Why I Left Facebook—Only to Return Eight Months Later
There’s no denying Facebook brings out our worst insecurities. Here are some suggestions for how to use it without allowing it to interfere with your life—and happiness.
Today’s guest post is by my dear friend Paul Perkins, who surprised me last year when he told me he was taking an indefinite break from Facebook. If you follow my Facebook page, you’re well-aware that I use the website every day, so I was intrigued. But I figured he would return to Facebook in a couple of weeks—well, I was wrong. To my surprise, it wasn’t until eight months later that he got back on. And after we talked about what he learned during his sabbatical, I wanted him to share it with my readers. So welcome Paul to my blog, and after you’re finished reading it, go check out his blog, PaulPerkins.com.
Around this time last year, I did the unthinkable. No, I didn’t quit my job and hitchhike around the country. Nor did I sell all of my possessions and move into a commune. Actually, I did something much more drastic.
I deactivated my Facebook account.
Even more extreme, I didn’t log back on for eight months.
One of the most interesting things was how quickly my friends reacted. For example, one friend took it to mean my fiancé dumped me. Another friend thought I had died.
The truth is, I left Facebook because I didn’t like how it was affecting me.
When I joined Facebook nine years ago, I couldn’t get enough. I loved catching up with friends from high school and college, and it was fun seeing what had become of people I’d lost touch with over the years.
But after a while, I noticed something strange. For one, I’d unconsciously become addicted to Facebook—mindlessly scrolling through the newsfeed whenever I had a free moment. Second, I suddenly knew more about the lives of people I hadn’t seen in years than real life friends. And third, every time I logged off Facebook, I felt bad about myself, and I didn’t know why.
While all three of these issues troubled me, it was the last one that bothered me most. As I talked with friends and thought about it, I realized two things:
- Facebook brings out our vanity. By allowing us to control how others perceive us, we become obsessed with projecting perfection. If we want to be beautiful, we edit photos before posting them. If we want to be popular, we magnify details about our busy life. If we want a perfect family, we go on and on about how wonderful our spouse and children are.
- Facebook encourages us to compare our lives to the lives of our peers. Since everyone is projecting perfection, we’re left discouraged—because we know we’re not actually perfect. But if everyone else is perfect, there must be something fundamentally wrong with us.
Despite these realizations, I remained on Facebook, because I just couldn’t work up the courage to let it go—until, that is, I neared my wedding day. Determined not to let anything distract from the experience, I made the ultimate sacrifice.
I quit Facebook.
And you know what? It was wonderful. I found myself better engaged with life—not wondering how I could translate experiences into status updates and filtered photos. And because I was no longer comparing my broken life against the perfect lives of “friends,” I felt less discontent and dissatisfied. I grew to better appreciate the blessings of my own life. For a while, I wondered if I would ever log back onto Facebook. But one evening last December, I decided to return.
You might wonder why I returned to Facebook if life was so wonderful without it. There are several reasons.
The most obvious is because Facebook is still the best tool for connecting with many of my friends. I mean, most of us just don’t have time to talk on the phone. As a result, distant friendships (and sometimes close ones) often wither because they’re too difficult to maintain. But with Facebook, I remain engaged in the lives of friends even if I don’t have time to talk on the phone or meet in person.
More importantly, I realized it’s possible to have a healthy relationship with Facebook. With the proper guardrails and a bit of discipline, I felt like I could use it without letting my vanity and need to compare run wild. And these are some of the rules I put in place:
- Remember everyone is broken below the surface. No one has a perfect life, even if it appears they do. Everyone’s messy and confused, struggling to make it through another day, regardless of status updates and photos.
- Don’t project perfection. Quit pretending I have it all together. That doesn’t mean I should expose everything. But I shouldn’t project a fraud.
- Impose limits. Severely limit the time I spend on Facebook and where I can access it. For example, if I’m in a social setting, I won’t open it on my phone.
- Squash the addiction: The most destructive habit I got into was newsfeed scrolling. It became like an unconscious fidget. This had to stop.
It’s been almost four months since I returned to Facebook. While I’ve occasionally broken one of my rules, I’ve mostly kept them. And the results have been remarkable. Not only do I feel in control of when I get on, but I’m not left with a weight of failure every time I log off. And that’s good—because Facebook shouldn’t interfere with life. It should only complement it.
Remember to check out more of Paul’s writing at PaulPerkins.com. Photo credit: Maria Elena, Creative Commons.