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Aren't You Jealous?
Notes on the art of online performance.
It’s Memorial Day weekend. I lay in bed with my dogs for a bit and doze off. When I wake up, my one-year-old puppy, Birdie, has somehow acquired and destroyed a tube of fuchsia-hued cream blush. Her entire face and paws look like a little girl trying on lipstick for the first time. I burst out laughing, strip down, grab both the dogs, and throw them in the shower with me.
After the dogs are dry, I get back in bed to read. Kevin is hunched over his desk, as he’s been all day, every day, for eight hours a day for the last few weeks. He is prepping to take the New York Bar exam. I can see a tiny bit of his butt crack sticking out from the top of his shorts. He looks so engrossed. I think to myself, “I love him”, and dig into my book.
I make top ramen for dinner, which is something I only do when I’m teetering on the verge of depression. I take a Lexapro.
The next day, I wake up, put on sweats, and don’t bother with a bra. I open the cabinet to get a tea mug, and then stand there, staring. I study all of the mugs, thinking about which ones will come with us to New York and which ones will stay behind.
“How am I going to get rid of this stuff?” I think. “I’m going to have to have a tag sale. Or maybe I can pay Erica to help me list things on Facebook marketplace.”
I start pulling out mugs and then look at the pantry. “What a mountain to climb.” More mugs. “I can’t believe people in my family still aren’t talking because of Donald Trump. Ugh.” Onto the coffee spoons. “I should start drinking Matcha again.” I toss an empty Advil bottle. “I really like that place in Tribeca but it’s so narrow.” What am I doing again? Oh, right. Tea.
Suddenly, I smell something foul. I look around for the source, sniffing. The culprit is Birdie, who is sitting proudly by her own poop. It’s bright pink.
“It looks like it’s going to rain today.” Kevin is standing at the top of the stairs, talking to me.
“Yeah, it’s gray,” I say.
He tilts his head. “You’re lookin’ at me like you love me,” I say.
"I do,” He says with a smile. “I’m almost at one hundred hours of bar prep.”
“God,” I say. “I could never. I’m so proud of you.”
“Maybe we go to dinner this week,” He says. “I feel like we’ve barely left the house.”
“Yeah,” I say. “After your graduation weekend, the dinner party, all the dinners out, my Mom visiting… now that all that’s over, I think I’ve just fully mentally switched gears into prepping for the next thing, which is moving.”
“Yeah.” He says. He sits back down at his desk.
I call my Mom. She catches me up on hometown gossip. There are a bunch of kids who have been tearing around in a golf cart throwing water balloons, terrorizing old ladies. She tells me my cousin’s dating someone new. I text my sister in New Jersey and tell her I’ll be flying into Newark. She’s got friends in town and can’t get together.
I do some laundry, open up packages, and break down boxes. I drop my box cutter and the blade goes flying across the floor.“Fuck.”
I thumb through some Memorial Day sales online, share a few things on my Instagram Story, and close the app. I get on TikTok. I send Natalie a funny dog video.
“I felt better today.” I think. “But still not great.”
I scroll on the Internet. I come across a video of Derek Blasberg and Gucci Westman at Gwyneth Paltrow’s house. I watch it and remember how once, at a seated party, we searched for our place tags together. I made him laugh because I said it was like an Egg hunt. Of course, he was at the A table and I was at the “just happy to be here” table. I recall thinking that day he was as likable as he seems.
My friend Abby calls me. We talk for a while. She lets me vent about how stressed I am. I get myself worked up about money and moving and suddenly decide I’m mad at Kevin. I hear her son in the background. “Mom?” He says, sweetly. “Can we have broccoli tonight?” She gets off the phone to make her kids dinner. I pick a fight with Kevin. He knows it’s a PMS fight, but he lets me.
I text my real estate broker. We decide last minute I’ll come to the city and tour some places. I book flights and a hotel. “I’ll probably just have lentil soup tonight,” Kevin says.
I feel glad that I made it to Pilates on Sunday. My body feels loose, and I feel grateful for that. It’s been so locked up lately. My legs have been cramping at night. All that stress. I think about how I’m going to miss Karlee, my instructor.
I text my friend Venita. We make dinner plans for Wednesday. I send her the dress code for the place we’re going and she howls with laughter. “They sure think highly of themselves,” I say.
I pack for New York. Hank, our four-month-old puppy, throws up on the floor next to my suitcase. I sigh, exasperated. I wonder if handling this many Clorox wipes will give me some kind of cancer. He flops over on his back to give me his belly. He wiggles with joy. His tail is wagging, slapping against the floor in a delightful thwack. Cancer, shmancer. I’ll happily clean up after this dog forever. Birdie barks at nothing. I shush her, then give her a scratch.
It strikes me that I forgot about my friend Jaycina’s event last Wednesday. I make a guilty donation to her charity and send her an apology note. I scold myself and think about how there are too many details in my head right now. It’s making me a forgetful friend. I hate feeling like I’ve let people down.
I’m overheated. I pull the window shades down. Kevin lets out an enormous sneeze that startles both the dogs. I put a tape measure in my purse, in case I need it while I’m seeing apartments. I take a bath, and afterward, I feel dizzy. Too much Epsom salt.
Tomorrow I fly to Newark, then take a Blade to Casa Cipriani. Of everything I just told you, that’s the only thing I might post on Instagram — a nice aerial view of the city.
If you saw that post, maybe you would think, wow, what a show-off, how tacky. Suddenly I might have gone from someone you liked following online to some jackass posting from a helicopter and eating meringue cake. You’d have never known that one day prior, I was scrubbing hot pink dog poop off my floors.
It’s often said that social media is our personal highlight reel. Rarely do we see when someone’s kid is screaming. We don’t post selfies when it’s been three days since we’ve washed our hair. We don’t know when someone is experiencing loss or heartbreak or having a breakdown in their closet because the pants suddenly don’t fit.
Thinking of that aerial view tomorrow feels significant to me. It’s a moment I want to mark because booking this trip made our move start to feel real in a way it hadn’t until right then. But sharing something like that is a tiny, tiny window into my huge, messy life. By no means is said window indicative of my everyday.
For most people, that’s what social media is — a very limited view that we offer up to other people. But we forget about how short that same view is when we’re peering into other people’s windows. Sometimes we let those feelings of jealousy, resentment, and missing out get the best of us. Some even go so far as to construct their entire lives around that window, working tirelessly to make others believe they are worthy of being liked.
I’m guilty of it too. Instagram in particular can really make me feel some kind of way. The brand dinners, the social climbers, the unboxings, the meticulous houses, the impeccably groomed Moms with nary a child in sight, the extravagant trips to Europe, people who are thinner and have better hair and know how to apply spray tans without streaking. People who write for the publications I want to write for. People who don’t have to take Lexapro.
To be the one hundred millionth person since 1623 to quote As You Like It, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Even four hundred years ago, Shakespeare nailed it. It’s 2023, and we’re still on stage dancing for our dinners.
I write this to remind myself (and you too) that we’re all just performing online. Backstage, real life, no audience, that’s where everything is actually happening. That’s where you fling your bra off without tagging the lingerie brand.
That founder who you think has her shit together has likely had a good cry in the last week. The Mom who always has a blowout on Instagram was pulling baby food out of her hair yesterday. The girl posting mirror selfies probably got dressed for the first time in a week. You just don’t know, so I say this to myself too: try not to take it all at face value.
The face is probably filtered, anyway.