I often feel insignificant. To myself, to my family, to my friends, and especially to the interwebs. Not that I need to “go viral” or become famous, but now and then it would be nice to feel like I’m part of something bigger. I got my first email account at college in 1994. I created my first website on Geocities. I belonged to UseNet groups when they were the only real social media out there.
Basically, I’ve been online a long time.
I started a website in 2001 for a rare condition called molar pregnancy and an online support group via what was then called Yahoo! Clubs that I eventually migrated to Facebook. I’ve heard from thousands of women who’ve experienced the condition and I’ve helped them get through it. I know that something I made, something I do even today, has touched their lives. It’s the good I give back to the world. I’m proud of it.
However, as social media has exploded and people have gone on to all kinds of web fame, it’s sometimes been hard for me to see members of my group be interviewed and featured in media articles about the condition, like it’s a new thing. Nobody wants to hear from me, even though I’ve been supporting women and sharing information about the condition for two decades now. I’m old news. At this point I’m basically a grandmother of online support groups; I made my mark too early and the world moved on without me. I’ve been trying ever since just to keep up, never mind stand out and be noticed.
There’s a part of me that wants to stand out for something. Certainly something positive; I have no desire to become web-infamous. I suppose it’s just a desire to not feel like I’m standing alone in some forgotten corner of the cyberverse screaming into an empty void. But then there’s the other side of me, the side that is terrified to be seen as too pushy, too loud, too self-centered, too needy. I’m on Instagram, but I’m no “influencer.” I’m a Power Admin on Facebook, but I rarely participate in the group there, mostly because I always felt ignored by the louder, more aggressive members. I want to be noticed and appreciated but at the same time I’m afraid of being seen. I’m so concerned with how people will see me, what impression they’ll take away, what judgments they’ll make about me, that I’m essentially paralyzed. I have difficulty putting myself out there, and that is only intensified by the frequent lack of response I get when I do take that risk.
This was brought home to me yet again in recent days. I’ve been on Twitter under various usernames for at least 12 years. My current account, @AdeleVarens, has been active since 2010. For a while I was really into fan fiction, and I had a ton of Twitter friends and followers among other writers in my fandom, but we all moved on and went our separate ways. I was also locked for a while, which decimated my follower count. I’ve now been active and unlocked for a few years though, and my follower count is…stagnant.
I see all these new accounts that have few original tweets and little to no content that nonetheless tweet out “I’m lonely today, who will follow me?” and suddenly have an audience of thousands. I’ve been tempted many times to do the same, but I talked myself out of it over and over because “I’m not interesting enough” or “I don’t want to be all ‘me me me.'” So I waited until I had a “good reason”—my birthday, a perfect excuse—and I tweeted out a follower request. I was hoping I could finally push my 650 follower count up over 1,000 at least.
I got maybe five or six new followers, and three or four retweets. That was it. Even when I swallowed my pride and posted AGAIN, the response was minimal. I specifically asked people to retweet me and help me out, and I got “likes” instead.
It shouldn’t matter. It’s social media. It’s bullshit, right? But I’m not exactly swimming in friends of any kind, real or virtual. I belong to a few fandoms, and I know that there are people in those fandoms who know OF me and might think of me from time to time, but I’m no stand out. I believe and have firsthand witnessed that I simply am easy to forget about. Perhaps I don’t give enough of myself. Maybe it’s because I really haven’t found enough people in the world who I can really connect with. But I’m also worried that it’s because I’m too open, because I talk too much about myself, because people are tired of me or annoyed by me.
I want to be noticed, remembered, cared about, thought of, appreciated. I feel like I give others my notice, my thoughts, my appreciation, but none of them have any to spare for me in return. I’ve been harshly burned by people I loved but misjudged, people who used and abused me for their own benefit and then tossed me over like yesterday’s news. I was raised with the impression that I had to be the best at anything and everything in order to be loved, even by those who were supposed to love me unconditionally. So I did everything I could, aced my classes, got my scholarships, found a career, got married and had a kid, all the things…and yet I wasn’t really happy in myself until I was separate and single and able to finally be who I wanted to be.
But then I got tossed over again, and that newfound sense of self went with it in many ways.
Don’t get me wrong. I have a good life right now. I’m very fortunate. My husband is a good man who loves me entirely unconditionally, which is something I took a long time to understand and accept. My son is a beautiful boy who I adore. I have regained my sense of self-pride by returning to the career I once gave up for motherhood. I am happy with how I look, which is an entirely new experience for someone who was put on her first diet at age nine. So far my friends and family have only been mildly touched by covid-19, and I have not lost anyone to it yet. My father recently went through kidney cancer and seems to have come out okay. My bills are paid, I have food in my pantry and a roof over my head. I am a very fortunate person.
But I’m lonely. I’m starving for interaction, for friends, for a sense that I matter to someone, anyone, outside my very small circle. I crave that positive feedback that came in my youth from exceeding everyone’s expectations, from achieving those goals set out for me. When you believe that you are only important in and to the world if you are succeeding, and you feel like you’re failing at every turn, it is truly soul crushing. I want to be lauded, known, loved—even just liked and remembered—but I want these things to happen because I did well, because I’m found worthy, not because I waved my flag under everyone’s noses and paraded myself around like a peacock in full plumage.
This isn’t just an issue online, either. In my career, I do good work. I know I do because others have told me as much. But I feel any mistake I make very deeply. That may be as little as missing a particularly loose line of text in a book that’s gone to print—I should have seen that, damn it!—but it will haunt me for far longer than it will ever matter to anyone else, even the people who buy and read that book. No one else will care, but I will add that “failure” to my list and chew over it in the middle of the night for years to come. Yet when I do well, when a project is published ahead of schedule or an author is particularly happy with something I did or I take on a task that helps my team but is generally outside my job description, I don’t see that as exceptional. It’s my job. When human resources demands that I account for my work over the past year and demonstrate with specific examples ways in which I “exceeded expectations,” I’m at a loss. I expect the best, demand it of myself, so I never “exceed” expectations. The best I can hope for is to meet the expectations I’ve set.
Promoting myself for being myself just feels wrong. Yet being myself and being ignored for being myself is devastating. There’s no middle ground for me. I’m ashamed of my need for attention. I’m ashamed of my inability to get attention. I know I’m a good person, worthy of love and friendship, loyal, loving, supportive. But I’m so afraid of being hurt, of being misjudged, of being ridiculed, and most of all of failing—that most horrible of sins—that I simply can’t take the risk of putting myself out there.