Almost all of you reading this probably have a Facebook account - or at least one other social media website of your choosing...and that is okay and that is common (I am writing this on blogger, after all). Many would even argue that it is "necessary" in today's ever-advancing world of technology. For my husband and me, though, we had a very important conversation during our engagement that reshaped how we approach all things social media-related.
I think any of you that have found something very important in your lives can relate when I say this: when we discover the things that matter most in this world, other things (even ones we may have deemed quite important at some point in time) seem to appear less and less significant. For any of us that are religious, we know that our ultimate goal is to get to heaven someday. If we are married, we include in that goal our vows to help our spouse get to heaven someday, too - to help each other. When we focus on things of such meaning and of utmost importance, we begin to focus less and less on the material or other things that will not help us on our very important path. In many ways it helps us more accurately rearrange priorities and possibly even redistribute our time and efforts accordingly.
When it comes to social media our Holy Father and our Bishops have made it clear that the New Evangelization requires us to take an active role in things of the times...for even though as Christians we are not "of" this world we do have to live "in" it. And the only way to reach others who do not yet know Christ is to engage them, be friends with them, and live an authentic life true to the Gospels.
This is all well and good, but the conversation Michael and I had during our engagement addressed the very question of the role of social media within our lives individually - but more importantly - as a couple. As we delved more deeply into our marriage preparation (and no, I don't mean the pitifully superficial day-long seminar we were required to attend to have a Catholic wedding [some are better than others!] - I mean our real marriage preparation that we completed on our own simply by having important conversations, praying together, and working to grow in faith and love each day), we began to focus more and more on the "big" things in life. When you do this, it highlights things of lesser importance that perhaps you shouldn't waste so much time or energy on. When you do this as a couple, you can together decide how it is you want to live as a couple in this world.
What things were important to us both? What things would only add meaningless stress to our lives? What things would help us live our vows? What things do we need to maintain healthy friendships with others and what things are simply distractions from loving one another?
While previously I had found Facebook, Twitter, and blogging to be useful tools for Evangelization, I started realizing how much aggravation and stress they were bringing into my life. The more and more I cared about reaching out to people I had connections with on these social media tools, the more it seemed to become like this:
...Except I didn't have anyone at the time to talk sense into me and ask me if I was coming to bed or not. I'm certain my husband would do this for me now that we are married and living together, but it's still a dangerous rabbit hole I'd rather avoid entirely.
Perhaps what helped Michael and me decipher what we needed and didn't need in our lives was the fact that we were - for essentially the entirety of our dating relationship - long distance. When we visited each other on weekends you'd better believe we didn't waste time checking email, blogging, tweeting, or caring to respond to whatever snide comment someone left on a beautiful Catholic image, Bible verse, or meme I had shared on my Facebook page. Instead, we spent our time exploring, going to museums, hiking in parks, playing games, watching movies together, etc. The time we had together was far too precious to be wasted worrying about something mean or disrespectful someone said to me on Facebook. Who cared when we could be out in the world experiencing it together and falling more in love with God and one another?
None of this is to say that Michael and I wound up deciding to crawl into a cave and live our vows perfectly by never being distracted by a single thing ever. That's just nonsensical. We certainly still feel the call to be part of the New Evangelization and actively live "in" the world so our faith and love may be a witness to others (and we can continue to learn from others as well). So if you are someone who loves social media and has the willpower and wisdom to know when to respond and when to walk away without it severely affecting your cortisol levels, God bless you.
I think in this day and age social media and the internet are very necessarily things we need to assess within our own lives and discuss with our significant other if you are serious about having a healthy relationship. It's different for every couple, but the truth is that if we lived 50 years ago such a conversation wouldn't exist. But we don't live 50 years ago; we live today and now.
So what did we decide to do? Neither of liked Facebook too much (I used to, but my interest in it had dwindled greatly as I focused more on my relationship with Michael and more and more nasty comments against my religion or political beliefs found their way into my inbox), so we deleted our individual accounts. We didn't want to entirely cut ourselves off from people - and unfortunately too many people in our cohort are dependent on it to maintain any sort of contact with some friends - so we created a single, new, joint account. We combined our names and (after reevaluating who were true friends and which people we would probably never see or talk to again) our friend lists. Our contact info is listed so if people want to reach us, they can. But neither of us want to use the website regularly. I also deleted my Twitter handle and we chose together which websites we would be a part of as we moved forward into marriage.
We even agreed that we wouldn't post photo albums of our lives on Facebook for the internet world to see, even if we had shortened our list of potential viewers. Call us old-fashioned, but we started to get tired of people practically demanding images of what we were up to. If people really are good family and friends, they'll see photos eventually and/or they'll see us in person and can hear our stories and experiences for themselves. What gives distant acquaintances such a desire to creep into our personal lives? We certainly aren't interested in inviting them in because in "the old days" the only people who would know such intimate information about your whereabouts were people that genuinely cared enough to write, call, or visit you. Not to mention Facebook's ever-changing privacy policies (another easily minimized/deleted source of frustration). All in all, it isn't our cup of tea...but like I said, it's different for every couple. We opted instead to join Flickr and keep our photos private so only people we approved could view them. And guess what? People that really care have asked to see them and go the extra mile to do so. And many people don't care and/or haven't noticed. For us this is simpler and less distracting.
As we delve deeper into the Advent season we continue to try drowning out the noise of consumerism, catchy holiday tunes, and whatever else that may be distracting us from our Lord as we wait in anticipation for His birth. For Michael and me, social media was one of those things in our lives we realized we could cut back on. Perhaps it isn't an issue for all of you, but if it is, hopefully the conversations Michael and I had can somehow help you discern the role of social media in your own life - whether you are married or single.
“There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.”