Social Rehabilitation

and the sometimes significance of selfies

Social Rehabilitation And The Significance of Selfies | APW (1)

Nearly all of the pictures of G and me were selfies. I was always better at aiming them, despite his having the arm-length advantage, so most of the photos are of our smiling faces and my distorted arm—I cropped it out where possible.

I used to think everyone’s relationship must be this way, documented with awkward couples selfies and the odd holiday snapshot, but since our engagement ended (rather spectacularly) last summer I’ve noticed more and more non-selfie photos of coupled-up friends on social media sites. And the other day, as I was discussing the insular nature of the relationship with a friend, I realized that what I’d never even considered was how rarely we went out and surrounded ourselves with people. People who had camera phones and working index fingers. People who were not only capable of standing ten feet from us and calling out “three, two, one…” but who might actually want to record our presence in their lives.

I’m not saying we had no friends. To the contrary, I had plenty of friends, and most of them welcomed him with open arms—he also had friends, but his definition of friendship involved significantly less invested time than mine. But mostly the issue was that we had zero mutual friends; they were all either mine or his. And between that fact and the fact that we were old before our time (he didn’t enjoy socializing in large groups and I didn’t enjoy pushing him to do things he didn’t enjoy), we wound up with very few decent photos of the two of us.

When we were planning our wedding, I broached the subject of engagement photos. He couldn’t understand why anybody would want to do an extra photo shoot, and while I understood his hesitation (and, admittedly, had to wonder whether I really just wanted them because everyone else had them), I pushed for them. As I explained to him: all our wedding photos would involve the costumes of the day. Wouldn’t it be nice to have some pretty, professional, taken-from-a-distance pictures of the two of us in normal clothing? He agreed with that, and we planned the photo session—obviously, we never got to the point of taking the pictures.

Now that I’m looking back on our seven years together with the benefit of hindsight, I can tell you that while the lack of photos itself wasn’t necessarily a red flag, the reason for the dearth was. I like socializing; my friends are important to me and merit a solid investment of my free time, and I also truly enjoy meeting new people. Sure, I’m an introvert at heart—I have some anxiety about screwing up in social situations, and I love my alone time with a good book—but conquering my introversion is always worth the effort. He categorically disagreed, implicitly and explicitly, throughout the relationship.

These days I show up in a lot of photos online, with friends, surrounded by family, and sometimes by myself, just goofing off. Very few of them are selfies, and that’s just the way I like it. I may be single for the first time in seven years, and that may come with feelings of extreme isolation and loneliness, but at least I’m not truly alone. In fact I’ve never felt more surrounded by love.

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  • KC

    It’s amazing how many relationship things aren’t necessarily bad (or good) until you look at the “why” – I think people’s different personal experiences of different reasons for the same symptoms is part of why advice often differs. Thank you for writing this!

    Also, so glad you are now surrounded by love. :-)

    • Cathi

      This this this.

      Some of my happiest friend-couples are the ones who go overboard with selfies, because they’re just so geeked about being together and looking happy at every given moment. So a preponderance of selfies isn’t a warning sign, for them. But it could be, if it meant something other than “we’re together! yay!”. Taking a look at “why” is so important, and so interesting.

  • anon!

    Hm, I really liked this piece. I like how the author connected the “selfies” to what she observed in her relationship, but of course I don’t think the amount of “selfies” can be used to diagnose an ending relationship (and I’m sure that’s not what she was trying to do, but rather making an observation that made for a great piece of writing). My partner and I have lots of selfies – we don’t have a lot of mutual friends at all. Our friends don’t really live in our city. We both moved to our city from different places, leaving groups of friends behind. So most of our free time is spent with each other, her arm being the awkward one ;)

    • K.

      Yeah, I’d guess the majority of couples with a lot of selfies fall into the transitional category of being in places without built in communities. I’m jealous of people who have college friends, old co-workers, etc physically near them, but there are a lot of people where their partner is their main source of social outlet outside of work or school…at least, until a new community is built, which can take a lot of time. But like the author said, it’s always good to take a gut check on things like this and make sure you’re both aligned to a mutual goal. For us, we both desperately want a new community (and have been working on strengthening our long distance communities as well. We embrace our introversion, but we’re also both the ones to tell the other, “Hey, you should go to that thing, it will be good for you” or “Hey, it’s been awhile since you’ve called Jane, don’t let it go as long as last time.” That means more to me than the fact that, technically, we haven’t made any new really close friends in the 6 months we’ve lived here. Which I think is the author’s point, but I also want to underline how that part of it resonated with me, particularly the pushing each other, as introverts, to grow and maintain relationships :)

      • KC

        Having the same general goals/priorities is definitely more important than whether your ducks are being cooperative in any given time period or not! :-) (and yay for introverts helping each other maintain relationships!)

  • Kayjayoh

    One of the red flags I refused to see in my worst relationship ever is that we *only* ever hung out with “our” friends, which is to say, our co-workers. (It was a weird relationship that began in earnest while I was laid off from our mutual employer, but continued after I returned.) Aside from his roommates, I never met any of *his* friends and he resisted efforts to meet any of mine. We even spent our last NYE together watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer re-runs in his room, because *our* friends weren’t throwing a party and he didn’t want to go to a party with my friends. Red. Flag.

    • Oh no! Buffy is awesome but him not wanting to meet your friends is not.

      • Kayjayoh

        Buffy is totally awesome. (which is how I was able to justify it to myself at the time.)

    • Lisha

      It’s funny how much the importance of friends weave in to our relationships. In a past relationship, I had the opposite effect; we only hung out with his friends, he didn’t care so much for mine despite me inviting my friends out when we all hung out together (which is funny because our break up talk included how he felt he didn’t know any of my friends – they were right there in front of you the entire time!!) Needless to say, it got to a point where it always seemed that we were hanging out with his friends, no “us” time and that’s where I put my foot down. When you put more effort into your friends than your girlfriend, that’s a huge red flag.

    • Meg

      WOW that reminded me of my last breakup. I said something along the lines of “you never want to hang out with me” or something like that and he said “you’d rather be watching buffy on your computer in your room anyway” D:
      it was probably true.

    • Amanda

      I just had to join in to say that I too spent a nye watching Buffy with the worst relationship of my life. So glad that’s over but yes Buffy is awesome.

      • Kayjayoh

        [internet fist bump]

  • Katriel

    My husband and I both hate taking photos – we both feel like we’d rather enjoy what we’re doing than obsessively document it while it’s happening. But the down side of this is that in 4 years of marriage we have only 19 photos of us together, most of which aren’t very good (blurry, only one face fully in the photo, etc). We’ve finally decided to get a professional photo shoot this spring to document our lives and our neighborhood before we adopt a child this summer – it’ll be nice to have some good non-wedding photos!

    • malkavian

      My husband and I are the same way. Neither of us really remember to take photos (unless the cats are doing something exceptionally cute), and our friends don’t take many either.

      • Katriel

        Haha THIS! The vast majority of both of our phone pictures are of our dog.

    • KC

      I’ve been thinking more and more about this, too. How are you finding a professional for a photo shoot? Asking for quotes for a non-engagement “engagement” shoot, basically?

      • It’s sometimes referred to as a “family session” so you could probably Google “family photographer [city]”…that seems to be the go-to term for post-wedding shoots that are basically just good photos of people being casual. Or frame it as an anniversary shoot! I’m sure most photographers (even ones who normally just do wedding photos) will be happy to provide a quote for either of those things. :)

        • KC

          Thank you! That’s super-helpful. :-)

    • carolynprobably

      Last summer when we went whale watching, our guide made a really big deal about not stressing about our cameras. How we can ALWAYS look at photos of whales but we can never go back to this moment of experiencing it, feeling the cold and wet, smelling the salt, etc. It seems so obvious but it’s caused me to really chill out about pulling out my phone constantly (and then never printing the photos, obvs). Anyway, I call this the “whale watching” now, which is basically my slang/mantra for remembering to live moments instead of documenting them. So to Katriel, just be glad you’re making memories.

      • Meg

        I love this story

      • C

        This is exactly how I feel about taking photos…I feel like I’m detached from the moment when I’m looking at it from behind a camera.

    • Jess

      This is kind of how I feel about photos. I love the idea photography and art and purposefully going out and creating…

      But when I’m experiencing something, I kind of forget to photograph it at all. I tend to get immersed in what is going on and not document it. I’ve had people take pictures of me/us on trips at major tourist destinations to commemorate where we were and how we felt, but other than that… I’m pretty low on pictures.

      • Caroline

        Me too! I have so few photos of myself and my partner and my friends, because when I’m spending time with them, we’re hanging out, not shooting photos.

    • laddibugg

      I can only speak for myself, but I LOVE finding old pics of my parents and their friends and family. It’s so fun to laugh at how weird and somewhat unfamiliar they looked. The pics just seem like random snapshots, not an obsessive documentation.

      • Jess

        Along that line, at my grandma’s funeral we found this picture of her when she was in her 20’s shoveling snow off the front stoop in these enormous boots… and a bikini. It was a side of her I felt had always been there, but not always seen. So cool to see.

  • Huh. This is really interesting to me, because I’ve been struggling for the last year or so to find good new Facebook profile pictures. Let alone good couple/family pictures. I’ve been feeling a dearth of time with friends lately, so it’s certainly not a new realization that I would be happier if I got out and about more, but using lack of good photos as an indicator of larger problems really works for me. It also works as a concrete goal, too, which I like. I have a hard time telling whether I’m spending “enough” time with friends, because my introvert tendencies mean I tend to hide out at home whenever I can. But if I can come up with a new profile picture, say, every 3 months or so… that’d be a lot better than what I have now. :)

  • Cathi

    I love this. I love how Anne’s experience is so personal, and yet so universal.

    For my relationship, photos and social media mean nothing. We’re not heavy users, and half our friends don’t have an online presence outside of email. But while the measuring tools are different, the measurements of the health of our relationship is the same– we respect and honor each others friendship styles. Our outside lives help to nurture our inside-the-relationship life.

  • Meg

    We’re long distance so most of our pictures are like you said selfies or taken by either his or my family…and well my mom isn’t so great with a camera ;) He’s only going to be moving here about a month before the wedding so we’ll probably be having our engagement shoot (it’s included in the photographer’s package) either right before we get married…or even after! So we won’t really be able to use the photos for save the dates (that went out a month ago, and hilariously that spectacular photograph was taken by a fellow tourist who asked us to take a picture of him and his girlfriend and he reciprocated).
    So yeah we have a dearth of pictures of us together that aren’t selfies and I am going to cherish the engagement shoot pictures even if they aren’t going to really be traditional ones, since we’ll have been engaged a year this Saturday!

  • Daniella

    I can’t put my finger on quite why I love this so much, I just do. It is so very honest with out being pushy – it’s all about your focus on the “why”. And I echo what KC said, I’m so happy your are now surrounded by love.

  • I’ve been thinking about this all afternoon. Because for me the exact same thing means the exact opposite. The bulk of our photos have either been taken by me holding the camera out or by us setting up the tripod and using the timer on the camera. But for us that means that we’re there for each other and doing things together, meeting each others’ needs.

    It’s so fascinating how almost the exact same situation from the outside can look so different from the inside.

  • Anne Putnam

    I so rarely read online comments because people can be so shockingly misunderstanding and nasty, but I’m glad I read these – you guys are just the BEST community on the internets! This is exactly why I still read APW, even though pretty much all the rest of the wedding stuff in the world still makes me really sad.

    Sadly, I can’t stick around and read all the comments all day or I’ll never get any work done, but I just wanted to say thank you all so much for the love and support. You’ve made my whole month!


    • anon

      Just wanted to chime in to say that I loved this piece, related to it so much, and wanted to thank you for writing/submitting it. I also realized with the benefit of hindsight (after ending a six-year relationship and an engagement) that our lack of photos together had a lot to do with the fact that our relationship was not actually based on a shared life in many ways, and hence had few opportunities to actually take such photos. I completely feel you on the wedding stuff being hard to read, but this was exactly the kind of thing I needed to read, so thanks for that. Glad to hear you’re surrounded by support/love.

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