One of my long-time friends, who is sweet and modest, has turned into a selfie-obsessed monster on Instagram. She posts pics of her beautifully bedraggled bedhead with faux-humble captions like, “Ugh, time to buy a hairbrush” or shots of her thigh gap that read, “Went for a run last night; my quads are killing me.” I find selfies indulgent, but we rely on social media to keep up with each other’s lives—we’re both busy and only see each other a couple times a month. How do I stop my loathing for her Insta-personality from seeping into our friendship?—Amanda
Your problem is no longer a problem with just a single tap of your thumb on the “Following” button-thing, unless you’re worried about Insta-dramatics if your friend noticed you went missing from her list of followers. If so, just scroll on by, right?
I wonder if you maybe sort-of like being annoyed by her posts, at least a little bit? I know that you’re long-time, presumably good and caring and invested friends in meatspace (which is what we called “IRL” in an earlier version of the internet), but paying online attention to someone whose persona irritates you is called “hate-following,” and while there is a hot blast of judgey pleasure to be had in checking in on whoever’s posts you find appalling in a very particular way—and it’s even better if you know them IRL—it’s not productive or loving, not for you or your friend or your friendship. Or maybe, you know, you’re just uncomfortable with the idea that this person you love also exists in a kind of spun-out, off-brand version of herself online, and can’t resolve the her you like with the her you don’t, and feel guilty or confused about it. Or, you’re not super-thrilled with your own life and the online representation of that life and the ways in which it compares to hers, so you’re experiencing what I call “pre-emptive negativity,” which also explains why I am so righteous and rigid about how other people should adopt and care for their dogs (I just want one so baaaaaad).
Also: you’re essentially wrong in your overall assessment of the quality and character of your friend’s Insta-behaviour: selfies are part of our visual culture, and culture-culture (and, as usual, an important aspect of the language that was developed and popularized by young women, you’re welcome very much); they’re also one of only a few ways that the average young woman has to see herself and her actual life—not what powerful men think about her life—projected onto that culture. I’m with you about the humblebrags —they are, especially by now, thickly boring and kind of rude; if you’re going to brag, just f-cking brag—but all your friend is doing is participating in an existing, expanding community with its own mores and heroes, and is probably savouring the endorpho-boost of likes and comments (especially as a grown adult without the daily in-person access to you and your other friends), and while social media has a complicated values system, it’s clearly giving her something she wants right now.
Following someone on Instagram isn’t the same as keeping up with each other, anyway: clocking your friend’s new shoes or Stella dress isn’t knowing or feeling or understanding anything about her. You’re positing that she’s the one changing your friendship, but you’re the one extrapolating meaning from her posts on an app, you know? I mean, I get it: it’s challenging, always, when the people who live in the deepest, golden-est part of your heart get brought up onstage. I’ve had the same conversation about this over and over with my sisters and my parents and my friend-forevers; I would much rather none of them followed me online or read the work that I do, because inevitably my voice and being will change—even a little bit, but that’s more than enough to upset them—through a super-public prism; a “sweet” and “modest” person can still dig the various rewards of being sharp and funny and sexy and strange in the liminal space of the internet, away from their usual, regular self. (If a mostly offline friend said “It must be weird to have strangers interested in your life; let’s talk about that” instead of “You’re weird on Twitter” I would levitate.) That’s what the internet does for us; everyone’s real-life self-presentation is constructed and arranged differently online. In circumstances like yours and mine, it feels like a small but profound betrayal of personality. It’s not, though: it’s just more of her life, another angle, one that you don’t have to like (or “Like”) or be involved in.
More great advice from Kate:
Help! My Girlfriend is Always on a Diet
Help! My Boyfriend is Better Looking Than Me
I’m So Tired of Hearing About My Friends’ Boring Babies.
I Have Proof My Friend’s BF is Cheating. Do I Tell Her?
My Best Friend’s Life is Perfect. Can I Tell Her to Stop Complaining Already?
How Young is Too Young?
Is Long Distance a Dealbreaker?
When Do I Need to Disclose My Dismal $$$ Sitch?
How Can I Curb My Tinder-Rejection Sads?
When Should My Guy & I Talk “Numbers”?
Can We Be FWB When He Wants More?
Is It Ever OK to Date a Friend’s Ex?
How Do I Get Over a Guy?
Why Aren’t I More Obsessed With My BF?
Should I Propose to My Guy?