‘Tis the Season to be Jealous

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Gird your loins, dear ones. The holidays are officially upon us. Prepare yourself for Facebook’s floodgates to open wide and release a tidal wave of idyllic photos and descriptions of the most well-adjusted, intact, loving families; the most gorgeous, healthy human specimens imaginable; the most adorable (and naturally, adoring) children, and the most totally smitten couples who are each other’s very best friends forever and ever. And ever! Hallelujah!

Yes, my friends, it’s going to get rough.

Steel yourself for more than a month of Facebook posts, holiday cards and year-end letters filled with glorious details about your enviable family, friends and even mere acquaintances enjoying expensive dream vacations in snowy mountain chalets or money’s-no-object family reunions on tropical beaches. Expect images of abundant, Norman Rockwellian tables covered with decadent food and high-brow beverages surrounded by smiling folks who are clearly the happiest people on earth; people who have not a worry or care.

Sometimes it’s enough to make me want to poke my eyes out with a turkey carving knife.

Last night I’d planned the ubiquitous Thanksgiving column, the one where I demonstrate my plucky attitude of gratitude.

Then I looked on Facebook (as I often do when I’m supposed to be writing). A post by friend Mark Calkins made me laugh. 

He’s right. Even so, expect to see scores of photos showing Thanksgiving bounties galore and images of people having the time of their lives while they partake of the most delicious feasts imaginable.

No matter how fantastic a meal you have today, I guarantee there will be at least one post that makes you feel as if your Thanksgiving was supremely shitty by comparison.

I confess. I’ve been as guilty of posting envy-inducing posts as the next person. My European and Hawaiian vacations. My culinary creations that I prepared with my very own gifted hands. My weight-loss success. My painstakingly remodeled home(s). My perfect grandchildren. My supportive children. My supremely fun adventures. My clever solutions. And I’ve not even mentioned selfies.

Why did I post those? I mean, were they for me? No. I was there. Were the posts to keep people who love me up to speed with my life? Yes, in part, because I really do have loved ones who live far away who enjoy seeing what I’m up to, just as it makes me feel genuinely happy to see their posts. But I probably have 100 people who fall in that category. The remainder might not give two squirts about me and my life.

As long as I’m being radically honest, the truth is that sometimes I post those photos when I’m feeling crappy, unloved, sad, depressed, unappreciated, lonely, insecure, hungry, fat, terminally single, scared, frustrated and needy. Sometimes all at the same time.

In those moments, rather than deal with whatever’s ailing me, I become a  social-media-craving little lab rat who repeatedly smacks my Facebook happy-lever in hopes of getting a quick dopamine fix. If I post something positive (or pathetic), I’ll get a positive (or uplifting) response. And because I have so many “friends” (nearly 5,000 – no brag, just fact), I can guarantee almost instant results 24/7.

You’re awesome! You’re a great Noni! Your kids are so lucky you’re their mother! You’re an amazing cook! You’re so strong! You look great! How do you do it all? Gosh, when do you sleep? You have a great smile! Your grandchildren are so cute – and by the way, they look just like you!

The rush is fleeting, because in my heart of hearts I know I manipulated those responses. Because it’s all artificial sweetener, the elation deflates quickly, often leaving me feeling worse than before.

This topic is on my mind after a conversation I had with a dear friend, someone who doesn’t have grandchildren, but wants them so badly that her lack of grandchildren literally brings her pain. It’s torture for her to hear others speak of their grandchildren, because it only reminds her that she has none, and may never have any.

Despite that, yesterday she said how much she loved the recent photos I posted on Facebook of me with my grandchildren. I know she was sincere, because she loves me, and she’s happy for me. But she admitted that it sometimes hurts to see these photos.

I reminded her of my favorite quote: Comparison is the thief of joy.  I listed a few areas of her life that I envy (like having a husband, for starters). We ended up laughing about it. But still, I knew what she meant.

The thing is, a picture may be worth a thousand words, but there are a million unspoken words behind that seemingly perfect photo only known to the subjects, or the photographer.

Noni Doni and her most brilliant, adorable grandchildren.

For example, this delightful photo of me with my grandchildren taken on the river trail Saturday doesn’t even hint at some of the more stressful parts of our weekend together. You’d never guess the degree of sibling rivalry that led to complex negotiations about everything from who got to sleep with which stuffed animal, to whose turn it was to pull the wagon, to who got to sit in the blue chair, and whose plate got the first waffle and which book we read first.

Calgon, take me away!

Also, I found myself feeling frustrated with the kids as they rushed from toy to toy and activity to activity, sometimes spending less time playing with the latest thing than I’d spent getting the thing out and setting it up. Sad to say, the one thing that held their attention the longest was a Smurf movie. (I must say, it was pretty good.)

Chalk drawing: 15 minutes. (Note the line drawn to keep a sibling’s rogue art from contaminating the other’s drawings)

Tea party: 20 minutes.

Drawing: 10 minutes.

Snacks on the porch: 20 minutes (in all fairness, their parents arrived to take them home).

At bedtime, the kids were excited (first time for a joint sleepover in my new house) so they had difficulty settling down and going to sleep. It was not my finest Noni hour when I actually resorted to promising a prize the next day to whichever child fell asleep first. Of course, the next night you can bet the child who “lost” the previous night was first asleep the second night.  I may be onto something …

OK, so I’m not proud about how I handled bedtime, or the fact that I sharply expressed my displeasure when the 4-year-old treated the new couches like trampolines, and then later made a black Sharpie mark on the new bamboo floor. I said something that caused the 6-year-old to scold, “I don’t think you’re supposed to say that word, Noni.”

You can call me Noni Dearest.

Don’t get me wrong. They’re wonderful little kids. The best! But my point is that I certainly don’t post photos of them, or me, at our very worst. Consequently, people like my friend — someone who longs for grandchildren — all she can imagine is she’s missing out on those picture-perfect grandparenting moments depicted in my picture-perfect photos. My sins of omission gives her a warped view of grandparenting that’s heavily skewed in the direction of whitewashed perfectionism.

I feel my own kinds of holiday pain, mainly, for the last eight years, related to being single with grown kids, and never knowing where I fit into their lives and holidays.

It’s no accident that I’ve spent one Christmas and one Thanksgiving in the Czech Republic. I literally left the country to avoid the uncertainty and potential pain. It’s the pits being alone on a holiday.

That’s partly why I, someone who did not plan on being single for the rest of my days, look longingly at photos of contended couples and my heart aches. Of course, being married twice myself, I know that marriage is not always a bed of roses. What nobody shows on Facebook (nor should they – for the love of God, please no) are those thorny marital moments; bickering, disinterest, impatience, relaxed hygiene, boredom, or even outright dislike and dissatisfaction.

Although it’s a day-to-day struggle to keep life’s disappointments, pain, loss and sadness at bay during the best of times, it’s an especially difficult feat during the holidays. Forgive me for being a Doni downer, but sometimes, holidays’ timing really sucks. Right in the middle of what’s supposed to be the hap – happiest time of the year, some people are undergoing chemo, or divorce, or bankruptcy, or hospice, or suffering the loss or a job, a home or a loved one.

The holidays can be an emotional land mine, and triggers are everywhere, sometimes in the most seemingly innocent places.

Nobody knows this more acutely than my twin, Shelly, for whom Christmas used to be her favorite holiday. Now, she’s haunted each year by a particular Christmas tree lot. Just seeing it sets off an avalanche of memories of her with her son Matt, who died of leukemia at 20. Matt, like his mother, loved the holidays, too. And he was such a good sport about indulging his mother at that same Christmas tree lot each year to find, cut down, bring home and set up the biggest tree for her, because her former house had massive vaulted ceilings.

Now, when it comes to Christmas, Shelly goes as simplistic and small as possible. For her to “go big” would remind her too much of Matt, which would hurt even more than the daily unrelenting pain she already endures over the loss of her youngest child.

Shelly put her creativity to work with this year’s tiny tree display.

For Shelly, and anyone unable to share the holidays with someone they love, whether because of death, illness, addictions, divorce, deployment or estrangement, it’s impossible to think of that loved one and simultaneously have an unabashed holly, jolly Christmas.

The thing is, I don’t care what the song says, this really isn’t the most wonderful time of the year. In fact, it can feel like quite the contrary. So many dashed expectations. So many painful memories. So many comparisons to others’ lives that leave us feeling diminished and disappointed.

With that in mind, I wish you the best Thanksgiving and holiday season possible. Be easy on yourself. And if you’re really struggling, you might give social media — and the malls, for that matter — a rest. Just until after New Year’s, when it’s mostly safe to venture back again. Wait, I take that back. Make it March, because you’ll want to avoid February, and Valentine’s Day. Shoot. I forgot about Easter. And Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.  Then there’s the Fourth of July, which reminds me that for that matter, that you’ll need to get through the whole happy summer that’s bursting with weddings and everyone’s exotic vacations. Sorry.

At any rate, if you do go on Facebook today, take Mark’s advice, and consider skipping the food pictures this year. Unless they’re really unusual, or funny, or they involve a crazed cat, or if your dinner was a total disaster. Those, you can post all day long. Bring them on!

We could all use a little levity. And you’ll get lots of likes.

This best of article was originally published November 23, 2017.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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21 Responses

  1. Avatar Maureen Chenoweth says:

    Such a wonderful piece! I think I have to post it on my Facebook page right away 🙂 ! Thank you for putting down in words what our family goes through every holiday without those family members that we miss every day!

  2. Avatar Eleanor Townsend says:

    Good morning, Doni. It looks like a pretty good day. (paraphrasing Mr. Rogers) This was a memorable article in 2017, and it is as relevant today. “Expectations are premeditated resentments” is a rather low bar to live by, but often true!! Oh dear! But I have learned, mostly, where to apply it, and to celebrate when my expectations are met, or even exceeded!
    Today, I am setting the bar high, with reason!!
    I will share this article with friends who will relate, and it will be helpful, as well as fun.
    Thank you for sharing these truths!

    • Avatar Linda Cooper says:

      Eleanor Townsend – Thank you for evoking Mr. Rogers, and providing my first morning chuckle of the day. Made me wonder what he would have thought of Facebook. Sent me off on some internet research. It appears that Facebook came along in 2004, a year after his death. However, I did come across a clip where King Friday (a puppet) was jealous. Mr. Rogers noted, “it doesn’t matter what you have or how many, it’s you as a person I like.” Well, okey dokey.

      And thank you for the article, Doni. Always nice to know one isn’t alone in their experience and perspective.

    • Avatar Pedro Betancourt says:

      Here’s a video of a song composed by Fred Rogers “It’s You I like”. Makes me emotional every time I see it. At our core we need people to like, know, and love us for who we truly are, and vice versa. I really don’t care for the holidays. It seems like what’s truly celebrated is unfettered consumerism. I don’t want to buy anything they’re selling. It’s a ruthless commodification of our relationships. A cooperate colonization of our love.

    • Well, truth be known: Credit goes to you, Eleanor, for mentioning this as one of your favorite columns, so we did an encore.

  3. Avatar erin friedman says:

    Ah, yes….Facebook Life vs. Real Life. Someday I’ll post ALL the epic food fails, 100s of god-awful painting blunders, photos of gummy snacks and dog hair embedded in my van floor, a new profile pic of a bleary-eyed, insomniac Meemer…But today is not that day.
    It’s a weird world we live in — hope everyone manages to find their joy and savor it.

    • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

      Erin, your dog hair comment reminds me that the wonderful David Frei, long-time host of the Westminster Dog Show, once said that in his dog-filled home, dog hair is a condiment. I can relate.

      • Avatar Roxanna says:

        Perfect! True, every word from my perspective. I dropped Facebook many years ago. Partly due to the promotion of Norman Rockwell, Hallmark, Gerber Baby expectations. Nobody ever posts pictures of family feuds, Aunt Sally stumbling down the drive, Grandpa passed out on the couch or even the floor, the crushed look when a gift or a dish prepared lovingly is judged harshly, the mess left after the party, or their bank balances or credit card bills. I must say though Doni, I never point out typos but “contended couples” was the best! Based on marital happiness ratings, infidelity and divorce statistics, more accurate than “contented couples.”

  4. Avatar Amanda says:

    Hear! Hear! I love this Doni! I’m having a particularly rough few months so this hit home. My oldest graduated this year and he is now moving on. I’m happy for him but this sucks. It’s like 18 years just flew by and now I feel a little useless having only really ever been a stay-at-home mom. My daughter is right behind and just what the heck am I going to do? I can just imagine telling a future interviewer that (while I’ve spent the last 20 years as one hell of a life manager for 4 people) I’m a “fast learner” and “won’t you hire me for this entry level job? Pretty please?”
    We bought a house and, like you, we’re remodeling everything. I’ve been living with no kitchen since September. So I’m broke (that’s Broke with a capital ‘B’) AND paying a rather large mortgage payment on a glorified dorm kitchen and an empty master bathroom.
    I’ve been through some relationship changes this year. It all went from bad to worse when I intercepted a text from one friend to another friend talking ABOUT me but accidentally sent TO ME. Ouch. Avoided a landmine I guess but still painful.
    You know the scene where the guy steps on one end of an unstable board and it flips up and nails him right in the face? The sound reverberates in his head and his eyes cross from the unexpected blow? It’s in many exaggerated comedies and cartoons. Life feels LIKE THAT to me lately So I 100% appreciate the solidarity here!

    *I may have been one of your friends who you may have been annoyed with since I have likely posted one of the example posts you mentioned at one time or another (Adoring husband..check. Tropical vacation..check. Group photos with “high brow beverages”..check!) but I find myself envious of the posts of grandparents who adore their grandchildren seeing how my two kids pretty much got robbed out of that relationship from both of their sets of grandparents and my grandparents have all passed. I wish I could post about my travels to see extended family or they to come visit us but there isn’t a whole bunch of quirky and fun relatives that would care to see us. The four of us ate a Thanksgiving meal lovingly prepared by me in our dorm kitchen and commiserated on how it would be nice to have a bigger family to share it with. The Holidays (and lack of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins to spend them with or invite over) remind me how truly lonely I’d be if I ever lost my small immediate family. So it probably makes me hold on a little tight too. **Me to son-“What? You’re leaving? You can’t!”
    They’re all I have! I pray all the time that my children marry into great families to spouses that can stand me and that they give me grandchildren. I wouldn’t be sad if I got bonus grandchildren too! So I can imagine (though not relate to) your friend’s feelings.
    My dad died in December and every year I’m reminded of that as well so I can also empathize with your sister (though in a very VERY small way).

    I just loved every bit of your column! Thank you!

    • Oh, man, I can relate to your words, too. Thank you for sharing. I hope times get easier, the bleeding of remodeling money slows, and that you have a holiday season filled with comfort and joy.

  5. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    Ah, yes. Social media conundrums.

    I recently deleted my Twitter account because I was tired of the grinding negativity and other forms of weirdness, such as famous people who will only acknowledge other famous people, and the common practice of putting down people who don’t collect followers (as in, “…says the loser with only 47 followers. LOL”) Much of the negativity was coming from funny people I used to enjoy following, but it seems that nearly all the clever, humorous people I followed on Twitter have come down with Trump-induced anger and despair.

    I’m on Facebook to interact with relatives and friends and select acquaintances, period. Yeah, that often means posting pictures or saying things that nobody else should be interested in whatsoever. I have less than 100 FB friends, and that’s by design. I very rarely ask to “friend” someone—to me it feels like putting them on the spot (unless they indiscriminately already have 2,500+ friends, in which case I don’t ask for that reason instead). I delete friend requests of people I don’t know, and have politely declined a few invitations from ANC folk whom I’ve never met in person. I occasionally cull the herd of people with whom I don’t interact or who never post—I don’t have an interest in one-way communication. The handful of relatives and friends who endlessly repost stupid memes and nothing of personal content get blocked. Same with people who spend all day reposting 50 news articles that caught their attention—blocked. I have one tennis club acquaintance whose posts are almost all selfie videos, many apparently shot by his personal trainer/videographer while he works out in the gym. Blocked. I sincerely like some of these people, but not their FB games.

    I’m not rigid—I make some exceptions to the above rules. My mom doesn’t post much at all, but I’m not throwing her overboard with the other non-posters. Maybe the hardest rule to honor is refraining from sending friend requests to people with whom I’d genuinely like to interact. But for the most part, I keep to the rules, and I’m happy with them.

    • I like your rules, and exceptions to your rules.

      Facebook can trigger the greatest of joy and the greatest of pain, sometimes both within the span of seconds. I had to break myself of the bad habit of checking FB just before I turned in for the night. There I’d be, sitting on the edge of my bed, scrolling, scrolling scrolling, and I’d realize that sometimes an hour would pass. Invariably, I’d be drifting off to sleep frowning, feeling unsettled. Not good.

  6. Avatar Candace says:

    Sometimes I post things on my FB page that are obviously directed at my family. It’s usually after something has happened in our family and people have stepped up and been supportive. Sometimes I just feel like telling them I love them. In that sense, FB is easier than calling or writing everyone to express my gratitude. I’m not a fan of vague-posting so I don’t frame the posts by saying things like “this has been a difficult time, thank you all for your support”. That stuff drives me nuts because some people are left wondering what the heck you’re referring to and then wrestle with either feeling obligated to ask or feeling intrusive if you do. Christmas is bittersweet for me. I lost my mother a couple years back and this was hands down her favorite holiday. I feel her presence when I decorate, etc. That said, I am acutely aware of how very lucky I am to have the family I do; warts and all. Doni, great article. Good reminder to be mindful of other’s sorrow and pain when I, myself may not be feeling it. Finally, Doni, while I realize the intent of your article was not to garner praise and you more than likely will think “ugh” when I say this, you are a wonderful, empathetic woman. You are enough. Full stop.

    • Aww, thank you, Candace. Thank you!

      (And the vague, “we could use your prayers, but we won’t tell you why,” bugs me, too. )

      I’m glad you can feel your mom’s presence during the holidays. That’s a gift,

  7. Terry Turner Terry Turner says:

    As usual, Doni, this column hit the nail on the head – again! I appreciate you so eloquently reminding us that behind the face we present on social media may be someone struggling to get through each day. This perhaps could be the “Season to Extend Compassion to Others, and Ourselves”. Thank you!

  8. Avatar Bob says:

    Social media is a narracist’s wet dream.

  9. Avatar Joan says:

    This is a brilliant column, Doni!

  10. Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

    About the going to sleep ‘bribery.’ I always decry the use of bribery. Bribery should never be used …. unless it works…. and it always does! LOL