Separate Lives

A couple of weeks ago the broadcaster, writer and academic researcher Vicky Beeching tweeted the question: ‘What do u think of people having multiple Twitter accounts; a personal/private one & public one? Fair enough, or creating multiple ‘selves’?’

I recognise the dilemma. I started my one Facebook account some years ago with the sole intention of promoting my books online. But once the page was in existence and many of my real life friends had become Facebook friends too, the content and conversations became at least as personal as professional. With the original purpose in mind I’ve accepted ‘friends’ requests from people who know me only through what I write, so the page is a bit of a melting-pot of my different selves. Sometimes the obsessively tidy part of my brain would like to unpick it all and start again: perhaps being more social-media-savvy this time and setting up two separate sites.

Most of us would recognise that different aspects of our personality come to the fore as we inhabit multiple roles, engage with people for a range of reasons and purposes, explore relationships with varying levels of intimacy and belong to groups in a different way and for different reasons. We would also recognise, though, that there’s something that ties all of that together, called ‘me’.

Some who responded to Vicky Beeching’s question believe that it’s useful and appropriate to maintain boundaries between business and personal use of social media, even to have separate accounts relating to different areas of interest. One person questioned why ‘multiple selves’ is necessarily a bad thing and another claimed to have more than 35 Twitter accounts, whilst someone else worried that if he had two accounts he would always confuse them.

We are highly complex creatures. Not only do our personalities have many perfectly compatible aspects that are magnified or submerged depending on where we are, who we are with and what we are doing: we are also full of seeming contradictions, and probably some very real ones.

How much of this we reveal to whom and in what context is a constant negotiation within ourselves; it always was, long before social media came into being to point up the issues. Decisions around Facebook privacy options, Twitter presence and with whom we want to be Linked In simply underline the age-old question: How much of myself is it healthy and helpful for me to reveal to whom?

Thank goodness we can be naked before God without either causing offence or risking someone trampling on our vulnerability. A God who, being three in one and one in three, is unlikely to suggest that we unpick ourselves in an attempt to start again and create something more tidy.

In Real Life

My friend and I laughed ruefully over pizza about our envy of other people’s lives-on-social-media: ‘They’re all re-tweeting each other, why aren’t they re-tweeting me? … everyone follows his blog, how does he do that? … their Facebook pages are Wall-to-Wall with photos of themselves partying … I texted her and I knew she’d seen it, so why didn’t she reply straight away?’.

Conclusion: everyone else is in the middle of the action and we’re waving from the edges.

Of course we realise it isn’t true. That’s why we’re able to laugh at ourselves. We know that people’s tweets and posts are a partial account of their story. IRL – which my friend reliably informs me means ‘In Real Life’ – most people are as complicated and imperfect as we are, with more beneath the surface than showing above. The best social media communicates the fun and achievements of people’s lives alongside their fragility and questioning.

I go through phases, IRL, when I spend a fair amount of time noticing the daily niggles, racking up the comparisons and worrying at the question ‘what have I actually achieved today that will change the world for anyone?’ It makes me very grumpy. It doesn’t enhance the lives of those around me. It’s probably a relief to everyone when I suddenly notice once again the wonder of being alive and safe in an amazing city, with the profound blessings of family and friends and the privilege of working on projects that excite and inspire me.

I suspect that I’m not the only one who needs to use periods of grumpiness more creatively. So when the dissatisfaction descends, perhaps we can use it to connect with the deeper restlessness within: the persistent longing to discover more of the Love that creates, sustains and reinvents the world.

As St Augustine famously said, ‘We are made for Thee, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee’. It’s okay to be restless. It’s okay to desire more. Because at heart the ‘more’ is about longing to dwell more fully in the Love which in turn spills over into a deepening of our relationships with others and with the world.

This kind of restlessness is creative and good. We just need to recognise that the dissatisfaction induced by comparing our Facebook pages and re-Tweet scores is too closely related to envy to be fruitful. Let’s kick the habit of comparison, notice the giftedness of our own lives, and intentionally exchange the envy for a restlessness that will drive us more deeply into love of God, others and the world.

Grownup Girls & Shot Silk Sisters

The truth is, I don’t really cut it as a girls’ girl. I’ve never been to a gym session or an exercise class with my mates; when I run, I run alone, partly because I don’t have enough breath to chat at the same time.  I’m not in the habit of meeting up with female friends for in-depth group analysis of our current relationships. And the last girls’ night out for which I spent several hours prepping my hair and nails was at college in the late 1980’s.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I’m blessed with a glorious array of women friends who inspire me, love me and make me laugh a lot. They probe me with the right questions at the right time and in the confidence of easy friendship share their insights, vulnerabilities and achievements. But with the exception of some lovely school-gate friends these grownup girls are all over the place – geographically, not emotionally – so I’m far more likely to be found in the company of one or two women than hanging out with a whole bevvy of them.

Except, that is, when it comes to my day job. Which happens to be for the Church of England: an institution which is struggling to make space for grownup girls to flourish. My work on gender-related issues means that I get to hang out with various crowds of richly talented, deeply intuitive, wonderfully creative, wickedly humorous, ever-resourceful women-of-the-cloth: vibrant, finely woven, shot-silk, cashmere-soft, leather-luxurious, lycra-edgy, tough as hessian cloth.

An amazing spectrum of women who throughout the church’s struggle to welcome, embrace and deploy them have remained passionate in their love of God and quietly but wonderfully competent in their living out of the Gospel in the world. And still they do that, and will do so, no doubt, for as long as it takes and thereafter.

In that sort of context, getting together with your mates – as part of a big crowd or a small one – really matters. Because it’s there that you remember how normal and normative it is to be a woman. It’s there that you see why an institution which doesn’t have women working alongside men in all the high places and all the far corners, at the centre as well as on the margins and everywhere in between, falls so tragically short of its potential. It’s there that you find the language to begin to express what is missing, and what goes wrong, when women are not fully encouraged to flourish.

It’s there that you look round the room and know, with all your heart, mind, soul and feminine intuition, that God created grownup woman, and saw that she was good.