Should you post your L’s online?

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The idea that oversharing online is unhealthy isn’t new, but 2020 has seen a sharper new articulation of the concept. It all started with a Twitter account called Women posting their Ls online, which was dedicated to screenshotting tweets posted by women that were ostensibly about failure of some kind, serving them as mockery to an audience of over two hundred thousand. These L’s include things like getting cheated on or being a sex worker, which shouldn’t be considered a failure. The account has been heavily criticized for being misogynistic, and it’s hard to see how anyone could seriously claim otherwise. It shows both joyous rejoicing in unhappy women and a reluctance or inability to admit that the women themselves are making a joke.

The popularity of the account (no doubt due to the fact that many men are misogynists) has spawned a new trend. There are E-Girls displaying their L’s and the Coomers, since suspended, posting their Ls (given that “Coomers” are a pathetic, over-excited kind of young man, this one represents a misandrist twist). Most shocking and unforgivable of all, there was even one dedicated to mocking journalists – thankfully now deleted. These accounts are largely terrible and remain a niche affair, but the term publishing Ls has made its way into the cultural lexicon, a development that has encouraged people to look askance at a faith-based style of publishing that was once considered by-for-the-course. This goes hand in hand with a broader radical change. Outside of these often cruel gimmicky tales, more and more people seem to be coming to the conclusion that abjection and extreme self-mockery online isn’t working for them. Even though a lot of L-posts can be entangled in misogyny, I think that’s overall a good thing.

When it comes to posting L’s online, I’m a grizzled veteran, a former world champion gone top seed. I’ve posted some really insane stuff on the internet, but more recently I’ve managed to stop doing so much. This is partly because I now have a boyfriend and therefore have fewer Ls to post, but I’ve also had a few wake-up calls. The first was that Twitter messaged me from their official account asking if they could use one of my tweets – which was about a date with a man who had a boyfriend in a desperate attempt to make someone else jealous – on a notice board in the London Underground. The second was getting a disturbing text from my mom, which read, “A friend of mine just texted me about your Twitter. Try to remember you’re not having a cozy little chat. in the pub with your friends.” The third was the fact that I became a famous celebrity.

Most of the Ls we post online are about the dating world. Reeling off a message about your amorous abjection can be a good way to let off steam in the short term, but it’s also a way to post a narrative about yourself that’s getting harder and harder to stop believing (not to mention from the fact that other people, including anyone you may be looking to seduce, you can see it too). Take it from a man who once tweeted, “just let a guy with a lung infection spit in my mouth and now shockingly I have a lung infection lol”, describing you as abject can become a self-prophecy director. “Sometimes these posts are just plain sad,” writer and journalist Hannah Williams, a committed campaigner against L’s post, tells me. “They often talk about how [they’ve been] abused, and I think sometimes there’s real pain behind them. Part of the reason people do this is that to some degree they’re a little ashamed and they don’t really want to think about it. Or they want people to laugh at it because it makes us feel better to think that the behavior we’re exhibiting is actually just a big joke, rather than maybe a symptom of something we don’t want to manage.”

“Unrolling an article about your romantic abjection can be a good way to let off steam in the short term, but it’s also a way to publish a story about yourself that is becoming increasingly difficult to stop believing.”

Posting Ls is usually a way of telling a certain story about yourself. Narrating your life in this way is an attempt to create distance from it, but – news flash, honey! – you’re not really the main character of a sitcom about a hot mess living in the big city. The credits don’t roll after a good thirty minutes. You keep doing the things that make you feel bad, and you still sit alone in your room thinking about it afterwards. Faced with this, writing a concise message on social networks does not bring much comfort. Yes, it is possible to turn pain into art. But “posting” isn’t really art. I understand the temptation to portray yourself as young, wild, and absolutely craaazzzzzyy, but that might get in the way of you getting what you actually want. “It’s a very understandable instinct to immediately make yourself the butt of a joke so no one else can,” Hannah says. “But at the same time, there’s no need to humor everything, for everyone’s consumption. While it’s obviously a good thing if posting makes people feel less alone, I’m afraid not everything is treated with this kind of joke- y social media register that means it’s considered normal to be degraded when it’s not.”

I think there are also dangers here when it comes to mental health. You’ll be happy to know that I wouldn’t describe the experience of mental illness as an L, but it certainly has to do with self-exposure. On the internet, we often see a sort of wry, ironically desperate register that goes along with being genuinely and unironically fucking miserable. The dominant mental health advice over the past few years has been “open up and talk about how you feel”. That’s probably good – albeit limited – advice when it comes to friends and family, but you don’t owe that level of openness to everyone. After a bad period of mental health issues, Dan, 26, made a conscious decision to be more careful about what he shared online. “I justified it by thinking it’s good to be honest about mental health issues instead of pretending life is only good,” he says. “I still think that, but I also think that sometimes I went too far and lost any kind of filter between the brain and the keyboard. I was using Twitter to vent so much that it became pretty much the only purpose of the account.Especially during lockdown when I felt lonely, I kept drinking and waking up the next morning to see overly honest posts that made me cringe and in some cases people worried about me. more stress than it relieved.”

As unfair as it is, there is is a stigma against mental illness, and the existence of this stigma means that talking about your own experiences in public is never an entirely risk-free endeavour. The fact that there is a thriving subculture of accounts dedicated to humiliating people who post their lowest moments is surely proof of this. Being open, honest, and unashamed about your issues can help improve these social attitudes in a fairly abstract and intangible way, but you specifically are not obligated to take this coat, and especially not at times when you feel vulnerable. And there are probably more effective forms of campaigning than making jokes about your desire for “a crumb of serotonin.” If you’re really going through this ordeal with your sanity, you might not be in the best position to decide what is and isn’t an appropriate level of self-exposure, which is fine, and it’s not there is nothing to judge. But I think we should be more skeptical of the idea that openness is a positive or healing thing in and of itself.

“As a friend of mine who likes to post his L’s told me, ‘it’s a way of dealing with it, taking the shame and putting it in a bigger context that feels like character development’.”

The catharsis that posting L brings is rarely meaningful or lasting, but there’s no denying that it can be really fun (one area where Women Posting Their L’s account falls flat is that many of the tweets it captures from screen are just good jokes: we are invited to laugh at these women but instead we find ourselves laughing with them.) Lacerating self-mockery has always been a rich source of humor, and I wouldn’t dream of issuing some sort of pious injunction against it. Sometimes the darkest experiences make for the funniest jokes. As a friend of mine who likes to post his L’s told me, “It’s a way of dealing with it, taking the shame and putting it in a bigger context that feels like character development. Adding a comedic twist helps eliminate the sting.” But you really have to be funny to pull it off.

And even if your misfortune is funny, or can be shot that way, whether going public will be a net benefit to your life remains to be seen – stand-up comedians aren’t, after all, generally known for being well-adjusted or happy people. You may be humiliating yourself just for the amusement of a bawling audience of strangers who don’t even like you that much. Certainly, we shouldn’t make the mistake of imagining that everyone who follows us on social media supports us or has our best interests at heart. I know there are people who would be delighted to hear that I’m doing badly. Without wishing to inspire paranoia, it’s not entirely implausible to imagine that this is true for just about everyone with any type of social media account, be it a celebrity TikTok or a regular Joe on Facebook with a resentful ex-partner. Why satisfy these people? I might speak publicly about my often poor mental health, I might tweet “I’m having a really bad time guys. Please send some cat pics!” But what use would that be? I don’t even like cats.

Sometimes, as I have written before in iD, self-exposure can be a meaningful way to reveal often marginalized or ignored subjectivities. It can also be extremely funny and even insightful. And the literary and artistic canon would be really thin without people flaunting their L’s. There’s a reason Pride and Prejudice‘s Charlotte Lucas — ‘I’m twenty-seven, I have no money and no prospects. I’m already a burden on my parents and I’m scared’ — has found a natural home and obvious on TikTok in 2021. But I think we’d do well to have the integrity to take our own unhappiness seriously, at least for the most part, and keep L’s posting as an occasional pleasure. It’s impossible to be truly mysterious with any level of social media exposure, but if I could give my younger selves one piece of advice, it would be: try to at least memorize something.

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