Sunday, November 30, 2008

Comparing Ourselves Online

First I had the girls in my Sunday school class tell what they're thankful for. Then I had them tell their greatest current frustration. Would it occur to them, I asked, to be thankful for the frustration they just listed, to see it as a window for God's grace to come in, to really believe that "when I am weak, then am I strong?"

"Sara" I'll call her, said her biggest frustration is how she compares herself to others and constantly comes up short. Somehow this segued into talking about doing this online. "Does anyone else deal with this?" wondered Sara, this whole thing of looking at others' lives on Facebook and Xanga and just comparing yourself to them, how you look, what you do, just your life? I tell you, sometimes it's so bad I can't let myself get on Facebook. Now am I just weird or do other people do this too?"

Yes, they do, it turned out, although to a lesser degree than Sara, or at least they admitted it to a lesser degree.

I was one of the admittees, but in an entirely different sense than Sara. I confessed that I when I'm on other moms' sites I'm always looking at the backgrounds of photos, not the actual subjects--look at those perfectly clean kitchen counters! Arrgghh, no jackets or grocery bags loose in that kitchen. And everything's decorated to the nines. How on earth does she do it? Etc. etc. Compare, despair.

And then of course there are all the cool young snarky clever articulate blogger moms that I seldom let myself read because we are all happier if I stay away.

"I'm so much cooler online" one of the girls murmured, quoting from a song.

So, what's with this? Do we go online to communicate and catch up, or to compare[mostly unfavorably], or to do a little plastic surgery on our own persona before we post it?

"Why can't we just be real?" wondered Sara.

Well, why not? There's the TMI* factor, first of all. Do you really want to know about my athlete's foot or perimenopause symptoms? Didn't think so. And the privacy factor--does Steven want it splashed all over the internet why he lost his electronic time for this week? I doubt it. And the propriety factor--no way can I name names or even hint about all the people who annoyed me this week and what I would have loved to say in return, or who confided what in me, and so on.

And yet.

If you compare your life to my online rendition of mine, and feel inferior or frustrated or discontent because of it [hahahahahahaha what a thought] is the fault mine or yours? And what should you do about it? What should I?

What would you tell Sara??

*added for KaraBeagle's info: TMI is Too Much Information

Quote of the Day:
One Sunday morning:
Jenny: Ben! That's Dad's shirt!
Me: It was Dad's shirt. But he refused to wear it because it doesn't have a pocket.
Ben: Dad's gonna have to have a pocket on his white robe that he wears in Heaven.


  1. I have many, many thoughts on this. Seems it's epidemic among us women.

    First, we do our sisters no favors when we scramble to make our homes look perfect. That's not love. Love is tidying up so that a guest has a comfortable place to sit, a clean bathroom to use, and a pleasant place to be. But those motivators are entirely different than those which cause us to try to make our lives appear perfect to those around us (IRL, and online).

    Secondly, the photo spreads we see in magazines are not real. No one lives in those rooms, at least not while the camera is clicking away. I once heard an interview with Regis Philbin in which he admitted coming home once and not recognizing his living room because it had been completely made over for a photo shoot. Proof positive (and dontcha love that men are far more likely to tell the truth in this area?)

    What it comes down to, really, is original sin- pride. We don't like to admit that we don't have it all together.

    Furthermore, I've been in homes where everything is perfectly in place, and I would never want to live there. The frigid atmosphere coupled with the hostess's fear of something falling out of it's state of perfection- no thanks.

    As for appearances... I think we can mature out of this somewhat. I think I would just encourage Sara to thank God for making her who she is, beautify herself to the glory of her Creator, and look to God rather than others for His approval in her life. And give her a big hug for me- I've been there, too.

    Always love your writing, and I'm hoping to get your second book in my stocking :)


  2. Hey Dorcas, I'm just gonna save myself some TIME and say, "Reread Kendra's second to last paragraph, over and over and over." We are who God made us, how God made us, as busty or as flat-chested as God made us (can I say that here?), as tall or as short as God made us, as thin or as thick as God made us, as nearsighted or farsighted as God made us...And he delights in us being WHO He made us. If he had wanted me to be as talented at juggling life's balls as my friend Laurie, He would have made me that way. But He did not. He made me best at juggling one ball at a time, and He likes to see me being good at how He made ME, rather than trying to be good at how He made somebody else--and falling flat on my face, I might add.

    Anytime we are envious of someone else; it means we are not looking to the right Person for the definitiion of our value. The world will scream praise at us; God only speaks it in quiet, soft, adoring tones.

    by the way, what is the TMI factor? Am I even further behind than YOU on the lingo? Say it ain't so! (he he).

  3. This is what I would tell Sara. It is a scam from the devil! He wants her to feel like she isnt good enough..when in fact she is a wonderful person and doing her best to serve God right where she is at. When in fact.. there are many people out there that really do like her just like she is.
    And could you pass along this big hug for her? :)

  4. I never thought much about it, if I compare myself online.

    I did get a kick out that that quote. Is the pocket a Mennonite thing? Oh and the pocket can never be empty. It's got to have at least one pen in it. Even when I read books about missionaries in other countries, the local Mennonites even have the obligatory pen in the pocket.

    What about the poor wives who have to deal with exploded pens?!

  5. God is well-pleased with His Son. Therefore since we are in the Son and He in us...wonderful grace! Cling tightly to His approval because some days that's all that is available.

  6. I generally leave your blog feeling encouraged to be more real. Thank you.
    I'm not sure if we are anymore liable to compare ourselves online than we are offline. But it is an issue that is huge for us as women. I once had a mentor tell me that comparison and jealousy are to women what lust is to men. Ouch.
    I don't read very many blogs of people I don't know, or at least know of, simply because I don't trust it - you can be anything you want to be online and I'd much prefer face to face relationship.

  7. I can relate to Sara's comment - it seems like in some ways the social networking sites can be boiled down into online popularity contests.

    But to echo what some other commenters have said: it's a part of the human condition with or without the internet. It's a spiritual problem and an opportunity for growth and maturity as we seek the Source of our self worth apart from our peers. I would advise her to look at what motivates her, and what she gets out of it. If the motivation is wrong, or the fruit is bad, perhaps she should bag it for a time. If the motivations and fruit are Godly, then go for it! (I periodically do this with my own blog.)

  8. Ben, I know of at least one more white robe that going to need a pocket! Pauline

  9. to coveredwithjoy--I had no clue the pen in the pocket was a Mennonite thing. Paul insists on the pen/pocket because he's always checking students' work, signing checkups or seed papers or something, jotting down phone numbers, etc etc.

  10. Hmm for me xanga, facebook, just a way to keep in contact with people near and far. Though I have to admit that I do get annoyed when I sense that people are trying to brag themselves up online, or glossing over their true feelings. :-) That's what I love about your site, your open and honest and...real.

  11. snarky??!! LOL

  12. Not often does one read any negative comments about Zanga or Facebok. But I would have to agree with Sara, except I come at it from a slightly different angle. Most posters are so self-absorbed it makes me sick! It is nothing but "I", "me", ad nauseum. You woulkd think the world revolves around them! and for many it does...oh, sigh...


  13. I guess there is the danger of comparison. For me it's not so much the other person's life as it is their BANNER. Or header or whatever it's called. I love checking out what other blogs look like (their design). I get so excited when I find a pretty blog! :-) I'd love to have my own look but at this point can't afford a custom job so have to stick with a template and changing out the banner background photo occasionally. Almost (but not quite) makes me want to learn enough HTML (or whatever) to be able to design my own. But I'm struggling just to learn Spanish at the advanced age of 50 *sigh*

    Blogging has become a lifeline when I'm feeling homesick or lonely or needing creative inspiration. I hop on and read a few of my favorite blogs and they just cheer me right up. I have a very eclectic blogroll :-) Everything from mommy blogs to quilting blogs to other missionaries to single ladies... I've never really thought about comparing myself to any of them. We all have such unique stories and lives; it's just fun to get a glimpse into some of them and see what God is doing.

    But the banners... Now that could become a problem :-)