Navigating the Challenges of Real Life, Online

Navigating the Challenges of Real Life, Online //

  • If you share everything, you’re an exhibitionist.
  • If you share nothing, you’re closed-off and unapproachable.
  • If you share too many good things, you’re fake.
  • If you share too many bad things, you’re a whiner.

It’s hard to get the balance right, isn’t it?

Online interactions don’t always lend themselves to complete transparency. And even when we are trying to let our online lives accurately reflect our real-life lives, there can still be a disconnect. A common criticism accuses people of trying to “pretty up” their lives for others… but I think there’s often far more to it than that:

  • You pull back on Facebook from everything but photos and chit-chatty nonsense, because you got publicly raked over the coals by a cousin after posting an article he/she disagreed with, and that was the final straw.
  • The sheer publicness of the internet feels RISKY– like shouting out your heart to a crowded room– so you keep to picture-sharing and funny videos of your kids.
  • You don’t post a comment about an issue you’re interested in, because you lack the strength to deal with fall out from the politically-correct police, especially when your whole family has the flu and you’re barely keeping it together in real life.
  • You don’t share about the biggest thing in your life that’s burdening you the most, because you don’t want to invite criticism or dissection about your decisions when you’re already hurting so badly.
  • Or maybe, other people are involved, and you can’t publicly talk about IT without also implicating/including THEM. So you say nothing.

There could be MANY reasons why you don’t share the most personal things in your life online, but a lot of them have nothing to do with fakery, and a lot more to do with genuine hurt, discretion, and wisdom learned over time.

A commenter on my 2014-Year-End-Survey wrote that she appreciated my old blog because I wrote more life-in-process sort of posts. Posts where I shared my then-current real-life struggles… and she misses that. When I read her comment, I could completely understand where she was coming from. I miss it, too.


But the truth is that I think a large part of this is an increasing awareness that the internet really CAN’T replicate what we get, and what we need, in real life. Even with emoticons, LOLs, and the ability to use more words than we might perhaps need in real life, and the ability to wait longer to craft and share them than we would if face to face, we STILL miscommunicate and misunderstand one another.

Text and a screen can’t do what flesh and blood are designed to do.

Online interactions lack the facial expressions and inflection to help us communicate with and comprehend one another… and they lack the interpersonal glues that bind us together in real-life relationships.

So for me, part of the difference between blogging in 2006 and blogging in 2015 is that we know more now about what the internet can and can’t do. I don’t think the internet can achieve the personal connections we long for. At least not singularly.


In my personal experience of writing online, my husband is a pastor, and my blog has a wider audience than it did when I first began writing. When things happen in our real life community, I am less free to discuss them than when I lived a relatively quiet life in an unknown place (we lived overseas and my neighbors spoke a different language and would never read and feel affected by my writing about discouragement, stress, etc.).

I think many of us experience this. Those who work outside the home may feel hyper-aware that Facebook interactions reflect on them, and could impact them professionally for good or for ill, and they may limit their activity for that reason.

We all have our reasons, but many of us are still, I think, struggling through the balance of:

  • what to share
  • how much of our personal feelings to share
  • how many details to give

We also have to struggle through, do I share real life hurts/challenges:

  • Only in real life?
  • Partly online?
  • Fully online?


In my life, these are some things that have affected what I’m willing/unwilling to share online:

  • The older my children get, the less public I can be about my interactions with them, out of respect for their privacy, and out of respect for them. When they were little, I could write openly about disobedience or parenting issues we were facing in real life, and yet remain discreet about which particular child I was telling a story about. As they grow, I choose not tell as many of their stories in public settings.
  • There are things that I no longer have the energy for. On more personal topics, or political issues, I have a natural hesitancy and self-protection that has been built out of wisdom. Now, I consider in advance whether or not I can “take the heat” and if I don’t think it’s wise at that moment in my life, then I don’t post about that topic at all.
  • When I had a “small” blog, it felt and operated more like a discussion group. With over a quarter-million visitors last year, it no longer feels that way. And it isn’t. So I tend to write, and use my writing, differently than I did back when everything was more laid back and open.
  • Honestly, too? During the first six years that I wrote online, I lived overseas and had little-to-no adult English interaction, and so my blog felt at times like a lifeline— a place for me to have real conversation with English-speaking moms about pressing real life challenges. I needed personal connection with other moms in a way that is no longer the case, because we now live in America and I CAN have those “what-do-you-think-about-X” conversations in real life with my church family.

And these are all just *MY* reasons/particulars of life. You have your own. Your best friend has her own. Your sister-in-law has hers.


Another factor is the fact that many of us now experience an increased segmentation of our lives:

  • people we’ve connected with entirely in real life,
  • others, we’ve connected with entirely online (I participated for 5 years in an online forum about homeschooling, and another number of years in an online forum about childrearing… many of those ladies have become real friends, and yet, for the most part, they’re not women that I know face-to-face), and
  • some people we’ve blended those things (i.e., my pastor’s wife & I met through blogging and are now real life friends).

Online life and social media has both complemented and complicated real life. There’s so many parts of this that we’re all trying to sort out.


Another factor I’ve been pondering lately is the way that online life unnaturally extends the life of some friendships that, in any other generation, would have died a natural death.

Friends that, if you lived 20 years ago, you might have lost touch with after the soccer season ended, still comment on your pictures and interact with you about politics, religion, cat posters, daily life, you-name-it!, years after that connection perhaps “should* have tapered off.

Is this producing a form of relational “clutter” in our lives? Are we friend hoarders? Do we, as a society, have piles of not-really friends and margin-sucking comments and valueless “likes” sitting around that make it increasingly difficult to walk through our social media “house?”


  • Are these concerns you share?
  • How are you dealing with these things in your “real” online life?


Heads up: Doug & I are enjoying a device fast this week… I look forward to coming back and seeing what thought-provoking tidbits and comments you all have left for me when I return. :) Until then…

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast ( I write and wrangle kids.

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8 Responses

  1. Barbara H. says:

    To address your last point first, I’ve had to realize I can’t keep up with everyone I’ve ever known on Facebook. After the initial finding of an old college friend there and catching up with each other a bit, often I really have no interest in the things they post. Not that there’s anything wrong with what they post – it’s just too much to keep up with. I’m more judicious now about accepting friend requests now, but for some I’ve clicked to “hide” their posts so they don’t show up in my feed. I might click over to their page every now and then to see what’s up, but it saves my time on FB for those people and interests I really want to follow.

    I agree it’s hard to know sometimes how much to share. I don’t write very often about marriage and usually keep it positive because, if our situations were reversed and my husband had a blog, I wouldn’t want him to air out our issues in “public.” So I don’t do that to him, either.

    Some of my posts are “thinking out loud,” working through an issue, but I’ve also avoided some topics because of the controversy they might generate. In most cases there is plenty online already on both sides of some of these issues, so I only approach them if I feel led to or want to share an aspect I haven’t seen elsewhere.

  2. Amy M says:

    Thought-provoking stuff. I tend to go back and forth on some of this. I think I tend toward being discreet with what I share online even though I only have a small and new little blog, because I know it’s public. In an internet forum which was members-only and not open to the public, I’d probably share more. I used to be part of a wonderful forum when I was in college and I’m still friends with some of those women. I don’t know of any women’s message forums now, but I’d love to be part of one. I do sometimes long for more connection and while I have good friends offline, I live in a commuter-intense area so it does get hard to mesh schedules.

    I’ve heard concerns such as those you mention, and I think there must be some middle ground for preserving connection while also finding a way to carve out some less public space.

    On Facebook and other social media, I actually think it’s a good thing. This may be because I’ve seen the flip side. There are people who in the normal course of things would have fallen completely out of my life years ago. However, though social media, I’ve learned that we have been going through similar struggles and so we have reconnected and been able to walk alongside one another. Years ago, this probably wouldn’t have happened.

    Rather than thinking of people as folks that should have fallen out of my life, I see friendships as having more of an ebb and flow to them. There are probably some folks I won’t ever feel moved to get closer to again, but one never knows.

  3. abby says:

    I wouldn’t say we should call extra facebook friends “friend clutter.” It may be the right thing to cull your friend list for any number of reasons, but the people behind those profiles are real, eternal souls. If you are able/willing/called to use social media in a way to bless or encourage others, you never know when that random high school friend will be really touched by some article you share, or when a cousin you barely talk to calls to ask you for advice about a personal situation because of something she saw you say ‘back in the day’ online. Some people find social media to be a circus they need to back out of, yes, but some people use it as a great tool for connecting with other people.

    I have culled my “friend list” from time to time… it has usually backfired on me! Does this mean all my social media browsing is beneficial? NO. But I think it’s important to keep an eternal perspective — this can be a great tool to encourage others. The problem is not the “friend clutter” but either with your own time management (which is an issue for me!) or your attitude about what to share/post/comment.

    • Jess Connell says:

      Great thoughts! Thanks for the pushback about “friend clutter”– definitely wasn’t wanting to put people down, or devalue human beings, but I can see how it could come across that way.

      My point was, I wonder if we’re all hanging on to friends in a way that, anytime until 5 years ago, would not have remotely been possible. But great points about culling the friends list, etc. That’s something I used to do with regularity and haven’t been as good about lately. I think the “unfollow” feature has actually made it worse to some degree because rather than culling people, you just unfollow them and forget that they’re still technically your “friend” & able to see all your stuff until “wham!” they post something rude on an article you share, or whatever.

      After reading this, I actually just went through last night and culled a huge part of my friends list, paring it down to almost only people I know in person, or a few I’ve connected with online in a meaningful way. Thanks for the nudge. I used to do that regularly and hadn’t probably done so in years. :)


  4. Kondwani says:

    A couple of comments:

    1) I look forward to hearing how your ‘device fast’ goes – I think its a really useful thing to do, and it can help you see where the internet is useful, but also where it is not so.

    2) With Facebook, I have found the ‘groups’ very helpful. I’m in several closed groups where member requests need to be moderated, and even one or two ‘hidden’ groups which are really private. This means that in some we can share more genuine prayer requests, arrange meet ups, and generally be more ‘real’ than in the main Facebook (which yes, is often photos and interesting but not too controversial links)

    3) I totally understand why you find it harder (or in fact inappropriate in some situations) to talk about your real life – that’s the main reason why I blog in a pseudonym. There are those who know who I am, and that’s fine – because these are mainly friends who I would talk to about things anyway. But even then, I try to take care not to make my posts too identifiable when talking about other people. However, there are probably drawbacks too – like some people might ask ‘why a pseudonym, what have you to hide?’

    I wrote about both psuedonmys and the lack of photos on my blogs here:

  5. Katie S says:

    I don’t really have a very big online presence – I’m not keeping up my long-neglected blog and I have one lone social media account without many connections. Even with apparently few distractions, I find myself continually needing to re-evaluate my priorities as far as relating to people go. The main points in my life lately have been:

    First, I’m convinced from my understanding of the Bible that we need real, face-to-face fellowship with other believers, and it should go beyond surface level. This is a normal, every-day, applicable-to-all-Christians responsibility, not something special for the spiritual elite, at least the way I read it. Thus, I need to do what I must to make time for that to happen. (And I would put my relationship with my husband in this category – it is definitely a very unique subset of Christian fellowship, but as fellow believers, it is Christian fellowship nonetheless.)

    Second, my primary ‘ministry’ right now is raising our children. We are convinced we must be intentional in teaching our children practical theology. How does God’s word apply to everyday life? What can we do to show them that this isn’t just a Sunday thing, but rather the fabric of life? I need to make time to teach them while we go out and while we’re at home – while have fun, read, snuggle, run around and discuss life. Time is required!

    Third, it is worthwhile to keep up some long distance relationships. My husband encourages me to spend time keeping up with a select group of people via email/snail mail/visits when possible. This group of people includes our parents, who live an hour or more away, our grandparents, some “miscellaneous” family, and a couple of dear friends who don’t live in our area anymore. Again, this isn’t something that just happens – and I need to make time for it when I can, because it lapses during the busier seasons of life.

    Additionally, the reason I still have a Facebook account is expressly so I can share photos of my kids with these people. Because I know my goal, I don’t have any qualms about posting happy pictures of my kids there – and like you mentioned, Jess, as they get older, I share less of the funny/cute/potentially embarrassing stories. Some people might think I’m sugarcoating my life, but instead, I am catering to my target audience. I’ve also reduced the list of people I’m connected to there because I’m not looking it as a network (where I would want it to be as large as possible), but a photo-sharing site (photos I want a relatively small group of people I actually currently know to see).

    (Ok, lots of parenthetical statements here, but I do think that reducing my friend list was emotionally beneficial – I have a finite emotional reserve like any human. It may sound hard-hearted to say that I don’t have time for everyone’s news, problems, joys, etc., but another way of thinking about it is choosing to intentionally focus on what God has obviously put on my plate, rather than on someone I knew slightly fifteen years ago.)

    I tend not to “process” on Facebook. Besides what I said about mainly using it to share kid pictures, the diversity of viewpoints in the people I am still connected to that way means that it is not particularly helpful for me to get usable feedback. If I’m trying to sort something out, I’ll reach out to a friend – sometimes online – but someone I know shares my worldview and will encourage me with what the Bible says. Furthermore, because many of the people I know and dearly love have fundamentally different worldviews, personal conversation would need to accompany many of the links I’m inclined to share or statements I would make to prevent unnecessary hurt. Since that doesn’t happen (well) via Facebook, I opt not to share.

    After saying ALL of this, my summary is that while I am honest in what I say online, I really don’t worry about how complete a picture any random person has based on what I share. Right now, all of the relational priorities happen to be people I know in real life, who know me beyond what I share online, and my goal is to glorify God in those relationships. (I do love getting to read/think about/discuss topics in places like this too! It just doesn’t get top billing in the time budgeting.) If, down the road, I resurrect the blog or somehow have a different online presence, I would have more to think through as far as priorities go – but for now, things are relatively simple.

    I do understand your balancing act, though, and appreciate your approach – I think that erring on the side of caution in what and when to share online is wise. It is better to protect and serve the people we DO know in real life, out of reverence for Christ, than to have a potentially damaging tell-all online in order to help readers feel connected.

  6. Miranda says:

    This post was great, I agree with so much you said. I have no idea if the survey person was me but I did share something similar on your survey that year :) I really think you have gotten to a good place on the blog with this balance your talking about though and the “in the thick of it” encouragement I missed has come back as you’ve written more. I agree though, there’s no comparison between online vs real, flesh and blood relationships God gives us to shape and grow us. I also continue to think about how finite the internet is with knowing and caring for people as whole persons. I find the most introverted people are the most active online…I do think there’s a connection with relational vulnerability and the way social media works against how much we need face to face relationships with sisters in Christ. But they are work! Yet yield such blessing. I am thankful your blog is a place where I know I am going to get to the point encouragement to think well about marriage, parenting and walking with God …but I am also glad those encouragements are framed around a real life! That you are there where you are, in your city, your street, with your life showing us some nuggets your gleaning through this writing set around some elements of your life is inspiring to my walk.

  1. July 11, 2015

    […] Navigating the Challenges of Real Life Online. “If you share everything, you’re an exhibitionist. If you share nothing, you’re closed-off and unapproachable. If you share too many good things, you’re fake. If you share too many bad things, you’re a whiner.” Jenn discusses some principles and guidelines for finding balance here. […]

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