By Barton Goldsmith Tribune News Service.
At first glance (or click), spending your time on social media websites can seem like a dream if you aren't confident in your social skills. You don't really have to deal with people directly, you have all the time you need to say what you think someone else would like to read, and if you are feeling uncomfortable, you can simply log off.
What is really going on with social media is that you are comparing your life to just what is shown to you, and most people only want to show the good stuff. So if you are reading all the positives (and some may be made up), it can end up making you feel that you have no life, because all your "friends" are posting pics from their vacations, their dinners, and their projects.
Sure, you can join them, but do you really want to live vicariously through others, or do you want to experience the joy of living your own life? The truth here is that hiding behind a computer, talking with people you often don't even know, is not ultimately very fulfilling. You have to bring things and people into your life, not just read about them or "like" what they have to say.
Many people have found helpful outlets and websites online. There is even one called "Second Life," where you create an Avatar of yourself and mix with others in this fantasy online world. I understand that a couple of people who are on this site have actually met and gotten married. Not the first way of courting someone that comes to mind, but it did work for them.
However, the chances of you building a social life through social media are very slim. There was a great commercial in which a twenty-something is commenting on the fact that her parents don't know how to live (we hear her say this as we see them lifting their kayaks and bikes off their new car). She says, "Now this is living," as she types to her social media friends and questions what they are saying and showing. No, it isn't really living. It's hiding from life.
I know people who go into their home offices or living rooms every day and get on the computer to the exclusion of everyone else and everything (except perhaps for the TV).
When you have real live people to relate to, why would you rather type to someone who is in another time zone? Cherish the love you have, and you will find that it will fill your heart. Ignore the people who love you, and you will be a very lonely person who never developed the social skills necessary to lead a full life.
Social media has been an amazing thing and mostly positive, but it does have its dark side, and part of that is its ability to seduce you into thinking that online you have real relationships with real people and that these will fill your heart.
Now, don't get me wrong: If your loved ones are not close by, social media is a great way to stay in touch, and I'm sure it helps many couples and families stay connected. But if social media is your main way of relating to other people, I strongly urge you to look in your own backyard. Even talking face-to-face with a neighbor is more heartwarming than receiving an instant message. ___ (Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, Calif., is the author of "The Happy Couple: How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time.")