I’m fascinated with the ways that we build our online identities (it’s like branding on a super micro level), and I also think it’s becoming more important every day that we remain conscious of how we portray our relationships online (i.e. my policy is never to complain about my partner in a public forum, and Michael and I still haven’t changed our Facebook relationship status). And who better to break this down for us this than our very own Liz? Because while I’m still very much in the process of figuring this all out, I can’t think of anyone who nails the balance between real life and social media better than she does. And frankly, I’m pretty sure I have a thing or two to learn from her.
—Maddie for Maternity Leave
Social media is sort of funny.
Nothing like a 140 character profile description to make you realize how people define themselves.
Few things scream “STATUS” like that actual note right below your name that says, “relationship status.”
I find it super interesting to see how people describe themselves online. Some folks just end up listing a bunch of stuff they like. “I’m Stacey, I like vinyl, vintage teapots, and crunchy autumn leaves.”
Other folks list their occupation. “Dental hygienist specializing in plaque prevention!”
But most of the moms I know stick to the script. “Wife and mother.” Or possibly, “Mommy to Trevor.” Usually listed right below a profile photo that should be of themselves, but is instead a scrunchy-faced child (which I would assume could be confusing).
Internet stuff seems to make relationship status an even more prominent feature of who you are. Pushed to identify yourself, it’s the default. To be fair, if you’re limited to just a brief sentence to define yourself to people you’ve never met, it can be difficult to know what to say. To expect one another to summarize ourselves so succinctly seems a tall order. But why is relationship status such an easy default? While I’m certainly a “wife and mother,” I don’t know that those two words really help you understand me any better.
While we’re sort of strong-armed into doing this online, I find that we also do it naturally in real life. Folks ask questions about if you’re married and “are you planning to have kids?” and then hurry to use that information to boil you down into an archetype. Even by friends and family who know me well, I’ve felt my relationship status impact the way I’m perceived, and consequently treated.
My status as a wife was an interesting step into adulthood. Suddenly, friends were asking for my relationship advice. My mom suddenly (and rather unfortunately) felt free to discuss her sex-life with me. I began to be invited to adult conversations and events, while friends of the same age were assumed to be out partying all night. I guess my status as wife represented a new maturity or something. A success. I could make a relationship with someone work enough to get down the aisle, so I must have something going right.
Then came the whole, whoops, accidental pregnancy (my husband chides me to call it a “surprise”) and things shifted in another direction completely. This role of motherhood seemed less about success, and more about constant failure. There’s always something to sniff at or ask about dubiously. Disposable diapers? Hm. Bottlefeeding? Eyebrow raise. Where my advice suddenly became more valuable with marriage, my opinions mattered less in motherhood. Now, friends, family, strangers were ready and willing to offer me their advice. And whereas marital status had resulted in being invited to extra, motherhood meant exclusion. “She’s probably too busy with the baby,” I could imagine them saying. Or worse, “Ugh. Maybe she’ll bring that brat of hers. Don’t invite her!”
The interesting part to me is that through each of these status changes, I haven’t personally felt drastically different. I wasn’t more mature the day after my wedding than I was the day before. I may be a little less well-slept, but I’m not altogether more harried now that I have a kid on my lap. In the same way that I’m still essentially the same person whether my Twitter profile reads, “Teacher” or “Illustrator,” the same goes for whether I’m wearing a ring or carrying a diaper bag.
On the internet, we may be forced into one-dimensions, but it concerns me when we start to do it offline too. Because it’s too easy. The internet is the lazy way to stay in touch with high-school friends, the slacker’s way to gather information for a research paper, and I guess the easy, lazy way to relate to one another. (Or am I the only one who makes broad assumptions about people based on their Facebook status updates?) But in real life, things are complicated and nuanced. As much as it would simplify things, people really can’t be boiled down to 140 characters (and most of us don’t walk around telling each other how much we love vintage teapots when we first meet each other, so that just goes to show the absurdity of that online habit). We’re all sort of complex and messy. And that’s kind of a good thing. Because life is really boring in 140 characters or less. And I’d like to think that wife and mother just underscores who I am, instead of defining it.
Photo from Liz’s personal collection.