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Dear Swipe This!
I’m one of the youngest adults in a big family and I recently made a digital faux-pas. My cousin and his wife have a baby and they don’t want to post any pictures of their child to social media. My cousin doesn’t even have any social media accounts and his wife agrees with his decision. The problem is their baby is really fat and cute. So when I met him, I snapped a bunch of pics and then, without thinking, I posted one to Instagram.
I swear I wasn’t trying to breach their boundaries. It just totally slipped my mind. Then, about a week later, I got wind of the gossip in my family. I don’t know who told him, but my cousin found out that I had posted the photo. He was very upset, but instead of telling me, he told my aunt, who told her daughter, who told my brother, who told me. At first, I kind of rolled my eyes at the whole thing. But then, within a few hours, I started to feel really guilty and I took down the post.
I use social media a lot. Not in, like, an exhibitionist way, but I love documenting my life and sharing it with my friends. Especially moments of love and beauty. Family is very important to me. In fact, I cherish my family very dearly. So I felt like sharing that picture was just another expression of love and joy, and I’m a little sad that he didn’t get that.
I guess I am wondering if I owe him an apology. On the one hand, I kind of think the whole thing is petty and stupid. He can’t protect his baby from social media forever and if it mattered to him so much, he could have reached out to me directly instead of venting to everyone else in our family. On the other hand, I know I fucked up. I crossed a boundary and I don’t want him to think that I’m just some self-involved kid who doesn’t care. Also, if I’m being totally honest, I just don’t want bad vibes in the air the next time my family is together.
How do I make this right? Am I overthinking it? Do I owe him an apology? Or is it best to just let this whole thing disappear into the digital ether?
Not Another Self-Obsessed Millennial
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Dear Not Another Self-Obsessed Millennial,
It takes a lot of courage to admit to ourselves when we are wrong. And it takes even more courage to announce it to the people we love. Especially if we’ve been granted the opportunity to sweep our misdeeds under the rug.
Because what’s out of sight isn’t necessarily gone. Things have a way creeping back out into the light. And if we don’t deal with the cobwebs of our carelessness in the present moment, they begin to attract more dust and dirt and regret over time. Then when we pull back the rug, what we find may be far more unsightly than the minor speck we thought we were tucking away.
So while I applaud you for taking the photo down and beginning the work of righting what you did wrong, there is still some work to be done. You say you are the youngest adult in your family, but clearly, you are not a child. At the very least, you are grown up enough to know when you have made a mistake. You also know who is responsible for cleaning up after yourself, and it’s not a parent or an older relative, no matter how ready they are to dish the dirt. The only person who can take care of the clean up is you.
I believe the question you need to ask is not should you apologize—because that answer is clear—but rather can you forgive yourself?
At some level, it sounds to me, like you did want to breach your cousin’s boundaries. You knew his strict policy and, consciously or not, part of you must have wanted to forget it to make this kind of blunder. This doesn’t make you a bad person and it doesn’t make your actions cruel. But I think it’s worth thinking about why you would want to make this kind of mistake.
It seems to me your cousin’s lifestyle choices may be at odds with your own. I firmly believe that neither of you is right or wrong. Choosing to share intimate and joyful moments on social media can make us feel delightfully connected to something bigger. Alternately, it can make us feel woefully invaded. There is a kind of solace in knowing how to unplug, and those who choose to forgo certain kinds of social media may find real sanctuary in knowing that their lives exist only for themselves and the treasured few with whom they choose to share it.
So while you seem very much at peace with your own views on social media, I wonder if you have done the work of investigating how you really feel about your cousin and his choices. It is very easy to judge the lives of others. It is much harder to take a look at how their choices threaten our own. Is it possible you have some misgivings about his strict social media policies because you assume that someone who lives that way is implicitly judging you and your own practices? In a family where it appears everyone talks, what do you assume your cousin is saying about you when you’re not in the room?
While it’s OK to be curious about how others see us, when we start assessing who we are only through the eyes of others we begin to tread a grim and narrow path.
In the context of your family, whose opinions you value and whose love you hold dear, perhaps you’re not so at peace with your sense of self. It’s common as we grow older to be frustrated with our families’ perceptions of us, which can seem stuck in our pre-teen phase while we feel like we’ve otherwise evolved. But even if your aunt tells you “good job” or a cousin insists that “you’re the best,” I don’t think you’ll find much comfort in that. You will only find true peace when you begin to make your own decisions about who you are.
Can you use your annoyance at the pattern of family gossip as an entry point to learn a little bit more about who you are and what you value? You might not be able to stop them from having opinions, but how do you feel about the choices you’ve made? Are you at peace? What can you say or do to show your cousin who you are and what you value most? Can you make room for his values, even if they differ from your own?
These may not be comfortable questions to answer. It may take time to parse through the truth of your own choices and what they reveal about what you honored over your cousin’s own choices for his child. You may find you need to make an apology that makes both you and the recipient uncomfortable.
But hard work pays off. If you’re willing to do it, I guarantee you you’ll emerge stronger, ready to tread your path steadily. And you won’t be knocked down the next time a breezy whisper of gossip blows your way.