Digital media, in all its forms, is so present in our contemporary lives that it’s not odd if you end up comparing your own, very real, fluctuating life to those romanticized lives portrayed on social media and within movies or series. This comparison can focus on body shape and size, skin imperfections, scars, behaviorisms, material objects, luxury, privilege, contacts and so much more. For me, it included various of these options, but most importantly centred around the relationships I had in my life. During high school, my mind began to question the relationships I had with others in its validity and quality, because they were nothing like what I saw in my favourite series or on the accounts of my favourite celebrities.
The first kind of relationship I started to question, and the one I questioned the most, was the one I had with friends. It’s not like I didn’t have friends, I did and they were great. It was the intensity of the friendships I saw in movies and online that made me doubt the quality of my own friendships. I had different friend groups in different parts of my life, some more close and others more on the level of friendly acquaintances. The latter was not what I got doubtful of, the friendly people you are thrown in with because of sports or other interests were fine, it was about those close friendships I had chosen. Me and my close friends used to watch Pretty Little Liars, Gossip Girl and The Vampire Diaries, not have the kind of epic adventures and friendships that were displayed in these series. I remember seeing the intensity of the friendships in these series, the distance these people were willing to go for each other and the things they went through together and thinking ‘this is nothing like what I have, I want that kind of relationship’. I wanted the best friends that knew exactly what I was thinking, that I could talk to about anything, that would go through hell and back for me and I for them and that were with me almost all the time. I was jealous of the epic girl gang of the pretty little liars, the death-defying friendships in the Vampire Diaries and the intense behind the scenes relationships the actors seemed to have as displayed on their social media accounts. But my life was not as exciting as those of the characters I adored, and thank god for that, I most definitely wouldn’t have been able to handle the anxiety, death, supernatural powers and drama that these characters had to endure. And that is also why my relationships were not that intense, me and my friends luckily never had to deal with a mysterious threat that could cost us our lives. We battled exams, survived boring classes and had fun watching these series or going out to a class party. Our lives were pretty simple, so it wasn’t necessary for us to be together 24/7 or to talk about those deep dark secrets, simply because we didn’t have them. Looking back on that time, it was insane to doubt the friendships I had, since many of the friends I had then are still very much present in my life now and the relationships we have just improve and deepen over time.
The second relationship these series and social media accounts made me doubt was that of romantic relationships and their apparent normalcy. On my social media, all celebrities were posing with their loves, in the best outfits, the most beautiful places and clearly so in love. In the series I watched, everybody was either in a relationship, just broken up, pining after someone or pitied because they didn’t have a relationship or someone they liked. But in my surroundings that wasn’t the case at all. I didn’t like anybody in that way, my friends just had small, temporary crushes, and not a lot of classmates had romantic and/or sexual relationships. I started doubting whether I would ever like somebody in the way that seemed so integral for these digital role models. And not only did I doubt if this was something I would ever experience, those lovey-dovey displays slowly started to twist my expectations and raised the bar for any future love interest I might get in my own life. All the male characters (and the females as well, but that raised other kinds of comparisons) were so gorgeous, confident, charming, caring and spontaneous that a real person would stand no chance. In general, you don’t have a meet-cute in real life (especially with all the online dating going on) or are immediately struck by lightning when you first catch each other’s eye. The first date will also probably not be a grand gala where he has picked out the most perfect dress for you and that hot one night stand will probably not turn out to be your new English teacher.
I started dreaming of these kind of electric relationships, waiting for that one moment… only to find out that, unfortunately, real life works a little differently. Relationships are so much harder and complicated than these series make them out to be and no happy ending is guaranteed. The high expectations I had of ‘the perfect relationship’ and ‘the perfect person’ have slowly degraded and been replaced by a much more realistic perspective where my own happiness is more important than the then seeming necessity of being with somebody.
In retrospect, I had no reason to doubt any of the relationships I had. I was happy and had people that cared for me, which is all I could ever ask for. But the immersive aspect of digital media, especially of series, was so convincing that I had socialized their ideals and normalities into my own fantasy. I wanted the close friendship of the Pretty Little Liars and the electric love displayed in the Vampire Diaries, ignoring the fact that those relationships only came to be in their specific, quite honestly terrifying, circumstances.