, but for now privacy prevails…

“För att du är ensam…” On loneliness.

When I was 18 I went to live and work in Sweden for a year. Initially I lived with a family with 4 young children. Mid-way through the year it was decided that I would move to a different house, shared by several young adults. I remember vividly a conversation with the 7 year old daughter of the family. I was trying to reassure her (in Swedish, which was neither of our first languages) that I would still visit and see her often and wasn’t going to be far away. I asked her if she knew where I was going. She replied yes, and she knew why. Oh, I enquired, not fully sure of the reasons myself, why? “För att du är ensam…” she replied sadly. “Because you are lonely…”

To this day I’m not sure if the parents in that family saw something in me that I didn’t fully recognise yet myself, or if actually there were a multitude of other reasons for my move, but it struck at my very heart. Her gentle words and doleful eyes staring up at me, wondering if an adult could really be so terribly lonely, has stayed with me all these years.

I was reminded of it today when I came across this tweet:

I don’t follow the author, it was a retweet that showed up on my timeline, but I was drawn to it and that paragraph alone chimed so true for me that I started to cry.

Now before I go on, yes, we are in the middle of a global pandemic and things are pretty tough for everyone. I am ok. I am mostly doing pretty well, actually, considering. I have friends and family who are going through this pandemic whilst also dealing with cancer, depression, fraught relationships and/or unemployment. I am healthy and I have work and I live in Scotland where I actually trust our government to get us through this. I do not take these things for granted. But yes, I am lonely.

I have always been happy with my own company and do enjoy solitude. I am essentially an introvert and don’t seek the company of others often, sometimes indeed actively avoiding it. I don’t make connections with people easily or frequently. When I do I am either so overwhelmed that I babble about our common interests and don’t ever want to let them go, or get freaked because it happens so rarely and retreat into myself not wanting to ruin a possible friendship or more. I have always had a few close friends rather than been part of a large gregarious group. Since I left home at 18 to move to Sweden, I have lived away from my family, and over time, friends that I had or made have moved away too. It happens and is not unusual or tragic.

Unlike the article’s author, I don’t live completely alone. For the past 5 years, I have lived just with my 2 daughters, who stay with their dad regularly, usually 1 night per week and every 2nd weekend. So they keep me busy and provide that human contact, which I know so many people, especially now, don’t have. I am lucky in that regard.

Yet I am lonely.

The kids give a pretence of not-loneliness. They mask it and make it oftentimes bearable or forgotten. But it’s not the same. I of course love my girls and as they get older we can do more interesting things and have more interesting conversations but what I miss most is regular adult conversation. Not necessarily high brow repartee, although that would be nice, but just regular mundane everyday chat. A person, or people, to share some of my life with. The company of an 11 and a 7 year old is not the same as the company of adults, be they colleagues that you see every day or a partner that you come home to at night.

The pandemic, lockdown and social distancing has exacerbated the problem, but for me it definitely started a while before we were all forced into a world of quarantines and self-isolation. I’ve been separated over 5 years so that’s a part of it. I moved to mainly freelance work last summer, so that’s a part of it. In some ways, as my 7 year old Swedish friend noted, it’s always been within me. But now, without the possibility to seek out friendships and connections and interactions when I tire of my self-imposed solitude, it deepens.

The other day I missed flirting. I hardly ever flirt. I’m terrible at it. But once in a while the chance comes along and it’s fun. I miss the possibility of flirting.

It’s not all about romance or a relationship or sex. I’ve been single for 5 years. That’s a long time. I was cajoled by friends to try dating apps, but it’s not for me. As I said, I don’t make connections easily, I need time. I’m the kind of person it takes a while to get to know, and like. I’m great if you get to know me. I miss the possibility of getting to know.

Despite my introvertness, I enjoy meeting people. I’m actually fascinated by most people. I’m better 1-1 than in groups. I work a lot for Colleges just now and pre-pandemic I enjoyed meeting all the different students and lecturers and finding out about them and their lives. Now we are all online. I am let into the Zoom room just as the lecture starts and when it ends we say thanks and bye and the screen closes. No opportunity to discuss the news, the subject being taught that day, the funny thing that happened on the way here. I miss those small interactions and the possibility of more meaningful connections.

So what do I do? Too much time on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, certainly. Texts, messages, social media comments and occasional zoom calls exchanged with friends. It’s not the same. I read, I’ve always read, it is escapism, it allows me to experience a different time, place or be part of a different group of people. I watch tv, seeking out characters that make me laugh or that I can relate to. I have the radio on, or listen to podcasts, it’s a form of intimacy. But it’s not the same. When I am watching the West Wing and I wonder out loud, “Whatever happened to Elsie Snuffin?” No-one answers.


The full article mentioned above can be found here, and is a beautiful read: