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It was my first semester of college, and I was still finding my footing. I rushed and pledged a sorority. I also joined an academic program, all in the hopes of being socially engaged and establishing genuine friendships I could rely on during college.
There were still lonely days, but things were looking up. A group of us were having semiregular game nights and restaurant outings, which to me was the very definition of college besties. One Friday, I joyfully announced to my mom over the phone, “I think I finally found my friend group!”
Later that afternoon, my three new friends told me individually that they would be out of town that weekend. I assumed they each had plans. No big deal. Then I checked Instagram the next day.
They were spending the weekend in Chattanooga together. How did I know? Every facet of the trip was documented on Instagram. There they were, eating ice cream and having a photo shoot in front of a pink polka-dot wall. There they were laughing on a bridge and there they were playing in the leaves. There they were, having fun without me.
We tend to talk a lot about having FOMO when we scroll through our social media feeds, but fearing you’re missing out and knowing you’ve been left out are different. We can let our imaginations fill in the gaps about other people’s lives, but sometimes it doesn’t take much imagination at all to see that people are doing awesome things without you. That’s the cost of living with social media.
It seems like everyone has a story like mine. Savannah Elliott, another student at my school, Samford University, remembers asking a friend if she wanted to hang out one weekend. “She said she was sick with the flu,” Ms. Elliott said. “I saw later on Instagram stories that she gave a party and didn’t invite me.”
Laura Asher, a junior sociology major from Kentucky, recalled a time her freshman year when she asked her friends what they were doing that night. “Nobody texted me back. I assumed that they were just staying home for the night,” Ms. Asher said. “Later I checked Instagram and saw they had all posted pictures and Stories of them at a country concert.”
Research shows these negative reactions to our social media feeds aren’t limited to us few. One study by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that young adults with higher social media use seem to feel more socially isolated than young adults with lower social media use. Even worse, the journal Computers in Human Behavior found that for young adults, the use of more social media platforms is linked to higher risks of symptoms of anxiety and depression.
You’ll never be invited to everything. But it can be hard to not feel hurt and betrayed when you see exactly what you’re missing plastered all over social media. So what can you do? Philip Galanes, who advises on many awkward situations for The Times’s Social Q’s, weighed in with some guidance.
Take a step back and maybe a deep breath.
There may be a reason that you weren’t invited that isn’t personal. Instead of confronting the group, Mr. Galanes said, “it’s a lot more productive to try to step back, find some peace, and don’t assume that the intention was all about you. Even if it feels like it’s about you, it’s not really about you.” There might have been a limited number of people that the host could invite, or the gathering could have been spontaneous.
Keeping a bigger perspective is also vital. “All the good things that happen to us we take for granted and the one bad thing that happens to us becomes the center of our universe,” Mr. Galanes said. “It’s only one weekend out of 52.”
Vent about it.
Sometimes just talking it out is the most helpful thing to do. But you should be cautious about talking to the offending party about the situation. That will most likely “push them farther away, not draw them in,” Mr. Galanes said.
Instead, talk to the person in the group that you’re closest too. Give yourself a little emotional distance from it. Then, if you have to say something, try: “I’m really sorry you didn’t include me in this.” When you see the group again, “don’t be tight and frosty because you feel rejected, Mr. Galanes said. “That won’t help at all.”
Cut your losses.
Ask yourself: “Would these people knowingly hurt me, or might something else be going on?” If you suspect that your friends were indeed being malicious, it’s time to let them go.
Look in the mirror.
It can be helpful to evaluate your role in the situation. I was really hurt when I wasn’t invited to that trip, but I realized I hadn’t been the one reaching out to those friends in a while. I may have been dropping the ball on those friendships for a while before I felt the other side of that neglect.
Put down your phone.
It might help to take a social media break. I’ll delete the apps from my phone for a week or two when anxious or jealous feelings start cropping up. It’s not always easy to stay away, but there are other apps and even detox programs that can help you unplug.
At the end of the day, “we’re all going to be excluded,” Mr. Galanes said. C’est la vie.
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Hallie Reed is a student at Samford University in Birmingham, where she recently began nursing school. She is a contributor to The Edit and aspires to be a nurse practitioner and novelist.
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