When Instagram Kinda Hurts Your Feelings

Thursday, October 10, 2019

I try to be a person who doesn't care about social media numbers, about blog traffic. Someone who is driven by words & connections & relationships instead of by engagement rates & analytics & followers numbers.

But man, sometimes it's hard.

Lately I've felt like I'm following too many Instagram accounts. You know how it is: You fall for an ad, or you follow a celebrity you're briefly interested in, or you enter some giveaway... & before you know it, you're following 500 randos.

To clean house, I downloaded an app that lets me batch un-follow whichever accounts I select (rather than going through & unfollowing one by one, as you have to do within the Instagram app. Who has time for that?!) This third-party app shows me two things: a circular green arrow over "mutual follow" accounts & a one-way orange arrow under accounts I follow that don't follow me back.

"Fine," you're thinking. "What's the big deal?" And there's no big deal, really. Let me reiterate: It is not a big deal.

And yet.

As I scrolled through the app to determine which accounts to unfollow, I found myself particularly chafed by accounts with the orange arrows next to them - not the Michelles Obamas & Refinery29's & Bachelor contestants of the Instagram world, but the individual, everyday people. Specifically, people I've long been following who had long been following me back but aren't anymore.

People I've been following since the dawn of my social media usage, who I don't know in person but feel like I do because I've come to know so much about them over time.

People I grew up with, or went to high school with, or knew from college, who I always liked in person & have enjoyed keeping up with online.

People I've known in person more recently, even if not well, who I see at events around Cleveland or have gotten coffee with while visiting their city.

In other words, a lot of people I've considered "Internet friends" & assumed still followed me back - but who haven't for who-knows-how-long.

People who, at some point, willfully opted out.

And here's the thing, it does not matter. Logically, I know that.

If someone I've been following for seven years but never met in person decides they're not interested in me anymore, so what? If some girl I thought was cool in college has decided I'm not cool after college, why should I care? If that girl I see at events all over town doesn't actually like me IRL enough to keep following me online, no huge loss, right?

But here's the thing: In the moment, that one quick moment when you think you're cool with someone & then see that you were wrong & that it was totally one-sided... well, in that one quick instant, it hurts for a second. Even if you know it doesn't actually matter.

Or at least, that's how it is for me. Maybe it's because the thing I've always been most insecure about is friendships (or the lack thereof). I wrote about it in 2012 in "Odd Girl Out: On Being Weird & Sad in College" & again in 2013 in "On Not Having Any Friends, Still." I've been tinkering with a new post about it, too, but I've been too self-conscious to share it.

So yeah, this is a thing I think about a lot: this pervasive fear that people actually cannot stand me. On my down days, I am haunted by this worry that maybe most people don't like me - or, worse, that they're pretending to. I think I'd rather just know if people hate me or are annoyed by me or even just feel completely apathetic toward me. What unnerves me most is thinking people might be faking it.

It occurs to me, as I write that, that if someone unfollows me on social media, well, at least they're not faking it - & perhaps that's actually a somewhat heartening realization. At least they're taking proactive moves not to bother with me anymore.

But that doesn't mean it doesn't sting, you know?

You (or I, at least) can't help but wonder, "What did I do wrong?" or "What post made them decide to stop following me?" or "Were they bored by me or annoyed by me or had they actually been, like, hate-following me?" Did they have a moment of feeling slightly guilty about it, or were they relieved? Or did they just not care/consider it at all?

Look, there are many, many reasons to unfollow someone: You're not feelin' their content, even if you like them as a person. You feel triggered by their content in some way & need to unfollow for your own well-being. You don't think following someone on social media is, like, an inherent requirement of being a friend. You're carefully curating your own social media feeds & intake for your own peace of mind. You never really knew them to begin with & frankly just don't give a shit about them anymore.

And all of those things are very, very much OK.

But here's the thing.

I've always had strange feelings about the idea that other people have feelings about me, period, be they good, bad, apathetic, or somewhere on the spectrum. So when I see that someone has unfollowed me, there's the realization that, even for just a fleeting moment, someone thought of me, decided how they felt about me, & decided they weren't into me.

And so it still hurts, even if it's just at papercut/bee-sting/stubbed-toe level - & when I'm going through a list that gives me, like, a bunch of papercuts/bee stings/stubbed toes in a row, all those little injuries join forces & become a slightly bigger one - yes, even when you know it doesn't matter.

I thought that, by 35, my self-esteem would be so iron-clad that I wouldn't feel hurt by such absurd non-slights - but as it turns out, age doesn't erase insecurities. With age comes wisdom, yes, but knowing something logically doesn't always change the way you feel about it emotionally.

So what's the answer?

Alas, there isn't one.

I could walk away from social media entirely, but I like social media. I could stop looking at apps like this one, but then I'll have to give in to the time-suck of manual unfollows.

Orrrrr I could just try not to let it bother me.

And isn't that all we can ever do, really? I can write it out & commiserate with others & feel bad for, like, juuuust a second - & then I can move on & never think about these people again & just keep livin' life. As you do.


If you've made it through this utter brain dump, well, kudos to you; this is the sort of word vomit I rarely write anymore but that sometimes feels good just to get get out of my brain. I guess that's what journals are for, though, huh?



Maybe I should get a journal.

After all, journals aren't allowed to unfollow you.

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