The Love Your Spouse Challenge has been circling Facebook for weeks (months?) now. I laughed with my friend about how nobody has tagged me in this challenge yet, which is funny because I love my husband AND I like him.
Even if, in his words, he’s “been tagged eight times but isn’t into that type of thing.”
Knowing me well, my friend said, “I am surprised you didn’t participate anyway because you love that sort of thing.”
She is right. And opposites do attract. I am totally into that type of thing and typically do not miss a single opportunity to brag about my husband. He’s hot. He’s funny. He’s kind. And after nearly 12 years of marriage, we still have a lot of fun together.
But I didn’t post about this for seven days.
Not because I have anything against the challenge.
Quite the opposite: I enjoy hearing people’s histories and what makes each relationship unique and awesome. I love knowing why people fell in love. I believe in celebrating marriage. Even when it’s imperfect.
The reason I didn’t post went much deeper than the challenge itself.
I don’t quite know how to explain it, but the emotional climate of our culture bothers me.
One of our deepest needs as humans is to be known. To be heard. To be understood.
The world is a hard, oftentimes lonely, and very messy place.
People are suffering. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally.
But when asked how we are, “I’m fine,” is almost always the response.
You are fine. I am fine. We are all fine.
Except we aren’t fine.
I understand this answer is an automatic response to a question mostly asked to be polite.
But it explains the reason I chose not to participate in the Love Your Spouse Challenge.
My marriage actually is fine.
But I know many (most?) marriages aren’t.
I want to be a person who knows people, who sees people.
And if someone’s marriage isn’t fine, I want to be a safe place for that to be said.
Which is why I intentionally try to limit the amount of bragging I do on social media.
I don’t want to be perceived as “so fine” that my friends are unwilling to admit when they’re not fine. Because I also want to be able to say when I’m not fine.
Whether or not you participated in the LYS Challenge is not the point... believe me, I’ve done more than my fair share of bragging on social media... I am, in no way, trying to make you feel bad about that. To some degree, the very nature of social media is to highlight the awesome parts of our days. No one is gonna stop in the middle of lecturing a child to snap a picture. No one is going to film a fight with their spouse and post it to Instagram. No one is going to screen shot a difficult texting conversation they just had.
And if they do actually post this sort of thing, we all kinda feel like we need to divert our eyes from the train wreck. You know it’s true.
Social media is what it is. A highlight reel of our lives. With the occasional sarcastic and honest snippet.
My frustration is not with social media.
My frustration is with the inability to say, “I’m not fine.”
The ultimate cost of this is the alarming suicide rates in our country.
Most people thankfully don’t go that far, but still, we aren’t fine.
Diseases ravish people’s bodies. Addictions abound. Marriages sometimes end. Relationships get strained. Bills go unpaid. Kids are hard. Insecurities creep in. Cars break down. Houses fall apart. Depression and anxiety can be crippling. Expectations aren’t met. Job security is non-existent. Natural disasters hit without warning.
Life is good in so many ways. But life is hard.
And I don’t really understand why our culture’s goal seems to fake like it’s all okay.
It’s okay to not be okay.
Even in friendships where we are brave enough to say, “I’m not fine”, we still apologize for saying so. This is especially true when our hard things are mostly first world problems.
Something I’ve said many times that my same friend (mentioned at the start) reminded me: Just because your hard isn’t as hard as someone else’s doesn’t make it not hard for you.
To admit life is hard is not complaining.
To say things are overwhelming does not mean you’re ungrateful.
Asking advice about a tough situation doesn’t mean you can’t handle it.
Don’t apologize for realizing you can’t be it all/do it all/have it all.
It’s okay to not be okay.
I think the place to start is to stop apologizing when you share the deep parts of your soul. If a friend can be trusted with your hard stuff, she doesn’t want you to feel bad about sharing it. If your marriage is hard or you don’t like your child at the moment or your boss is a jerk, don’t apologize for how it affects you.
Similarly, when asking someone how they are, genuinely care and listen for the answer. Better yet, listen for what isn’t being said. Not everyone is looking to bare their soul, but in a constantly communicating world that has very little quality communication, I have found that most people are willing to talk to someone who will listen.
Everyone wants to feel valued. Everyone wants to be heard and seen.
And I believe everyone wants a safe space to say, “You know what? I am not fine.”
Be the person who can listen. Be the person who sees. Be the first to admit, “I’m not fine, and here’s why.”
I guess I answered my own question. I am bothered that our culture is so disconnected (even though we feign connectedness) that we feel the need to pretend everything is just fine. Because we have made ourselves believe that no one really wants to hear otherwise.
But that’s untrue. People do want to hear otherwise. I know human nature. I know the friends with whom I am mostly deeply connected and the reasons why. I know that we are all longing for friendships where we can be our full selves. Where we don’t have to apologize for what brings us down. Where we can admit the hard. Where we can find love and comfort and hope and belonging. And... bringing it back to the Love Your Spouse Challenge... celebrate the awesome!
This is my challenge to you: call someone today that could use a good friend and a listening ear. Ask how she is really doing. And tell her how you are really doing.
The dysfunctional emotional climate of our culture won’t change in a day, but you surely can make someone’s day today.
This was originally published at sixwilliams.com.