It’s a freezing day in upstate NY as I walk into the Wegman’s to buy my groceries. While struggling with being overbundled in a coat plus a hundred other things to keep out the frigid cold, I’m trying to navigate my way with a wobbly shopping cart, when I notice a wall of red roses, huge displays of baked goods shaped like hearts and more.
The display is positioned right at the front of the store, you can’t miss it or even ignore it, if you tried. The Wegman’s is very busy. A more than usual crowd of people are milling around with carts full of red and pink items to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Items to appease a husband or wife, a girlfriend or boyfriend on this day of love and devotion.
I get home, open up my Facebook home page and I find messages from my mom. She sent me cute little cartoons, all Valentine themed. My mother has the habit of sending me a million cute messages, no matter what holiday it is. I know that she loves Valentine’s Day (what’s better than love, she always says) and so, I send her some cute cats and dog themed Valentine’s greetings of my own and tell her that I love her.
Sure, we all know Valentine’s Day is a made up holiday, but we still like to make a big deal about it. We also get upset when we have no one special in our lives to spend the holiday with, and get upset when the day is not “romantic” enough or made into a huge deal by a significant other. Many relationships have broken up over lackluster Valentine gifts and plans.
No matter how hard we try, we can’t get away from the constant reminder. The nonstop romantic ads on TV (my favorites are the diamond commercials, buy her a giant diamond and she will love you forever! Make sure you throw a military husband surprising his wife and newborn by coming home, that should get some tears flowing!) and the subliminal affirmations of how this made up holiday is beyond important and so you better make it special and make sure that your partner knows this, too. And so, we scour social media, not just for ideas on how to make the day wonderful, but to also secretly envy others’ displays of romance and epic love.
Social media is where the Sea Monkeys flourish and pretty much make us feel like sh…., I mean make us feel bad, about our lives. Oh, you’ve never heard of the Sea Monkeys? The Sea Monkeys is what I call those people that post videos of romantic proposals, huge rings, open love letters, pictures taken in exotic places, and slightly sexually charged posts about where they went, alluding to the amazing lovemaking they had after they got home. They are all happy and full of French food from some pretentious, overpriced restaurant that had a 4 months long reservation waiting list. The pictures are proof of their love, passion and amazing connection, right?
Now, if you are like me, you tend to make some sarcastic remark about why does everything have to be displayed for the public to see? At this point, you have to prepare for the wrath of the public! They will say, why can’t you be happy for others? What’s wrong with you? Are jealous because you don’t have anyone that treats you that way? They will continue their attack of words of calling you “pathetic” and “sad” and finally, you have to concede. They’re straight out of a Hallmark Channel Valentine Movie Marathon, be happy for them, dammit!
Please, don’t get me wrong. I love romance and I love, well, love. Why, this Valentine's Day, my plans are to wait til after the holiday ends, go buy a bunch of 1/2 price candy, go home, wear my sexiest gray sweatpants and watch a "Deadly Women" marathon with the cat.
But, seriously,I do have a theory about all of this. I have already told you about the Sea Monkeys, now, let me explain why I call them that and how they have been thriving since the dawn of time. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if some cave drawings were eventually discovered, depicting some Neanderthal Sea Monkey’s primitive attempt at making all his Neanderthal friends envious of his amazing mate and their life together.
Do you remember,many eons ago, when a kid could order Sea Monkeys out of the back of a comic book? Do you remember how the Sea Monkeys were pictured as little beings that had a king and queen and even little princes and princesses? Their underwater world was perfect with a tiny castle and little crowns on their heads. They looked like a cross between a mermaid, and a human. Their antennas were perfectly straight and their smiles were bright. They looked perfect and as a child, I wanted some of those Sea Monkeys for my very own.
I asked my parents for some money (I was about 5 years old at the time) and they helped me send away for them. I couldn’t wait to get them and for 4 to 6 weeks, I checked the mail religiously till a package came in the mail for me. The package was flat and tiny. Surely, that package can’t possibly have my perfect Sea Monkeys inside it!
I rushed inside and asked my father to help me with what I had received in the mail. My father opened the package and on the little envelope was a picture of the Sea Monkeys, the very same perfect picture from the comic book ad.
My father helped me put water in the old fish bowl that was left over after my goldfish passed away (R.I.P Mickey) and he emptied the envelope that contained the Sea Monkeys into the water. The water became cloudy and kind of gross. My dad said that we had to wait a full day for the Sea Monkeys to “come to life”.
That night, I dreamed of the Sea Monkeys and their kingdom. I dreamed that I was crowned a princess by the Sea Monkeys and I lived with them underwater where I would play, laugh, and dance with them all day, everyday. Maybe I will grow a fish tail and maybe I will be just like the Little Mermaid which was one of my favorite storybooks.
I woke up and ran to the fish bowl. There was no castle and no little humanoid fish beings with crowns smiling at me. There was only strange looking things that my father told me were called Brine Shrimp. I started crying, my little 5 year old heart broken. I didn’t want shrimp, I wanted my underwater Sea Monkey Kingdom!! The pictures in the comic book ad were a LIE! The Sea Monkeys were not perfect after all.
The Sea Monkey disaster was actually useful later on in my life as I navigated the world of social media. We are bombarded with nonstop images of babies, weddings, proposals, and exotic places that we can only dream of. A life that we cannot afford and a standard that is unreachable. The nonstop barrage of people trying to prove to other people that their lives are better than fairy tales has us believing that our lives will never be good enough. We find ourselves trying to keep up with people that in all truth, we don’t even like nor care about. Yet, we still play the game and always try to “one up” each other in a make believe world made of illusion and lies.
The truth is that those amazing pictures sometimes hide an ugly truth. We want to travel just like Mr. and Mrs. Jones, but the Joneses travel to fill the bitter emptiness of their lives and to spend time together without spending time together. Besides, they love how people gush over their adventures together. A romantic weekend in Paris, my a…, I mean, watch out Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele!
They had dinner at the pretentious French restaurant, but the dinner was filled with uncomfortable silence and constant glances at their phones. I think the food gave them food poisoning too, but how romantic!
The proposal video was elaborate and romantic, but he or she is settling before they get much older.
The professional baby bump pictures are beautiful, but she deliberately became pregnant to trap him after the nonstop arguments and inevitable divorce. But, how did they get the sunset just right in those precious photos??!!
The goofy couple’s pictures at the beach only hide the utter desperation they live in and cannot show to the world. The desperation they can’t be honest about, even to themselves. They barely look at each other, but when it’s a picture, you will wish you had that kind of love, too. You can see the reality in their faces, if you look closely enough, but nobody will.
The public love letter that he wrote for his wife on Facebook for their anniversary is a way to hide his diminishing love for her (if he even had love for her to begin with) and of the truth of how he sees her. She will be proud of the public display of love. She knows her friends will see it and will envy her and her life. It doesn’t matter if it is a lie, only the illusion matters here. Watch out rain kissing scene from The Notebook!
They post pictures of the very expensive redecoration of their house. They used to travel, but the pandemic happened and they needed something that will busy them because they can’t stand each other. Sure, now they are more in debt on top of the debt that they had from the endless travels, but it makes them look rich and happy. Who wouldn’t want this life???? Stop being jealous and wishing you had their lives!
The celebrity that every man lusts after and every woman wishes she was. All Photoshop and plastic surgery. No one knows about her drug and gambling addiction, the deep depression and eating disorder that she hides. She looks amazing in a bikini on a private beach. A vacation that she can barely afford after all her ceaseless spending. Everyone wants to look at her and desire her and that’s all that matters, right? Did I mention the hours of endless airbrushing and make up?
We are expected to post comments like, “Beautiful”, “CUUUUUTTTTEE”, “Congratulations!!!”. God forbid if you uttered the truth of your feelings, then you become a social media outcast and you are to be shamed, rejected and reviled!
Everyone has a secret shame, a secret desire, a secret bitterness, an insecurity and a loss that they try to hide from others. They know that as long as they maintain this falsehood to the world, no one will see the truth of their lives. Their lies and their secrets can be safe from the scrutiny and judgment of others. They can be the success, the happiness, the perfection that everyone tries to reach, but never could and will always envy.
So, what's the take away from all this? The takeaway is that when you see these bigger than life displays on social media, try not to feel envy or to feel like your life isn't what you expected it to be. Try to understand that everything on social media is an illusion. No one wants their truth out there for people to judge, so they take the truth and make it into something else, knowing full well that people will wish they had lives or relationships as great at theirs. Maybe it helps them to get through sleepless nights and endless days of the less than perfect lives that they lead. Maybe it makes the truth easier to swallow or maybe it makes them believe their own lies and illusions.
They are the Sea Monkeys, their true selves are not pictured and never will be. Think of that when you find yourself envious of another’s attempt at camouflaging their reality. And if you do feel envy or other negative feelings regarding yourself or your life, don't beat yourself up, you are only human. You probably know, deep down, that all of it doesn't matter. In the end, it’s all a happy Sea Monkey Valentine’s Day. A happy Sea Monkey EVERYDAY.
© 2021 Johanna Elattar