My Instagram’s Perfect, My Real Life Is Not

Collage by Maria Jia Ling Pitt

Over the past several months, I’ve been rejected by 11 of the 12 medical schools to which I applied. The rejections came by email: first Cornell — right away, which made me cry — then NYU, then Columbia. They trickled in, forcing a running joke between me and my boyfriend: “Who’s up next?” I became numb to it. I had to. It hurt too much.

As the once-unthinkable scenario of not being admitted to a single medical school became my reality, my boyfriend — who is adopted — received a different kind of life-altering news: his biological sister, who he hadn’t seen since she was an infant, was being flown to New York as a finalist in a major modeling competition, and their mother was looking for them all to reunite.

Having spent sixteen years wondering and worrying about the paths their lives had taken, the reunion was a profound source of joy and relief for my partner. His sister won the competition and the year-long contract that came with. She moved to New York, and into the Flatbush apartment my boyfriend and I shared, shortly after.

In the months of cohabitation that followed, I failed to adapt to the new living arrangement, wavering between resentment and pained acceptance, wanting to support my partner as he grew his relationship with his sister while also mourning the brief four months of bliss that was our living together, just the two of us.

As home became a space in which I felt increasing pressure to be “on” at all times, I suffered a months-long depression. I’d been preparing for years to gain entry to medical school. I’d worked in hospitals since I was a teenager. I’d spent my undergraduate years toiling away at a challenging and competitive pre-med curriculum. I’d spent thousands of dollars and countless hours preparing for the MCAT. I’d filleted myself before a dozen faceless admissions committees, disclosing intimate parts of my history to strangers. And I had nothing to show for it. Just rejection. Just failure.

During this time, my boyfriend and I turned into people neither of us liked or wanted to be. I made the incredibly painful decision to move out of the home we created together — the first I’d ever shared with a significant other — and found a studio a few blocks away, hoping it would ease the tension and pressure I felt in our apartment. I knew it would be hard, but I thought it would make us happier. It didn’t. It felt like a loss. It felt like a step backwards. We separated shortly after.

You wouldn’t know any of this if you were to look at my social media presence.

A true millennial, I spend every day — cumulatively several hours a day — on social media. I follow a carefully curated list of 283 Instagram accounts that I review and revise regularly. I have a (freakish?) compulsion to keep that list short so that I don’t miss any content. I post frequently and publicly: pictures of myself, of Brooklyn (the borough), of Brooklyn (my puppy), of my (now ex-)boyfriend. I am a similarly active Facebook user: my 708 friends are my (real) friends, family members, mentors and co-workers. With most of my family on the West Coast, it’s fast become an easy way to keep tabs on one another. I post life updates, photos from trips and political content with gusto. All of which is to say: I’m not usually averse to sharing.

This isn’t a part of myself that I’m entirely proud of or comfortable with. There is an old soul in me that recoils at how many of my human connections are virtual, at how much of myself and my life I present for the consumption of acquaintances and strangers. I also feel guilty and conflicted about participating in the larger, vainglorious project that is a defining feature of social media: of only sharing when the news is good.

Just weeks ago, an old friend texted wanting to catch up because, “[she] always sees these amazingly happy photos of [me] on Facebook,” and wanted to hear about my happiness in person. I almost had to laugh. I’d never been more unhappy.

My rejection from medical school is an injury I’ve yet to recover from, a wound I’ve yet to reveal (though this writing marks something of a start). I made most of my college friends in my pre-med courses at Yale. My Facebook feed is perpetually filled with photos of their white coat ceremonies. My best friend, who is my age, will soon be starting her residency. And I’m still out here, untethered, waiting for a significant part of my life to begin. Academia has long been the space in which I’ve staked my self-worth. My intelligence — as measured by grades, scores, assessments and acceptances — is a part of me that I’m deeply proud of.

My relationship with my partner has likewise been one my proudest accomplishments. This was a person who made me feel good and loved and seen, who made me want things I’d never before allowed myself to believe I could have — monogamy, cohabitation, kids, commitment. Relationships aren’t boxes you check, but connections you pour yourself into, living things you have to care for. Our unraveling has felt like one of my greatest failures, one that I haven’t had the courage to broadcast — even as I’ve wanted to unload some of this pain in a public way; even as I’ve needed to update friends and family, if only to put an end to the “you look so happy” messages.

My Instagram and Facebook page are filled with photos of him and us. The part of me that feels like social media is some tidy representation of our identities and our personal narratives wants desperately to exclude this, as though the excluding will make it less real, as though for once the virtual might inform the physical and everything will be okay.

These days, I find myself posting and deleting, posting and deleting. I feel on me the eyes of our friends and family who know. Every post feels heavy and symbolic, a representation of the life I’m living now. An answer to, “Who are you, now that you’re alone?” Maybe it’s right, then, that I share sparingly, or not at all. Because I’m still figuring that out.

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