Social media is a great tool to maintain friends, meet new ones, explore different communities, and discover cool events; but also the perfect platform for unhealthy comparisons. We’ve all compared our bodies to those of Victoria Secret super models, or our vacations to social media influencers’ yacht getaways. In some cases, we’ve even compared our relationships to those of couples we follow on Instagram, which can cause major damage in our relationship with our S.O. So, how do we stop? How do we avoid getting sucked into the black hole of relationship comparison on social media ? Read on to find out why we even compare to start with, why it’s toxic, and how we can break the habit.
Why do we compare in the first place?
Comparison is a natural phenomenon in human behavior
Comparison is a natural part of human development. As young children, we measured the extent of our abilities by comparing our skills to others’. We’d ask ourselves questions like “who can draw the best?” or “who can run the fastest?”, developing our taste for competition in amusing and non-harmful ways. Once we reached adolescence, our increasing interest in romantic relationships and burgeoning sexual desire lead us to more appearance-based comparisons. With puberty’s impact on our body and mind, we explored what “attraction” was from a physical standpoint. It was superficial, but a crucial step towards body acceptance and adulthood. As grown adults, we now tap into “social comparison.” It helps us identify our social and personal worth relative to others. It’s our way of fostering positive self-improvement, self-motivation, and self-image. For instance, when Julia and Nick bought a house, it might have motivated Nina and Luke, their friends, to work towards upgrading their own living situation (in this case, the mirroring of friends’ behavior might not be dangerously competitive, but just thoughtfully influenced by positive moves in someone else’s life). These natural types of comparisons are building blocks in men and women’s lives, positively influencing their personal and professional growth.
Social media fosters an environment of over-comparison
Comparison may be natural and harmless in some ways, but once social media exploded, we were constantly exposed to our friends’ achievements, to supermodels’ year-long beach bods, and to celebrities’ lavish dinner parties, which spurred a consistent opportunity to experience personal dissatisfaction and envy. That’s when comparison lost its constructive element, and progressively became detrimental. Two of the main reasons that social media-based comparison becomes problematic are:
Social media is unrealistic
More often than not, social media is about showing off the good stuff, and avoiding putting anything negative or unglamorous on display. Posters are selective with what they put out into the world, and there’s a whole world of filters and hashtags (#blessed) that help curate that perfect appearance on Instagram. As a viewer, scrolling through hundreds of images a day of seemingly over-accomplished influencers, it can become natural to question our own accomplishments and lifestyles. Should we be as fit as Ronnie, the gym junkie? Adam and Daniel always seem to be somewhere new and exotic while we’re always at the office — should we be traveling more? Nick and Julia do yoga as a couple every weekend — why aren’t we doing that? We end up re-evaluating the greatness of our own achievements as a result of Instagram bombarding us with climactic moments in others’ lives. We compare our lifetime to our friends’ best days, and our accomplishments to a super star’s career. And even if we know it’s not rational, we can’t help but feed into it.
Social media is endless
According to data collected by the Pew Research center, 81% of Americans now own smartphones. Approximately 264 of 330 million Americans are therefore one tap away from accessing social media platforms – whoa, that’s a lot! Not only that, Americans spend a daily average of three hours and fifteen minutes on their phones, giving them more than enough time to scour the ‘gram. Tech has truly made social media a huge part of our lives, which can unfortunately lead to unhealthy comparisons as we find ourselves constantly and endlessly connected to one another online.
Why comparing your relationship to others’ is toxic?
You may take your relationship for granted because of unrealistic expectations
Social media gives you a filtered perception of relationships — the good gets a spotlight, while the bad is stashed away. Therefore, the more you compare your own relationship to the ones on social media, the more you over-romanticize others’ relationships and feel unsatisfied with your own. This over-idealized vision of love can cause you to doubt the legitimacy of your own relationship. You might be asking yourself: “Does he actually love me if he’s not posting about me?” The constant questioning might taint your relationship by making your partner feel insecure, and threatened. Your S.O might think he or she isn’t right for you because no matter what they do, you’ll have some sort of criticism, anyway.
Communication may decline and distance can settle in
The omnipresent pressure of reaching social media’s unrealistic couple standards will taunt your partner. Consequently, he or she may distance themselves to avoid conflict altogether. But the more your S.O backs off (so to speak), the more you’ll think he or she isn’t leveling up to social media standards, the more you’ll criticize, and the more they’ll distance themselves. Quite the pattern, isn’t it? It’s a vicious circle all fueled by comparison.
You might think irrationally and feel dissatisfied (at all times)
If comparing your relationship to other Instagram users becomes a recurring habit, you’ll continuously find yourself reaching for unfeasible goals. You’ll make Instagram (or any other social media platform) your reality, losing all sense of rationale. And when social media takes over you, it can totally change your perspective of love (for the worse), and may leave you permanently dissatisfied.
How to stop the comparing?
Focus on why you’re comparing instead of continuing to do it
Comparing your relationship with others’ can reveal the lack of confidence you have in yours and your S.O.’s future. For instance, if your friends are getting married, and you’re still dating, you might question the progress of your relationship, and develop doubts about where you’re going. Rather than continuing the vicious cycle of comparison and continuing to feel down about your relationship’s status, take a step back and try to figure out why you’re feeling what you’re feeling. Do you and your partner want different things? Are you dissatisfied with the speed at which things are moving? Once you take a step back, you might realize that you’re actually not ready to get married now anyway, and you were just getting caught up in the social (media) pressure. If that’s not the case, and you realize that you actually do want more out of your relationship, you might need to address with your partner to make sure that you’re on the same page. Either way, making the kind of progress that you need to make for yourself and your own relationship comes from cutting social media out of the picture and thinking about your own situation (and wants) objectively.
Highlight your relationship’s positives
Instead of trying to satisfy social media’s standard of what a relationship should be or look like, focus on your relationship’s positives. That starts with you not scolding your boyfriend for not posting pictures of you on Instagram (even when your best friend’s boyfriend might be posting about her constantly). Once you stop the shaming and criticism, bring up the awesome times you and your partner spent together. Let him or her know they’re loved. Invest more of your time finding new ways to please each other, rather than putting each other down over trivial things. Be constructive, not destructive.
Turn envy into action
Envious of Nick and Julia’s romantic date night? Jealous of Adam and Daniel’s getaway to Bali? Instead of comparing your couple to theirs, use their lovey-dovey experiences as inspiration for your next date night or exotic getaway. Next time you and your S.O. are laid out on the couch, watching Friends and drinking beer one Friday night, offer to check out the new museum down the street instead. Find ways to get a little excitement into your own relationship (whether it’s a local adventure or something a little bigger).
Take a break from scrolling
Social media comparison is toxic, and when you’re constantly exposed to it, it can be impossible to escape. To stop the comparison, cut yourself off from social media for a bit. Simply delete your Instagram app for a week, and tell yourself not to use Twitter or Facebook after 7pm. Setting ground rules in this new era of social media is important to remain sane; so go ahead, build your social media rulebook now!