Valentine’s Day and other performances

A couple years ago, Tim and I agreed to no longer celebrate Valentine’s Day. There are a lot of reasons for that. Yes, we knew it’s a really commercialized quasi-holiday, and we knew prices of flowers and delivery are jacked up because of that. We knew it wasn’t an actual milestone in our relationship, and (at least for me) I knew I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life laboring over creative new gifts for a day that I didn’t care about. But perhaps the eeriest, most 21st-century reason we decided to stop participating in Valentine’s Day: I realized that I was craving the public acknowledgement and validation more than anything. I wanted Tim to send flowers to work, not bring them home; I wanted to post us drinking wine together to show that I had someone.

A few years ago, a person I knew — let’s call her Sally — was delivered a giant, multi-part Valentine’s Day gift from her partner. Another person — let’s call her Ann — took a photo of herself holding up one or two of Sally’s large gifts. Ann then posted that photo online with a caption that read something like “I hope you’re as beloved as me today!” with a couple hashtags, but NOTHING that explicitly said that she was joking and that those were not her gifts. Those who noticed this online and knew the truth behind the photo rolled their eyes together. I’m sure most of those people have forgotten this. But I remember it still, and I think it beautifully illustrates the “performative” culture that has become of Valentine’s Day. Yes, I think a huge part of this equation is a result of social media. But it’s also human nature of one-upsmanship. Twenty years ago, I still would have wanted the flowers delivered to my office instead of at home, so people could coo and admire and maybe be jealous, all of which would be for my own validation. And twenty years ago, those who didn’t get deliveries could have felt upset with their partners for not shelling out for office delivery, or been reminded of their lonely feelings.

Of course, not all people without partners feel lonely, and not all people with partners who don’t send flowers to work are upset about it. It’s also not inherently wrong to want a gift or a physical reminder of affection, nor is the desire to share something online that makes you happy. The problem is that the culture of “Instagram or it didn’t happen” runs so deep that people can post photos with someone else’s gifts and their network of friends will see it and maybe feel jealous or lonely, and it’s not even real. It’s that I found myself caring more about others seeing my flowers than I cared about actually receiving them. The better way to handle this is to do and to post what truly makes you happy. Just because it happened does not mean it needs to be shared. And if you don’t share, it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

There’s a tricky second layer here that I also want to try to address, and that’s remembering others who are struggling. Yes, when something delights you and you want to share with the world, go for it! For every happy post, though, there can be someone else who sees it and is reminded of their loss, their struggle, their pain. Of course you can’t please everyone, and of course you aren’t expected to hide your life just so someone doesn’t feel sad. But you can remember this. Valentine’s Day displays can remind someone of the painful breakup they experienced or the loneliness they feel in their current relationship. The same is true of pregnancy announcements and gender reveals (another massively performative event, btw). There are so many people struggling to conceive or to stay pregnant, and while it’s a joyous occasion for the expectant parents to be celebrating, those who struggle are reminded of the deeply painful and emotionally exhausting stage of their lives. Those people are happy for you, too, but they are already reminded every day that they can’t (yet) have what you have. And the same is true this Valentine’s Day. While you can’t fix the hurt that others experience, you can remember them when you catch yourself posting so that other people see. If you really want to share, then share! Do an awesome and colorful gender reveal and let me see your VDay flowers! But if you check your heart and realize that you’re doing and/or posting because you want validation from others (likes, comments, heart eyed emojis) or because you want people to believe something about you, stop. You’re caught up in the illusion. Skip buying a blue/pink cake when your pregnancy hormones only make you crave grapes, and skip posting that photo of the nice card that you received but that isn’t so special that it made your heart skip a beat. You won’t miss it. And neither will anyone else.

You should never stop celebrating what you want, how you want. But first, make sure it’s truly what you want. And remember that making sure everyone knows about it is not the end goal. As everyone is KonMari’ing and detoxing and coming off of Dry Januarys and looking to better themselves, I hope that everyone will also take time to ask themselves: Why am I doing this? Is it because it makes me happy? Is it because I feel it is expected of me? Do I feel that I need others to see this for me to really enjoy it? You know in your heart what is right. Absolutely love flowers? Let us know! Your heart sang opening up a handmade card? Wow, I’ll like that pic in a second flat. But your SO got you something and you feel it checks off a box but you don’t feel like you are ecstatic or really seen or feeling the love more than usual? You are a perfect candidate for not posting (and perhaps evaluating if you really want to carry on this tradition)! No one is going to be refreshing your Instagram feed to see if you received something. No one is going to think that your life or relationship is less-than because they don’t know exactly what you did on February 14, or what happened when you told your parents you were expecting, or when you tried a bucket-list bottle of wine or WHATEVER. Share what you love, but keep it real. I don’t want to see you post a photo of a bottle of Screaming Eagle and find out later you thought it wasn’t even that great or that it wasn’t even your bottle. I don’t want to see you pose with someone else’s VDay gift without clarifying that it’s not actually yours. Tell the truth on social media. I’d so much rather see the craft project you did that you’re really proud of, or the super happy smile you got from seeing your favorite artist live. Post for yourself, not for others. Know that you don’t have to get engaged or have a baby or celebrate any day in any performative, spectator-filled way, or at all. Simply do what feels right for you.

Don’t forget what you don’t see: The incomplete story of Instagram photos

July was a big travel month for Tim and me. I flew to Australia by myself, stayed on a boat in the Great Barrier Reef, and then went to Sydney to await Tim’s arrival later for a business trip. We stayed a week in Fiji afterward before heading home. In total, I was gone about 3 weeks.

My instagram account had never been more beautiful, filled with professional-grade photos of colorful fish and koalas and the iconic Opera House. I checked into amazing restaurants on Foursquare and drank pina coladas by the ocean. But the truth is, the trip started off on a really rough note.

My flight to Australia was actually 4 flights. Yes, there are plenty of direct, nonstop flights between SFO and SYD. But I used my Alaska Airlines miles to get there, and the routes were most inconvenient. I was flying SJC-SEA-YYV-SYD. Then, once I arrived in Sydney, I was taking a different airline up to Cairns for my Great Barrier Reef excursion. When Tim dropped me off at the airport, as I was waiting to check my bag at the Alaska counter, the fire alarm went off and the whole airport had to evacuate. It was a false alarm, thank God, but I think it may have been a bad omen. As I sat at my gate waiting to board, I got an email saying I’d been upgraded. Fantastic! I have MVP status on Alaska, so this is not unusual, but this time it was a first class upgrade. (I was already upgraded to their premium seats.) It was a short flight, but I was happy about the chance to start my trip off on a sweet note. When the first class passengers were called to board, I scanned my ticket. But the gate agent said I needed to see the folks at the counter. I waited in line so long that by the time I was helped at the counter, the whole plane had boarded. And it turns out, the computer system had an “error” and that first class seat was given away already. (They gave it to the guy in front of me in line, btw. I heard them assign it to him and say that he was getting an upgrade. So yeah, that seat was NOT BOOKED until one second ago.) I was cranky and demanded reparation and later got an email offering me a $75 credit. Whatever, it’s something, I’ll move on.

The layover in Seattle was uneventful, and I boarded our little plane to YYV. My layover in Vancouver was amazing: I went to a really nice lounge, had really fantastic wine, and showered before the long-haul flight. I was in Qantas Premium Economy, which is a really nice experience for the price, and the flight was so easy and fantastic — and I actually slept WELL. It was all-around great. And then, when we landed, I heard “Passenger Delzell, please see a gate agent.”

As I exited the plane, I asked someone why they were calling my name. Turns out, my bags had been left in Vancouver due to their customs process and it was arriving in an hour on an Air Canada flight. No big deal, as my next flight was still 6+ hours away. So, per instruction, I went to the Qantas baggage counter to let them know I was waiting for my bag. Well, the agent there saw it wasn’t arriving until later that afternoon. I was already going to be on my way to Cairns by then, so she took my hotel info and was going to have it sent there for me.

I had a premonition that my bag could get lost since I had such a wonky flight route, so thankfully I packed spare clothes and all my toiletries in my carry-on. I showered at SYD and relaxed in a lounge that had a free massage chair (!!!). I flew to Cairns and relaxed in my hotel room.

Hours went by and still no suitcase. I found a phone number on the luggage info I was given, so I tried to call. My foreign cell phone wasn’t able to dial the type of number, so I had to use the hotel phone. ($$$$$.) I then spent hours on the phone trying to figure out where my bags were. Turns out, they were STILL in Canada. It went from being one hour away, to a few hours away, to no reunion in sight. I was pissed, and the customer service rep took all my contact info and promised to keep me in the loop.

Okay, so I was without my luggage. I had planned ahead and had my toiletries and my credit cards, so I was fine for the next day or two. But here’s the problem: I had one more day in Cairns before I boarded a live-aboard boat. I was out of clothes, so I washed the two outfits I had with me using the hotel’s free body wash, and I hung it to dry and slept totally in the nude, praying my clothes would be dry enough to wear in the morning. I had no confidence that I would be receiving my suitcase anytime soon, so I decided to go out that day and buy a swimsuit ($160), sunscreen, a new shirt, a bra, and underwear. I tried to enjoy my limited time in Cairns, but it was tough. I felt stressed, upset, and increasingly worried my luggage would never make it to me. And then, as I was walking through the lovely Botanic Gardens, I got a call from an unknown number. It was the same customer service rep, with a flight number that my luggage was on (it was already in Sydney — this was a flight headed to Cairns!). It was supposed to arrive that afternoon, and of course it didn’t get there until after midnight. I cried tears of joy when it arrived and spent a few minutes just looking at my belongings, picking them up and being so happy to see these items as though they were relics from my past. (It was Marie Kondo-esque, how much I held my items and spent mental energy on treasuring them.)

Starting off my trip that way was stressful and I don’t recommend it. But I share this now because social media doesn’t tell the story of how I lost two days of my vacation to phone calls and hand-washing my clothing. The disastrous bits of the trip were more than compensated — with natural beauty, fun catchups with Aussie friends, culture, food, and later, an upgrade to a gorgeous suite in Fiji — and overall the trip was one of my most favorites in memory. But all those Instagrammable moments came with a price, and that price was wearing clothes that smelled like cheap hotel soap and hanging up my underwear in the shower while I slept. (Oh, and by the way, the only shoes I had this whole time: a very bold statement sneaker that did NOT go with the rest of my clothing. I still am a little afraid to wear them after the scarring experience of having to wear them with the wrong outfits in Cairns. Why didn’t I pack a pair of flip flips in my carry-on??)

So while the photos I posted were taken in times of happiness, the trip wasn’t solely defined by underwater wildlife encounters and tropical sunsets. Life’s not perfect. Sometimes you’re caught without a pair of underwear to spare and you gotta deal. Remember that as Christmas approaches and people share what amazing gifts they got, or destinations they visited, or the inevitable dozen engagements that will be announced in the next week. There are times of excitement and blessing, but there’s also times of having to wear your really weird high top sneakers with your dress, and just because it wasn’t posted online doesn’t mean a lot of people didn’t see you wearing them.

Remember when people constantly posted cryptic things on social media?

There are several applications that let you go back in time through your photos and social media. Facebook advertises a “look back on your memories from a year ago”; TimeHop allows looks into what happened on this day one, two, or more years in the past; Google Photos often reminds me to check out a series of photos I took (mostly of my cats) last year. For the most part, I enjoy remembering what happened in years previous. For example, last week was my one-year wedding anniversary, so it’s a really great memory! But on any other average Tuesday, I’m not guaranteed to have such a fun or interesting walk down memory lane.

The number one thing that apps like TimeHop have taught me: I was a complete idiot a few years ago. I constantly find photo captions from my years in college that are so puzzlingly cryptic and veiled. After college, in the era of Instagram, I posted the stupidest and most low-quality photos into what is now a pretty beautiful and lively feed. I recently discovered that 6 years ago I had posted a screenshot of a tweet by obscure former Bachelorette competitor cast member Jef Holm (Jef with one F, Emily’s season, aka the only season I watched ever) saying that he was going to Charleston with Chris Harrison (the host of the Bachelor/ette franchise) followed by a golf emoji. And as I posted that screenshot of a very unimportant (to me) person, I captioned it with absolutely NO explicit meaning. Observe:
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My caption: “Time to get real about my not so secret love for the bachelorette. Though there is a golf emoji, there’s no way this means… PLEASE ADVISE”

Like, WHAT? What does this nonsense even mean? Here’s the information I can gather. 1) I’m attempting to say that I like the Bachelorette. But I didn’t really. I watched it once with some women from my sorority with whom I was living over the summer in college. 2) I’m assuming that it’s a little bit shameful to like the Bachelorette because I refer to it as secret (or rather, not-so). 3) I acknowledge there’s a golf emoji. No further comment necessary here. 4) There’s no way this means WHAT? It drives me absolutely nuts how often I posted cryptic, unfinished thoughts like this. I must have expected people to read my mind. Or maybe I thought it was a manic-pixie-dream-girl type thing to allude to my meaning without saying it.

Present day Amanda would never assume people can read her mind. Present day Amanda writes thorough captions describing how she felt, or what she likes about the image, or something that made her think. She avoids ellipses that trail off into nothing. It’s so frustrating to me that this is how I lived my public, in-writing, forever-saved-in-the-dredges-of-the-internet life.

Sometimes I wonder if my lengthy, thought-out Instagram captions are being judged or are on the receiving end of some eye rolls. But looking through the way I used to post on social media — so cryptic, so strange, so pointless and guarded and not letting people actually know my thoughts — I thoroughly prefer to write my exact feelings and thoughts as I do today. I like being able to share and be vulnerable. For so long in my life, I was rarely open to letting people actually know me. I tried to do what I thought was cool. I tried to make myself sound like I had hobbies or interests or thoughts similar to whatever guy I had a crush on, or some coworker I wanted to befriend. It was a long journey to learn what it really means to “be yourself,” and it involved a lot of appointments with a therapist. And in those appointments, I wasn’t discussing how I couldn’t be vulnerable. No, we discussed specific problems I was having at work or with a certain person. And eventually by working on those areas of my life, it opened up my ability to be myself. I hate looking back on the years I spent trying to be cool, sound cool, do things I didn’t want to do, people I tried to impress. But I wouldn’t be embarrassed to run into those people again, because I am so obviously not that cryptic, closed-off idiot of yesteryear. People are dumb sometimes, but sometimes they stop being dumb. I’m a proud reformed idiot, and I’m here to share with you my lengthy, personal Instagram captions, whether you want them or not. ♦

Why I took a four-month break from Facebook

Standing on a street corner waiting to cross. In a meeting room before the other attendees arrived. Eating lunch. On the phone with friends.

I didn’t know it, but I had a routine.

Mindless Facebook scrolling took up moments in my life when I could have been productive, or peaceful, or present.

I told myself I shouldn’t deactivate, because I saw real news on Facebook, and became more educated from my smart friends. I must also see the posts that I disagree with, to become more educated on the opposing arguments. Maybe I’d just log in less frequently.

I tried to cut back on Facebook by deleting the app from my phone. It was great at first, but then my browser began to index it as a frequently-visited site, and it was prominent in my mind once again.

I told myself I’d deactivate after the wedding, after I saw all the photos I was tagged in. You can’t deactivate social media before your wedding. It’s not the right time.

So I kept scrolling. And seeing the divisive posts. And clicking into the comments. (Why are we so sadistic?) And getting my spirits downtrodden.

It wasn’t until I found myself doing something I never did: Drafting comments to those I disagreed with. I saw a post by an acquaintance, expressing disdain at the fact that Kevin Spacey was a newly-confirmed creep. There were comments below from one person who was also sad, and another person who “didn’t buy” the story from the most public victim. I personally knew of someone who had nearly the exact same thing happen to him, and I began to write back. And edit the comment. And feel uncomfortable because I was writing on an acquaintance’s post, to a commenter I did not know. But I felt compelled. And then I felt exhausted. And then I immediately deleted it and texted my therapist.

It was the day before my birthday, and I was on the phone with my therapist, talking through the triggers I experienced that were bringing on anxiety. She suggested getting off social media. I wouldn’t, couldn’t.

Before the session was over, though, I had already deactivated.

And I didn’t miss it at all. For four glorious months I only had Instagram as my social media channel. It was an onslaught of gorgeous photos and the happy moments that friends had captured. I got married and got tons of photos without needing to be on Facebook. My friends still kept in touch and I kept an active social life. I found myself never wanting to go back to Facebook.

Then I started blogging again. I love blogging, because it’s a creative outlet that allows me to essentially keep a public journal of my beliefs and thoughts and fun times. I posted on Instagram every time I had a new blog post, but it wasn’t getting read as much. And I love when people comment and tell me their thoughts, advice, or personal stories. So I decided to do it: I would reactivate my Facebook.

I did, and I had tons of notifications from groups and friends. But after I scanned through those, I didn’t do anything else. I haven’t reinstalled the app on my phone. I haven’t logged in more than a handful of times. It doesn’t even really cross my mind. I don’t have to log in to Facebook to share my blog posts, either. WordPress does that automatically for me. I can use Facebook when I want it, but I really don’t want to, and I don’t need to. I feel so free and so much happier than when I existed within the grip of Facebook.

You might be struggling with the same thing that I was. It was feeding and triggering depression for me. It was strangely so hard to detach. I felt guilty and embarrassed that I was so affected by Facebook. I didn’t want to tell people openly, because I thought they wouldn’t understand, they’d scoff at my millennial obsession with social media and tell me to get over it. But that’s the same mentality that stigmatizes mental health (and really, isn’t that what that’s doing anyway?). I’m here to say that if you are depressed, anxious, or just sad from social media, and you want to detach, I understand. I hear you. Deactivate if you want; delete the app if you want. Do whatever it takes for you to feel happier. Just don’t add a feeling of guilt on top of everything you’re experiencing. Be selfish, and take care of you. ♥