There is a new kind of addict around. No one has seen this kind of addict before. The vast majority of people do not even see it now. Not yet at least.
This kind of addict is continually being pulled by uncontrollable compulsions to check their phone. To see how many likes they have received and if anyone has commented on their posts. They want to feel connected. They want to feel good about themselves. They want to feel like they matter and with every like they receive they feel better about their standing in the digital world.
Last night I was up until two in the morning talking with my wife about what I think is a full blown Instagram addiction. It was a stressful conversation that gave her chest pains and kept me up most of the night. The conversation consisted of me trying to make her aware that she has a full-blown Instagram addiction and her begrudgingly confronting the truth about her own addiction with a reluctance to want to do anything about it. She was trying to appease me by saying she would give up Instagram for good but it felt like I was forcing her to do something she did not really want to do.
I do not need for my wife to give up Instagram. I need her to get more control over the compulsion that are causing Instagram to take over her life. Even though she still denies it is a problem, I know that my wife cannot go twenty minutes without feeling the pull to check her Instagram page. She is addicted to seeing who has liked her posts. Who has commented on them. “Her baby, you look hot!” “Awesome drawing! You are brilliant.” “Sexy! You are so sexy!” Stuff like that really gets her off. She says that this makes her feel more appreciated and noticed. She admits that she is addicted to the likes, to the positive feedback from other people she will never know. I am glad that she is getting this kind of positive feedback from the pictures of herself and her drawings that she posts. She deserves this since she is such a good woman. But being pulled by compulsions to secretly check on her Instagram every twenty minutes or so is something I seriously dislike.
This is not the woman I married. Instagram stole my wife.
My wife used to love the culinary arts. She was a prolific reader who finished almost every novel she read. And she read long novels! She wrote poetry and exercised on a regular basis. She went to regular yoga classes and engaged in regular deep conversations with me. I could not keep my wife’s hands off of me since she was always sexual in some way. Since my wife started regularly posting on Instagram, I feel like all the above has practically disappeared. What remains is a shell of what was there before. My wife no longer writes poetry. She does not attend yoga classes. When she cooks half the time is spent on her phone and the lack of interest and focus on what she is cooking has caused her enjoyment of the process to decline. My wife rarely finishes books that she starts and does not exercise anymore. I have to literally force her to go outside for a walk if I am going to get her to go exercise outdoors. My wife spends more time in the bathroom than she ever did before. Now she will go into the bathroom six or seven times a night for a long period each time! I never remember this happening before Instagram. And most of her sexual engagement with me is gone. It is just not there anymore. If I talk about any of this, she will get immediately and immensely combative and stressed out.
I realize that life is all about change. Nothing remains the same. People are verbs not nouns. Things that we used to do and/or be like is not what we keep doing or who we remain. But I would like to think that people have the ability to become better at the things they do. We can become more masterful and refined with regards to the things we work at. The problem with Instagram is that the Instagram user is striving for things that only exist in the Instagram world. Instagram is an end unto itself. A destination and any fifteen-year-old with a phone can get there. More likes, more recognition, more followers. But very rarely does any of this translate into something tangible in the external world (very few people actually make a career or something tangible out of their efforts on Instagram). But what does happen with hourly Instagram use is that everything that a person strives for in the external world goes into great decline. A person has less of a need to put the energy into various things in the external world that these things require to grow and evolve. Instead, with Instagram, people do just enough to get by. Just enough to get that post up and get those likes. When someone is getting their satisfaction from likes and comments on the mediocre things that they post on Instagram, they have less of a need to get this satisfaction from things that require effort and attention in the external world. As a result, Instagram is a breeding ground for a unique kind of mediocrity that bleeds out all over a person’s real life.
I have tried to talk to my wife about how she seems much less interested in our sexual life. She does not ever talk to me about having kids and we are not getting younger (I am 45 and she is 32). She says she wants to be in better shape but she does very little about it. I don’t see her putting much effort into advancing her career. Books remain unfinished (I am not allowed to talk about the fact that now she is only able to finish graphic novels and the more intellectually challenging books she used to regularly finish remain unfinished). The car is not getting cleaned. Dogs are not being walked. The house is not being tended to as much (I do most of the cleaning and decorating). The act of cooking brings her less pleasure. Clothes sit in the washer for days (I have taken over the laundry). Closets are a mess. And our relationship exists in a continual state of strain. Every time she checks her phone my nervous system is now triggered. If I bring up the issue of her intensive Instagram use she gets angry with me. She says things like, “Can’t I just relax right now. Do we have to always talk about this!” I continually notice her sneaking off into bathrooms or someplace else to check her phone. If I talk about this she gets mad and stressed out. She feels like I am trying to control her. Many years ago I dated a serious alcoholic. What I am experiencing now with my wife feels like exactly like what I went through with her. The secrets. The sneakiness. The outrage. The: “I only had a few drinks. What is the big deal? Jeeze you are always making a problem out of it. Cant I just relax!” Meanwhile she was drunk almost every single day.
I really do not know what to do at this point. There is no doubt in my mind that my wife and hundreds of thousands of other people are seriously addicted to Instagram. That person sitting at the dinner table with their partner while being on their phone, is probably checking some form of social media. They probably have a serious social media addiction that is not allowed to be spoken about right now. After all, almost everyone is doing it and several more years of lives falling a part because of it need to happen before people begin to really see the problem. But it is a serious problems that is currently destroying lives and relationships. People have no boundaries with regards to their social media use. It is “all on” right now. Full-time use. A pack a day or more! My wife is still young and could be using this time to steer her life in the direction she wants it to go. She could be getting her body into optimal physical condition. She could be cultivating her life with her husband. She could be doing whatever it would take to have children and work on reestablishing some kind of sex life with me. She could be spending more time just enjoying her life in the present moment. Cultivating in person relationships with other people. Growing that vegetable garden she has talked about for years. But none of this happens because she is getting all the pleasure and satisfaction she needs from Instagram. She is continually being pulled by uncontrollable compulsions to check in with Instagram even as we sit there having dinner together (I now always feel like I am keeping her from something she would rather be doing- checking Instagram). Meanwhile we are growing apart. I am becoming more and more despondent because I am watching a woman that I love, seriously neglecting her real life. If I talk about this I just stress her out. If I don’t talk about it I feel very uncomfortable inside. This Instagram things is just this massive presence in both of our lives, but neither of us seem allowed to speak about what is really going on. I resent her for this. When she goes into the bathroom for the sixth time that night, I have to just accept this as a normal part of our life together now. Fuck. I don’t like it but I am trying to roll with it. I just want my wife back.