Recently, I took time away from the busyness of life and spent the weekend with a small group of friends in a cozy hunting lodge deep in the woods. There were board games, gourmet meals, yoga at sunrise, hours of reading and silent reflection, and we all brought wine to share. We hiked during the day and chatted late into the night on the patio, our faces lit by the twinkle lights strung overhead.
Since this weekend had been planned as a time to disconnect, smartphones and other devices that enabled connection with the outside world were frowned upon. In theory, I was fine with this agreement. After all, I’m not addicted to my phone. Sure, I want it, but I don’t need to have it.
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And I was right, I hardly noticed my sabbatical from Twitter or text messages. But, that didn’t mean I was totally zen about spending 48 hours with my phone shut off and tucked into the side pocket of my duffel bag. For the entire first day, from the tasty quiche served for breakfast to the bobcat that wandered across my path on the hike, I kept finding myself reaching for my phone, longing to capture each perfect moment to share on social media. Every time I realized my phone wasn’t in my back pocket, I experienced a minor crisis. How, I asked myself, as I sat with my book on my knees, my coffee steaming beside me, and the afternoon light casting a golden glow on the surrounding trees, am I supposed to enjoy this without everyone knowing just how much I’m enjoying it?!
I didn’t have an answer. I had forgotten how to enjoy a moment without curating it. For me, although Instagram has exacerbated my constant need for documentation, my desire to make every moment picture-perfect is less about the number of likes I receive and more about my need to make sure I am getting as much as possible from my experiences. From weekend getaways and evenings out to summer vacations, controlling the details of a situation makes me feel as if I’m guaranteeing the event’s success. But I know from experience this strategy also has the tendency to undermine my enjoyment.
Every year when I was a kid, my parents would pack our family into a big, gray conversion van and make the 21-hour drive to the beach. Every year was full of anticipation and meticulous planning, and every year, right around our first beach day, my parents would bicker nonstop. At the time it seemed like the natural progression of getting old and grumpy. They couldn’t even enjoy their vacation! As I get older, however, I recognize that it’s when the pressure to have a good time outranks actually having a good time that the problems begin.
It’s hard for me to believe that any worthwhile memories will be created without the perfect playlist for my road trip or that I can even enjoy myself if my shoes aren’t coordinated to my outfit. Add in unpredictable factors like my husband and friends or the weather and forget about it. They could ruin everything. And yet, like my parents before me, it’s often I who ruin everything with my anxious desire to make sure everything is perfect.
I recognize that I can’t magically let go of my expectations, but as we officially kick off vacation season, I’ve vowed to spend less time this summer trying to curate fun. Instead of spending my energy trying to make all the conditions of my experience wonderful and photo-worthy, I’m choosing to focus on the only things I can really control: my attitude and perspective. This will mean not sighing when my husband dons his favorite ratty T-shirt and letting myself enjoy a bowl of watermelon even if I’m wearing white. In order to achieve the level of chill I aspire to this is summer, I’m going to log out of Instagram and lose my phone to the black hole at the bottom of my backpack.
Because, as I learned when I finally stopped reaching for my absent phone on the second day of the weekend getaway, food tastes just as delicious without the addition of a witty hashtag. And it’s liberating to be able to relax on the patio with my friends after a hike without having to worry about how my frizzy hair and sweat-ringed neckline is going to look in pictures. It turns out that when you stop trying to make your vacation Insta-perfect, you can actually have a pretty perfect vacation.