We dated the Zeros… so you don’t have to.


PDS: Public Displays of Sadness


The other day I was driving behind a very dirty Mercedes and at a red light I noticed that someone had written in the grime ‘I wish my wife didn’t love you’.

I desperately tried to get a picture of the car, but by the time I got my phone out the light had changed and the car turned into a garage. For some reason, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wish my wife didn’t love you. Perhaps this is a quote I didn’t recognize or some attempt at poetry in motion? If not, it was one of the saddest public messages I’ve ever seen.

Anna recently wrote about how annoying too much PDA can be. I got to thinking about the increasing instances of PSD… Public Displays of Sadness. We are barraged with messages every day – many are idealized images used to sell crap to us. Some of them are angry screeds spray-painted on bus stops or scribbled in the stalls of public toilets. We see these messages, both positive and negative, so often that rarely do we give them a second look. If someone had written an angry message in the dirty window of that Mercedes… “Fuck you for fucking my wife”, for example, I wouldn’t have given it another thought. But ‘I wish my wife didn’t love you’ is different. There’s something so sad, honest and resigned about it… and something so private… which was completely at odds with it being written on the back of a car for all the world to see.

I’ve noticed PDS cropping up in other places as well. Social network sites tend to be places of rose-colored glasses, where everyone’s babies are adorable, everyone is witty at all times and everyone’s Friday nights are awesome! When it comes to sharing one’s life on sites like Facebook, people tend to post the good stuff. It isn’t dishonest… but nor does it tell the whole story. Which is fine. No one ever said one’s Facebook profile had to a fair and balanced account of one’s life. Rarely do people make an unflattering photo their profile picture, and the same ‘best foot forward’ attitude tends to be the tenor of most people’s posts. But not all people.

For some folks, Facebook can also be a place to show their darker side. It can be a place where breakups are broadcasted in almost real time via curt and brutal status updates, and one’s ‘friends’ can comment on one’s misfortune to their heart’s content.

As someone who can have a tendency toward (and occasionally romanticizes) the melancholic, I can deal with sad. I know sad. Sad and me are old pals. Sometimes I even seek sad out in the form of movies or music. But somehow whenever I see people changing their relationship status on Facebook from ‘in a relationship’ to ‘single’, posting a status update about a professional setback or even just talk about their crappy day, I’m always a little surprised and occasionally a little uncomfortable at these Public Displays of Sadness. Again, I’m not uncomfortable with the reality of these feelings. Nor am I an advocate of keeping all the bad stuff inside. But there is something a little strange to me about about sharing one’s sadness on a site like Facebook. After all, one’s Facebook page is populated with actual close friends, as well as pseudo-friends (that guy you vaguely remember from high school who’s friend request you felt bad rejecting), and, depending on how you use Facebook, you may even have some strangers on there. Of course, you can now set different levels of privacy and determine who sees what, but based on some of the stuff I’m seeing from some of my more casual ‘friends’ on Facebook, a lot of folks aren’t too worried about privacy. So for most people, they are broadcasting all their information to their close friends and casual acquaintances alike.

This will probably sound heartless, but I recently unsubscribed from a high school acquaintance’s feed because… well… he was bumming me out. Every day there seemed to be a new comment on the crappier aspect of his life. Though I was sorry he was going through a breakup, having not seen him or talked to him in over a decade, it really didn’t feel like any of my business. One on one, I’m really good with problems (at least I hope I am). When any of my friends are going through something tough, no matter how bad, I want to be there for them. I want to hear anything they want to share with me, no matter how depressing, because I understand the need to vent the bad stuff. When I’m really unhappy, it helps me to talk about it with people I love, even if there is no immediate solution to be found. It just wouldn’t occur to me to post it on Facebook.

I’m not saying PDS is wrong, necessarily. To each their own. It just strikes me as a newer cultural phenomenon, and not one to which I’ve yet become jaded. Maybe that’s a good thing. Everyone has a different sense of privacy. Personally, I don’t consider posting something on Facebook the same as telling a friend about it. I don’t ever want to learn the really important stuff about my close friends – an illness, for example, or a divorce – in a status update.  Call me old fashioned, but at least for now, I think I’ll keep my sadder moments between myself and my actual friends.

All that being said… though not a robust Facebooker, I’ve definitely been guilty of PDS in real life. I once walked home from seeing Eternal Sunshine of A Spotless Mind by myself and I cried the entire way. I’m guessing the folks I passed on the street who had to see me sobbing felt way more uncomfortable with my PDS than I do at a breakup status update.


One Response to “PDS: Public Displays of Sadness”

  1. Anna Keizer February 22, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    I see PDS on Facebook quite frequently, and the cynic in me believes that it really isn’t about whatever emotional anguish that person is going through. It’s about needing attention. I know that sounds kind of harsh, but more often than not I think some individuals reach out in inappropriate ways because something in them need that “validation” that they matter to someone.

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