Why does my BFF get more Instagram likes than me?
Dear Swipe This!
I have a very embarrassing secret. I am deeply, obsessively jealous of my best friend’s popularity on Instagram. She gets more than 200, even 300 likes per post and it makes my stomach flip. I think about it way more than I’d like to admit. Every time I scroll through, there she is, smiling and popular, and I feel like a huge loser!
I’ve been friends with my bestie since middle school. When we were younger we were inseparable. We loved to dress up together and try out makeup even though we had no clue what we were doing yet! Sometimes we even wore matching outfits. Eventually, we realized that was kind of lame, and started doing our own thing. But even then, I noticed that she was always a little more popular than me. And now, having evidence of that on Instagram is starting to really bug me out. I see her get hundreds of likes and it feels like proof that I’m just not as liked as her! I end up wondering if she’s prettier than me or more interesting or somehow has her life more together than I do. But actually our lives are pretty similar! We’re both in happy relationships. We like our jobs. We’re even planning a little vacation together at the end of the summer and I’m already dreading how many more likes her beach selfies will get than mine.
I also feel awful about how much I’m starting to resent her. I love my friend but sometimes seeing all those likes makes me angry! She’ll post a cute picture and I’ll like and comment with heart-eyes or fire emojis, but secretly I’m feeling really icky and angry, inside.
I think if I got the same amount of attention as her I wouldn’t care, but because the validation she gets is so over the top, I’m starting to feel like something is wrong with me. Am I not as likable as she is? Am I not cute? Am I just doomed to be her invisible sidekick?
Also, maybe this isn’t even relevant, but I feel like I am really, really nice to everyone! Online and off! So not being “liked” kind of stings extra. It makes me feel like no matter how hard I try I’ll never be good enough.
How do I stop comparing myself to my bestie? Or is there a way I can make my posts more popular? I just want to feel like I stack up!
Dear Invisible Sidekick,
Yikes! You are living in a waking nightmare. Have you ever stopped and asked yourself when exactly your life became an episode of Black Mirror? Because this sounds like hell, and I agree, you need to find the exit!
Yes, there is a way to make your posts more popular. You can literally buy more Instagram likes. But that’s a terrible idea, and I’d strongly advise you against it. It will look obvious, and you’ll be left with yet another uncomfortable secret.
I think if you really want to get over this, you need to face the shame and jealousy you’re feeling toward your friend and her Instagram likes head-on.
So, first things first: You’re not a freak for feeling this way. In fact, Instagram is currently experimenting with hiding likes from followers for this very reason. Likes stress people out. When we get a lot of them, they make us feel like we’re doing great, and when we don’t get the amount we expected, they make us doubt our value. On top of that, knowing that people can see how many likes you’ve received and seeing a running tally of other people’s likes only increases the pressure. It’s natural to want to know how you stack up. But that doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
I think it’s interesting you cultivated a friendship with your BFF over experimenting with your image. That can be a fun, creative activity. But I’m wondering if it didn’t set the stage for a friendship that’s too heavily focused on image. You point to having a “happy” life that’s similar to your friend’s—vacations, boyfriends, good jobs. But you sound deeply, desperately unhappy.
I’m not saying this to criticize or attack you. I don’t think you’re being dishonest. I think you think you’re happy. But your deep dark secret isn’t your jealousy. It’s that you’re running on empty. You don’t know how to fill yourself up. And so you are constantly looking for external validation. And when you get it you feel safe, but when you don’t get it, you feel terrified.
I could recommend you delete Instagram for a bit, and honestly, that might not be a bad idea for you. But I think the more important task for you may be to figure out who you are and what you like about yourself.
Maybe you don’t actually know who you are. So your friend has become a sort of mirror for you. You look to her for a reflection and cues for who you should be. And when you see an image that you can’t stack up to, you feel like you don’t even exist. What a scary feeling.
I also think it’s worth noting that you are compulsively nice to others. You said you think that information might be irrelevant, but I think it’s actually a crucial piece of the puzzle. Who said you have to be nice to everyone? And are you really being nice or are you compulsively sweet because you’re hoping to get something in return? This idea was explored in the season 3 premiere of Black Mirror, and even if you’re not a sci-fi fan, I think you should give it a watch. An aggressively pleasant woman named Lacey lives in a world where she and her peers constantly rate each other based on social interactions. Lacey appears cheerful, but underneath her chipper smile, she is actually teetering on the brink of sanity. She feels like her value and status could all fall to pieces at any minute. And when it does, she’s forced to confront herself, her true self: a version of herself who isn’t obsessed with being likable.
Which brings me to another important question: Who says you have to be likable?
Everyone likes to be liked, sure. But I think women more so than men are conditioned to be likable. And I don’t think it’s done us any favors. When you’re constantly trying to be likable, you edit and polish and scrub yourself of your identity. You chip away at your authentic self, and you start to feel so much less whole. It’s healthy to be kind and considerate of others. But constantly performing “niceness” in the hopes that you will be valued and accepted is exhausting and degrading. I think you’ve been doing it for too long, and that’s why you’re running on empty.
Take the time to get to know yourself. Your true self. Maybe she likes to journal or dance. Maybe she’s an excellent runner. Maybe she has a gift for drawing or decorating. Maybe she loves trivia night or karaoke. Whatever she likes, that’s where I want you to put your time and energy. I want you to give yourself permission to exist exactly as you are and do exactly what you’d like to do without considering whether it will garner enough likes on Instagram.
There are complications in getting to know yourself. Sometimes you’ll notice things about yourself that you actively dislike. You may notice things you’d like to change or improve. But if you can be your own loyal follower, I think over time, you’ll also discover that there is plenty to like about who you really are.
And as for your upcoming vacation, if you need an out from all the Instagram likes and social media anxiety, why not make a game of it? Ask your bestie to make a bet and see who can go longer without Instagram. I have a feeling you’ll win.