Skipping the #LoveandMarriage challenge

Last week I was kindly and politely nominated for the #LoveandMarriage challenge.
After much thought, I am kindly and politely declining.
If you happen to be interested…Here’s why:

Facebook is basically designed as a never-ended challenge to post smiling, happy-appearing pictures. It is human nature to emulate behavior, and Facebook uses that nature to its full advantage to hook us all on posting happier-looking pictures than our friends. People who are married (who have a socially-acceptable partner who has made a public life-long commitment to stand next to them and smile for cameras) have a distinct advantage in the Facebook universe over those who are not. There has never been a shortage of photos of smiling married couples on my feed. Never. Ever.

If the point is to post smiley pictures of married couples, then…. Challenge met, people. Trust me.

But this challenge says that its purpose is to “encourage love in marriage,” and that is a big problem in my book. Since when does a smiling picture encourage love? It never has in my life.

My first marriage lasted 11 years. Since I loved scrapbooking, that’s 11 years worth of books full of smiling photos. On even the worst days of our relationship, when we both were miserable, whenever someone shoved a camera in our face and told us to “Smile,” we dutifully did. Recently when moving our bookshelves, my current husband was leafing through the photos and expressed his sadness and surprise at how the marriage could have ended when it looked like we were so happy all the time. Those photos only told a meticulously-edited version of that relationship which was nowhere near the truth. We were both unhappy, but because we were married we were bombarded with encouragement to keep standing next to each other and faking a smile. At that time, struggling so hard to make an unworkable marriage work, seeing pictures of other smiling couples DID NOT help or encourage me.

The next three years were spent dealing with my divorce. I posted almost no pictures of myself in that time period. I dare you, go back in my feed and look. It’s like I disappeared from my own life. I went places and I did things, but I have no posted evidence, because I had no partner to stand next to me and smile. (The fact that I was broke, living with my parents, and didn’t own a cell phone, camera, or computer is beside the point. Like I mean, literally beside the point holding up a big sign and yelling, “See the problem here!) However, that photographic loneliness doesn’t tell the story either, because in that divorce I was doing the most loving thing I have ever done in a relationship. Letting my first husband go was a loving act. I am immensely proud of way we navigated those days. We are healthier and happier apart than we ever were in any of those picture albums, and my son gained a stable home life and a step-mother who has surrounded him with love. At that time, struggling to create a peaceful divorce, seeing pictures of other smiling couples DID NOT help or encourage me.

The last five years have been about building my second marriage, and I have had more smiling pictures than I know what to do with. My husband posts ridiculous amounts of couple photos of us. I post far fewer. I think it’s because I still feel the sting of all those years of scrapbooking. I know that a photo, any photo, really only tells the whole story to the person in it. We never whip out the camera in the middle of an argument. There are no photos of the weeping and gnashing of teeth that a workable marriage really requires. And so I know, from the depths of my heart, that posting pictures of myself as a smiling couple DOES NOT help or encourage others to have more love in their marriage.

My photo may sell others on trying a new restaurant, or visiting the zoo, or seeing the new art exhibit, but it won’t make anybody treat their spouse in a more loving way. In fact, it’s far more likely to put extra pressure on members of fragile relationships as couples who are struggling to make their marriages work say, “Why don’t I feel as happy as they look?”

The ALS challenge aided the fight against neurologic disease not because of all the funny videos that were posted, but by the moments that no one took a picture of. The moments people dug in their pockets and gave real money to the cause. If you want to encourage me to have more loving relationships, find a way to show me the real ways you are bringing more love into the world. In my experience, married people as a group will have to dig deep to meet a challenge like that. Because I already know that the world is full of fabulous single, divorced, widowed and separated people who are passing on the photo sessions to instead do amazing, loving things with their lives. These unmarried folks encourage me by their example to be a loving person far more than any “married photo” does.

So, I kindly and politely choose not to take this challenge. But I am going to challenge myself over the next week to post some stories of friends who by their choices and behavior (regardless of their marital status) have encouraged me to show more honesty and love in my relationships. I think Facebook could use more of that.

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