Valentine’s Day and the DSM: How social media and Hallmark holidays lead to feelings of inadequacy, jealous comparison and intensive ice cream therapy

By Nick Dilonardo

Get ready for it. Tonight is Valentine’s Day, a “holiday,” which means your Facebook feed and Twitter are going to be besieged. It will stimulate what is now known as “Facebook Envy.”

According to a recent study from Germany, writer Richard Holt for the United Kingdom’s Telegraph notes that feelings of inadequacy among those who frequent social media is now ubiquitous.

“One person in three feels worse after visiting [Facebook] and says that their ‘general dissatisfaction’ with life has increased, the joint paper by two German universities claims,” Holt writes.

You know how it feels: You log on, your news-feed pops up, and there within three pictures or statuses from the top, you see your ex with her new friends, you see your boys who moved to Brooklyn, you see everything. “Pictures or it didn’t happen” has led to Facebook’s growth from social media platform for those who wish to interact or opine into the world’s largest photo-sharing platform.

You might not remember it happening, but it did – within the last few years, Facebook has emerged as the place to share and see your friends. It’s no longer enough to simply “check-in” with your friends at the trendy place; protocol requires a photo to be attached. It’s led to changes in behavior. Myspace was first, but with the predominance of photos on Facebook and their high visibility, the very manner in which we take photos has changed.

You’ve seen it before: on cue, an entire row of women, at even the suggestion of a picture to be captured, they shift: one hand goes to the hip, they turn sideways, and they demand, generally, that the person taking the photo “please hold the camera a little higher?” Unless you’re Danny Devito, you generally don’t want the low angle.

We can see and we have grown to see our friends and our lives on this visual, social platform. Hemingway once said “Paris is where the 20th century was,” and the same could perhaps be said of Facebook and Twitter: Social media is where the 21st century is happening.

And like any happening, there are those who feel included, and those who feel left out. In the words of The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas, “You’re either noticed or you’re left out.” Come this Thursday, Facebook Envy will go into overdrive, by virtue of the celebration.

“Holiday photos are the biggest cause of resentment, causing more than half of all feelings of envy,” according to researchers from Humboldt University and Damrstadt’s Techinical University.
I can already see it. Slowly, they’ll stream in: an Instagrammed photo of a date, a shared moment and a picture. There they are. Looks like someone splurged for a gondola! Chocolates will get theirs – no doubt there will be photos in your feed of gifts given, received, as well as those gifts we bestow upon ourselves.

Yes, there will be plenty of sad and sappy statuses too, written by people spending the night with “Sleepless in Seattle” and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. They too will share in the Valentine’s Day experience. We all will, through Facebook, just like we did with the Grammy’s.

Reclusion isn’t an option for our generation. To exist is to exist socially. To lack a cell phone or a Facebook account is to be an outsider. It doesn’t mean you are inherently bad or weird, but it certainly limits you. There are parties and events whose guest lists are solely on Facebook. If a cute somebody sees you out and wants to add you, not having an account will limit you. It could probably help you. There’s no better way to procrastinate than social media.

Regardless, however, you will inherently be isolated from a scene, one that continues to dominate and change our experience of the world around us. That may be a blessing, as envy appears to be playing an even larger role in our digital lives, as the study notes.

“Social interaction is the second most common cause of envy as users see how many birthday greetings they receive compared to their friends and how many “likes” or comments are made on photos and postings,” Holt writes.

It used to be that you had to wait until your high school reunion to get a sense of how you stack up to all the kids you hated back then.

It used to be that you could use your desire to spite the kids that stuck you into trash cans and got the girl as a fire to push you, until that moment in your hometown gym over cheap open-bar cocktails when you got to rub it in. Yes, you did date Suzy Summers senior year, but I run a profitable company! Or: Yes, I did end up at Harvard Law, and what have you been up to? Now, we need not wait.

Now, we see it every day, every week, every status. Yeah, I know that Anthony got into Penn Law. I know he got a new car from his parents as a reward. Yep, and my ex has moved on, dating some moderately good looking guy who apparently owns a yacht. Seriously. A yacht.

But at least I can see that Rich, although he got Amy in high school, probably hasn’t dated a girl that cute since. Apparently, being successful playing football in high school doesn’t always mean you’ll be successful later in life.

We are who we are by comparison, the same way in which words we use obtain their meaning through the same metonymic process. What’s the difference between a “dope” and a “jerk?” There’s a written attempt at an objective definition in a dictionary, sure, but the difference exists in the economy in which those words exchanged. There are plenty of words we use that aren’t in dictionaries anywhere, save perhaps the Urban Dictionary. But still, even then, the way we use words, though we strive towards the objective, is inherently subjective.

Who am I? I don’t know, let’s see who I am in relation to the kids I grew up with. Let’s see how I look in relation to the kids from high school.

What are they doing? What have they been up to? How are each of my ex-girlfriends aging? How does my sister present herself to her friends? Question after question, with the answer increasingly the same: Facebook.

For some, it may be a good idea to stay off Facebook on Thursday. For some of us, the temptation to judge ourselves, to compare to others and to feel inadequate will be far too great.

For those of us at home, it’s going to be incredibly tempting to check out our Facebook feed and see what everyone else is up to. That cute girl you like may have posted a card she received. She may have even posted yours. There’s only one way to know: you’ve got to refresh your feed and check. Or, you could go out yourself.

Or, you could go out and do something without feeling the need to publish it. You could go out without needing to publicize and prove to the world that yes, you do have friends, and yes, you are that cool. But what would be the fun in that?

Pictures or it didn’t happen, check-in or you weren’t there, and let’s be friends on Facebook so we can start being friends in real-life. Someone is always watching on Facebook. It’s best to act accordingly, right?