Sarah Smiley Credit: Sarah Smiley

I received some flak after last week’s column in which I lamented the fact that my husband, having ended his last military command, returned home after years of being away, and he brought boxes of stuff with him. Specifically, he brought coffee mugs. Dustin and I have fought about coffee mugs for as long as we’ve been married. The man hoards them like some people do tools (Dustin has a big collection of those, too), even though he only ever drinks out of one specific mug every single day.

After I heard people’s criticism from around town, I first mourned for people’s sense of humor, and then, more seriously, I questioned our two-dimensional online lives. Our days are played out on social media in two extremes—extreme hatred for others (the government, the president, the person who cut you off in the parking lot) and extreme oversimplification of the unbalanced, messy, conflicting routine of our own lives.

Some people call it the social media affect. But things definitely gained momentum with the arrival of Instagram in particular in 2010.

Writing for WIRED magazine in 2011, Clive Thompson wrote, “The real allure of Instagram [is] its photo ‘filters’ — and the subsequent rise of filter culture. Filters help us see the world in a new way.” Thompson meant this positively. In the rest of the article, he describes Instagram as a tool that makes people see the world more beautifully, like an artist. He wrote, “I became increasingly observant of the world around me. Walking to the subway the other day, I spotted a backhoe parked on a corner and got curious — what could I do with that? Presto: Hefe helped me turn it into the dirty claw of a weary dragon.”

But that was in 2011. Six years later, I think the “filter culture” has spilled over from visual art to social facades. Speaking to TODAY last week, Kathy DiVincenzo touched on this. DiVincenzo is a mother suffering from postpartum depression who feels worse about herself when she gets online and sees other mothers’ perfect pictures. But then, she admits, “the only photos I’m posting are of my new baby smiling, and his sister kissing him. All these amazing moments are real, of course, but there’s that flip side, this other side of reality that I wasn’t comfortable showing.”

Most people aren’t. And even when they are, they try to beautify the harder moments with filter-perfect images that still somehow make other women say, “Geez, she’s supposedly going through a hard time, but she manages to post pictures like that? What’s wrong with me?”

In all my years of writing, I have never been comfortable showing you only my filtered life. This is why I began writing in the first place. I was at a military spouse club meeting, and a wife started crying. She said she wasn’t cut out to be a military wife, and she was disappointed that she wasn’t stronger like the rest of us. This was before the age of social media. I looked around the room and realized that every single one of us felt like her on the inside, we just never dared to show it.

So I started writing about the anger and fear that spouses sometimes feel when their loved one leaves them on a pier for a months-long deployment. It’s not pretty, and it’s not filtered, but it’s honest. Some readers hated that. We should be proud and patriotic, they said, not angry and scared about being left behind.

Then I wrote about the difficult period of transition when a husband comes home from deployment. Some readers hated that, too. Shouldn’t I be grateful my husband came home at all? they asked. Shouldn’t I make him steak and tell him what a wonderful warrior he is?

But then, when I write complimentary, sentimental pieces about my husband, as I did two weeks ago after his Change of Command, some readers say, “Get over yourself.”

It’s that two-dimensional world of extremes.

But from the moment I started writing 15 years ago, my goal was to show life without the filters. In every aspect of life, there is good and bad. We bring home a newborn baby, and it is a wonderful moment. But it’s also hard. Our husband comes home from deployment, and we are grateful. But it’s a messy transition. Our children grow up, and we are proud. But we also feel sad and wonder what our new role is. Even my friend whose husband was killed in a helicopter crash had moments of beauty and sometimes laughter in the middle of despair.

Life is like that.

Yes, I am proud of my husband, and I am grateful he is home. But, no, I do not like his coffee mugs. And that’s okay.