Like many holidays, Valentine’s Day stirs mixed emotions for many people.

To celebrate it, we buy chocolate or flowers for those we love, and even send children to school with bags full of handwritten notes and treats for their classmates. Couples go out to dinner or exchange gifts to mark the holiday.

But what about those who are single on Valentine’s Day? What about the person whose spouse has passed away? Many people have an attached sadness to this day every year. These feelings of sadness can easily turn into an (understandable) sense of bitterness towards the day.

While this is no new concept, there is something in society that I feel has made this experience worse for many people – even people who are in a relationship on this Valentine’s Day:  social media.

On February 14, people will scroll through their Instagram feeds to find countless pictures of the bouquet of beautiful flowers from a romantic boyfriend, the scrapbook made by a thoughtful girlfriend, or the fancy candlelit dinner setting for two at an extravagant restaurant. Facebook feeds will be filled with paragraphs written about how amazing some husbands and wives are.

So what is the problem? Are any of those things wrong? Absolutely not. In fact, such things are worth celebrating and capturing once in a while.

However, here is where it gets a little tricky:  Those pictures, posts, and statuses do not show the entire reality. In fact, they often create a false reality of perfection – especially for people who are sitting alone on Valentine’s Day viewing the posts from afar. Worse yet, social media fosters an unhealthy comparison between couples, and the day turns from a celebration of love into a competition of who gets the most likes on a post or picture.

While I definitely do enjoy Instagram, I have come to the conclusion that social media never gives the whole story. People never post about the fight they had on the car ride to the restaurant or the financial struggles that have them celebrating on a tight budget. And rarely do you read about the uncomfortable conversations needed to navigate different faith backgrounds. These just don’t make it onto our social media feeds. Social media posts simply show the highlights of people’s lives – usually through rose-colored filters.

So, for the people who are in a relationship this Valentine’s Day, what if instead of bragging about your husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend on social media, you write them a letter saying what you would have posted?  Or better yet, you tell them face to face?  Social media can be an amazing, creative outlet and is made to be enjoyed, but I wonder what would happen if we thought twice about what we post and ask ourselves:  Will this picture create a false reality? Might it lead to unrealistic expectations?

For the people who are not in a relationship this Valentine’s Day, when you are scrolling through social media on February 14, remember that those posting have their own struggles, and hardships in their lives that a box of chocolate or beautiful bouquet of flowers cannot fix. Their lives may look perfect, but that is only through the lens of social media.

Jesus Christ is the only perfect and pure example of what true love looks like. Instead of getting our ideas about love this Valentine’s Day from our Instagram feeds, may we all look to the cross.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” I John 3:16