The Search for “Atta Girls”

When I was a kid my mom got my father a card for his birthday. On the front cover was a little boy and his grandpa. The little boy had turned to the grandpa and said “let’s play darts. I’ll throw and you say wonderful!” It was the most darling scene because anyone that has spent time with children can obviously see that the little boy thought that was how you played. You threw, and someone complimented you. “Throwing darts” quickly became family shorthand for “I need some atta girls.” It’s an expression we use when we know we are shamelessly asking for validation. And let’s face it: we all need validation. For some reason we decided that by using this pithy expression, we are so terribly self aware that we do not need to be admonished for an action that previous generations would have shamed us for: self gratuity.

To my dear loyal followers that logged on each morning for months to see what I wrote, I genuinely apologize for my absence from this blog. My neglect of the blog started merely from a lack of time. I entered Pure Barre teacher training which took all of my free time, and then a new job kept me far busier than anticipated. So I gave my self a month off. And that led to two. And before I knew it, I got out of the habit.

I went back to write countless times, but the issue became not that I didn’t have anything to say, but rather, that I was embarrassed that I was asking people to read what I had to say. Why are my thoughts worthy of being out there? How could I be so self important as to think that my musings on events, or that my fashion choices, or my recipes were worthy of a read and a double tap?

I tell you this not so that you will leave comments telling that my thoughts are worthy, I’m not asking for you to “throw darts.” Really, I am simply pontificating on a larger issue that my generation is faced with: just because you can share, should you? You see, we live in a world where my generation puts everything on Instagram. It’s actually quite horrifying. I remember distinctly telling James when we were dreaming of someday getting engaged that I didn’t want to be proposed to in public. I was terrified that people would judge my reaction, that I would be too shocked to cry (I was, actually, when the time came), or that I would ugly cry, or that I would just be so awkward, and I didn’t want that incredibly special moment to be ruined by my own tendency to get in my head. He listened, and to this day our engagement was witnessed only by the walls of apartment 176, and the NSA, if they happened to be tapped into my webcam at the time because my laptop was open right next to me since I had been working on it.

But the privacy of this moment actually became more special the more time went on. You see, proposals can be anything from a few fumbled words to a whole soliloquy. The thing is, you don’t know until you plan it. But the things that James said? The promises that he made about our future, our children, his intentions in our marriage? I wouldn’t want anyone to hear them. Don’t get me wrong, they should hear them. They were amazing. But that’s the thing: they were amazing to me. And they were amazing to me because they were filled with all the secrets we had told each other and all the private moments we had shared over our years together. A proposal is a very, very, very intimate thing at its core, so the idea of having a video of it to post on Instagram? Why would you do that? And then I can’t help but wonder: if James knew that his words would be shared with the world rather than just his future wife, would he have been so beautifully vulnerable?

That, to me, is the big issue. When we started sharing things on social media it was just that: sharing. Now it feels that rather than sharing our actual lives we are creating falsified versions of them so that we can post them. We are trying to keep up with the Joneses and the Joneses aren’t actually even keeping up with themselves.

Don’t get me wrong, I have moments where I love Instagram. I call it “my grown up picture book.” I love looking at pretty pictures and laughing out loud at funny memes. I live states away from all of my friends from college and high school and I am joyful to see their happy lives. The other day, though, I went in to my iPhone settings to go in low battery mode since my iPhone 7 (yep, people still have those) dies so quickly now. I discovered that since my last phone charge 28% of my charge had been spent on Instagram. I was horrified. I realized I’d wasted who knows how many minutes on a silly application watching other people live their lives.

The bigger issue than simply my wasted time and probably damaged eyes, comes from the 21st century version of an old expression: if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Sadly, the new question is actually “if a life event happens, and you don’t post it on social media, did it even happen?” We have gotten to the point where we create events around the photo.

I am 28 years old which means that my entire newsfeed is filled with two things: weddings and babies. It’s a joyous time, but the more I look at it the more I realize how much we create events just for the photo. Ten years ago a “gender reveal party” was a very private affair where you and your husband would go to the doctor and he or she would tell you that you were having a boy or a girl. And then you would call your family and tell them. Now you have to have a whole party with all kinds of cutesy games and Pinterest-y things and you have to invent a hashtag for your unborn child so that every moment of their life is captured. How do we not realize how sick that is?

We have been creating moments for ourselves since the beginning of time. The interesting thing, though, is that it used to just be for us. There is a photo of my sisters and me on the mantle at my mom’s house. We are all smiling, but my sisters and I remember distinctly that I cried my eyes out that day. Molly and Merry had gotten haircuts that day and I, in my eight-year-old logic, felt that I had been given the short end of the stick and shouldn’t have to be photographed when their hair was done and mine wasn’t. The thing is, though, that that photo just sits on the mantle, and no one else ever saw it. Mom wasn’t out there with our old family camera that still took film insisting that I smile so that she could share it on social media bragging (and yes, it is bragging) about how cute her kids were and what a blessing motherhood is.

I wish that I was cool enough to be completely off of social media. I wish that I knew how to disconnect in that way, and I could be writing all this atop my high horse up there on the moral high ground. What I can tell you is that I have a new philosophy. Instagram is often referred to as the “highlight reel.” I read a blog recently, though, where the blogger talked about how even that isn’t true. You see, the truly blissful moments in life you don’t actually post. The sound of your puppy running down the hall when he hears your key in the door, the smell of your coffee pot brewing, the warmth of your love’s hand reaching for yours in a crowded room – we don’t post those. (Or we shouldn’tand if you are are stop.) And that is where we will find our redemption – we must find that line. What is and is not appropriate to share?

I suppose it’s different for everyone. Some people are massive over-sharers, and always will be even if Al Gore decides that we no longer deserve his sweet invention and takes the internet back. Here’s my new rule though, and I hope you will join me in following. Remember that just because something can be shared doesn’t mean that it should be shared. 

With that, I am going to begin writing again. I love writing, I really do. But I am not going to post a picture on Instagram every time I do reminding people to read it, and I am not going to share it every time on my Facebook. Truly, those platforms are a great way to advertise, but I don’t want my friends to think that I am begging for them to read. And, frankly, I don’t want to beg. Because if I beg, if I shamelessly seek the “atta girl” then aren’t I just as bad as the people that post falsified versions of their life on the internet just for the sake of likes?

I don’t know if I’ll write daily, or weekly, or if this is going to be a once a month thing. What I do know is that I will share thoughts, I will share joy, but I will not share anything that, before the dawn of the internet where the lines got blurry, I wouldn’t invite a stranger to be privy too. And I will not create moments simply for the sake of popularity. I don’t need darts that badly.