You Are Responsible For Yourself, We Are Responsible For Each Other

One of the principles I try to live by is that we are all responsible for our own emotions. What this means to me is that, while assholes obviously exist and while we should be able to ask our friends, partners, and family for help when it comes to managing our emotions, ultimately it’s not anyone else’s job to keep us from having negative feelings.

My experiences with depression have shaped that view and without them I probably wouldn’t feel so strongly about it. Depression taught me that just because I feel hurt doesn’t mean someone is hurting me. When I broke down sobbing because a partner wanted to end our conversation so that they could go hang out with their friends, they weren’t hurting me. When I felt like shit about myself because a friend got a job and I didn’t have a job, my friend wasn’t hurting me. As a teenager, I would’ve tried to get that partner or that friend to comfort me, or even blamed them for “making” me feel bad. As an adult I’ve learned that while it’s not fair that my brain is the way it is, it’s still ultimately my responsibility.

If depression taught me that I have to take responsibility for my own emotions, polyamory gave me a chance to practice. Polyamory–at least, when practiced with self-awareness–upends the idea that just because you feel jealous, then your partner is “making” you feel jealous*. In traditional monogamous relationships, even just hanging out with a friend of the same gender as your partner can be considered unfair and wrong because it can cause your partner to feel jealous**. In polyamorous relationships, people are intimate with multiple partners and those partners are expected to take responsibility for any jealous feelings they happen to have–even if they ask for support in managing them.

It’s important to distinguish between asking for support and making someone else responsible. Asking for support might sound like, “I want you to go on that date you’re so excited about, but I’m feeling insecure and it would help me a lot if we spent time together afterwards.” Making someone else responsible might sound like, “I don’t want you going on that date. You’re never this excited about anything we do together” or “You’re making me feel like shit. Don’t you care about me?”

Unfortunately, some people think that being responsible for your own feelings means that you don’t get to ask anyone for help with them–or that you shouldn’t be mindful of the people you care about and how they feel. That’s usually the pushback I get when I talk about my rules-free approach to polyamory: “So, what, you’d just go on that date even though your partner’s sitting at home and crying because they feel so bad about it?” Well, no. First of all, I try to avoid dating people who have that much difficulty with me dating other people, because that sounds like an issue of incompatibility. But sometimes things like that happen randomly, and in that case, yes, I would probably stay home. Not because we have a “rule” that my partner can “veto” my dates, but because I love my partner and care about them and I have chosen–even though it’s not my obligation–to stay home and help them feel better.

(And as a sidenote, when communicating that to the person I’m canceling the date with, I would take responsibility for my own actions. Some poly people pull out lines like “Sorry, I can’t go out with you tonight because [other partner] doesn’t want me to,” so that they can conveniently make their other partner out to be the villain even as they supposedly change their plans to care for them. I would say, “Sorry, we need to reschedule because I need to support someone who’s having a hard time. Seeing you is important to me too–what other day would work?” I would not, unless I know it’s okay with my other partner, go into detail about why they need support. That leads too easily into crap like “Oh, you know [other partner], they just get soooo jealous, so I’m always having to stay home and comfort them…” Ick.)

I’ve heard from other poly people that there are, in fact, a lot of poly folks out there who do claim that “you are responsible for your own emotions” means “so I will never do anything to help you through them.” Personally, I haven’t interacted with any–probably because I tend to obsessively avoid asking anyone for support in the first place–but I believe that they exist.

I guess if I had to pick one approach for myself, I’d choose extreme independence rather than controlling people to cope with my emotions. But thankfully, I don’t have to. To me, the corollary to “We are all responsible for our own emotions” is “We should be mindful of our impact on others.”

At first, that might seem like a contradiction. Which is it? Am I supposed to deal with my own hurt feelings, or are you supposed to avoid giving me hurt feelings in the first place?

I think it has to be a little bit of both. I think that in a world where people are careless or intentionally cruel with each other, dealing with your own hurt feelings is going to be a massive burden. I think that in a world where people refuse to place the ultimate responsibility for their feelings upon themselves, trying to take care of others is going to be a massive burden too. The only way this works is if we meet in the middle.

That’s true on a micro level, too. If you’re in a relationship with someone who doesn’t seem to care about how you feel or about avoiding making you feel bad, then no amount of taking responsibility for your own feelings is going to make you feel okay about being in the relationship. You’re going to feel hurt all the time, and you’ll get resentful, and you’ll start to wonder if you’re “crazy” for feeling this way, and your partner may or may not be gaslighting you with crap like “I didn’t ‘make’ you feel anything; you’re responsible for your own feelings.”

Likewise, if you’re in a relationship with someone who thinks it’s your job to keep them from feeling bad, then no amount of caring for them is ever going to solve the problem, because while you can do your due diligence in making sure you don’t hurt them, you cannot keep another human being from feeling bad ever. (Even if you could, that would be way too much work.) You’re always going to feel like nothing you do is ever enough (because for them, it isn’t), like you’re a terrible partner and a terrible human being in general, like you’re no good at relationships.

In a healthy relationship, partners trust each other to care about each other’s feelings and act accordingly, but they don’t feel like they’ll be helpless if their partner happens to be unavailable to support them at any given point in time. (Yes, I recognize that some people think that it’s perfectly healthy to actually depend on one partner and no one else for support, to the point that you actually believe you will not be okay without that support. I just disagree.) If you actually believe that you cannot manage your own emotions without your partner, it will be very difficult for you not to manipulate them.

And in a healthy relationship, partners know that they will support each other when they can, but they do not feel entitled to that support. In that mindset, a partner who chooses not to support you at a given point in time is not (necessarily) doing something wrong or withholding something that is deserved. In that mindset, you support your partner because you care about them and you want to, not because that’s your duty as a partner.

If you’re having disagreements in a relationship (romantic or otherwise) about how someone’s actions are making someone else feel, you may be disagreeing about something more fundamental: your beliefs about what share of the responsibility of managing one’s feelings belongs to the person having the feelings versus the person who triggered*** the feelings.

At that point, it may be more useful to discuss that underlying disagreement first, and see if you can agree on what responsibility you have to each other to manage each other’s emotions.

* There <em>is</em> such a thing as deliberately acting in a way that elicits jealousy from others. But that's not the subject here, except insofar as it obviously falls under things you should not do if you're taking the "being mindful of your impact on others" part seriously. ** #NotAllMonogamy. Obviously monogamy is not incompatible with taking responsibility for yourself, but <em>traditional</em> monogamy tends to discourage this. *** My use of the word "triggered" rather than "caused" is intentional here--I use those to mean slightly different things. If you say something mean (intentionally or otherwise) to someone, you cause them to feel bad. If you choose to spend the night with your friends rather than with them and they feel upset at you because they're lonely, you didn't cause them to feel bad. What caused them to feel bad was their loneliness; your actions were just the trigger.

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You Are Responsible For Yourself, We Are Responsible For Each Other

5 Microaggressions Secular People Often Hear – And Why They’re Wrong

Another Everyday Feminism piece! EF doesn’t have much material on secular identities and Christian privilege, so I’m trying to expand it!

There are a few defining moments that come to mind when I think about my journey to (and through) atheism. And one of them came when I was seventeen, on the phone with my then-boyfriend, who had said he had some “concerns” about our relationship.

This can’t be good, I thought. He finally came out with it: “Well, it’s just that I don’t think I can be with someone who doesn’t believe in anything.”

I knew exactly what he was talking about. We’d argued about religion plenty of times before, and I knew how important Catholicism was to him.

But “doesn’t believe in anything?” I believed in plenty of things. I believed in science, in altruism, in the goodness of people, in the importance of family, friendship, and culture. That’s “nothing?”

Back then, I didn’t have the language and the confidence to push back against what he was implying. I didn’t even identify as an atheist, because I’d never met an out atheist before and probably didn’t realize that identifying that way was a real option for me.

I knew I didn’t believe in god, but I mumbled something about how I do believe in some sort of vague power that controls the universe (probably thinking to myself that that “power” was the laws of physics), and that seemed to satisfy my boyfriend.

It took me a long time – much longer than that particular relationship ended up lasting – to understand my own reaction and to forgive it.

For a while, I thought that I’d been cowardly, or even that I’d lied. But in the moment, I’d really believed what I was saying. And later on, I understood that high school me lived in a social context where openly professing atheism was absolutely not okay.

It wasn’t until later that I learned about privilege, oppression, and microaggressions. These concepts helped me understand a lot of the dynamics that feminists often discuss, such as sexism, racism, transphobia, and other ways in which our society marginalizes certain people based on their identities.

They also helped me understand my experiences as a Jewish atheist growing up in a society where Christianity is privileged and all other forms of belief and nonbelief are marginalized.

Read the rest here.

5 Microaggressions Secular People Often Hear – And Why They’re Wrong

Why ‘Can I _____ and Still Be a Feminist?’ Is the Wrong Question to Ask

Here’s a new Everyday Feminism piece that I’m particularly excited to share, as I’ve been thinking about this topic for ages.

“Can I be a feminist and still wear makeup?”

“I’m a feminist, but I still shave my legs.”

Changing your last name to your husband’s is anti-feminist!”

If you’ve talked about feminism with other feminists, you’ve probably heard statements like these – and maybe even made them yourself.

For many new feminists, analyzing and critiquing individual practices like these is an important first step towards understanding how sexism works in our world.

It’s important to notice how gendered expectations impact and harm all of us, and it’s perfectly normal to wonder how much of what you love to do – whether it’s cooking or wearing feminine clothes or taking care of children – was actually shaped by the sexist messages you’ve been taught since birth.

But focusing on questions like “Can I wear makeup and still be a feminist?” can prevent us from moving our analysis forward and understanding the fact that sexism isn’t just about what individual people choose to do or not to.

It’s also about how institutionalized oppression impacts which choices are available and encouraged for different types of people.

Here are three reasons why “Can I _____ and still be a feminist?” is the wrong question to be asking – and how we can get past it.

1. It Often Fails at Intersectionality

Is it “feminist” for a woman to wear dresses, high heels, and makeup? Some feminists would say no, because she’s “conforming” to traditional standards of femininity or “playing to the male gaze.”

But what if she uses a wheelchair? What if she’s fat? Disabled women, fat women, and many other women and non-binary people who experience additional forms of oppression have traditionally been denied access to femininity. These people are often desexualized and expected to hide their bodies with baggy or utilitarian clothing.

There’s no male gaze for them to “play into” because it’s widely assumed that no man would ever want to gaze at them.

For someone like that, dressing in an unabashedly feminine way can be a way to make themselves and their bodies visible, to demand attention in a world that prefers to avert eyes.

How about getting married to a man and changing your last name to his? Definitely anti-feminist, right? Maybe from the perspective of a white middle-class woman.

Read the rest here.

Why ‘Can I _____ and Still Be a Feminist?’ Is the Wrong Question to Ask

Identities Formed By Trauma Are Still Valid

[Content note: mentions of sexual assault]

A common way that people invalidate certain marginalized identities is to claim that they developed as a result of trauma.

When I write it out that way and think about it outside of the context of any current civil rights movements, it sounds completely bananas. How could attributing someone’s identity to trauma possibly invalidate it? Isn’t it common sense that going through trauma often changes people permanently? Would anyone consider it invalid for a veteran to be afraid of fireworks or for someone who survived a flood to avoid going swimming?

As it turns out, when trauma gets tangled up with marginalized identities, all common sense flies out the window.

The problem is that many people will only accept marginalized identities if they view them as unchangeable, unchoosable, and biological in origin. Consequently, many advocates for people with marginalized identities believe that the only way to increase acceptance of marginalized identities is to present them that way. (This includes many people with marginalized identities themselves, as we do not come out of the womb with a perfect understanding of our identities any more than we come out of the womb with those identities already in place.)

If not for the fact that many of us grew up already steeped in the Born That Way narrative, I think more people would see this as the massive insult that it is. In this view, being [insert marginalized identity here] is only okay because they didn’t choose it, the poor things, they were born that way, and if they could change it, they would! Few liberals will say this out loud, but even tolerant people often maintain the belief that marginalized identities are inherently inferior and that of course those people would choose to be normal if they could.

That is insulting and oppressive.

Continue reading “Identities Formed By Trauma Are Still Valid”

Identities Formed By Trauma Are Still Valid

How to Get the Most Out of Therapy

Drawing of a therapy session in progress.
Credit: Guy Shennan

When you spend a lot of money on things, they usually come with an instruction manual to help you use them in the most effective possible way. Unfortunately, therapy doesn’t.

A common misconception about therapy held by many laypeople (and, unfortunately, some therapists) is that all you have to do as a client is show up and then…some vague hand-wavey magic stuff happens, and then the client gets better. Many people think of therapy like this:

  1. Go to therapy
  2. ???

Really, though, it’s more like this:

  1. Go to therapy
  2. Establish some rapport with the therapist before you can delve into the serious stuff
  3. Sometimes be really uncomfortable
  4. Have a lot of meta-conversations with your therapist–that is, talk to the therapist about the process of talking to the therapist
  5. Do homework (in some types of therapy)
  6. Get called on your shit by the therapist
  7. Be uncomfortable again
  8. Make changes in your life outside of therapy

As a therapist, it’s tempting to say that you should just show up and let the therapist do their job and you’ll feel better. Sometimes that’s exactly how it works. But ultimately, you can only get as much out of therapy as you put into it.

Continue reading “How to Get the Most Out of Therapy”

How to Get the Most Out of Therapy

Not Opting In, Rather Than Opting Out, Of Having Kids

This post is about my decision whether or not to have children. It is not about your decision whether or not to have children.

When I say that I probably won’t be having children, people tend to assume that I’m firmly against the idea of it, that I hate the thought of having children, or even that I hate children themselves.

None of those is true, especially not the last one.

I’m ambivalent about having children. There are some things that make me want to–I love children, I think I’d be a good parent, I like the idea of raising kids who will become the kind of people we need more of in the world. I think I would find many aspects of parenting enjoyable. I think it would change my opinions and worldview in interesting ways.

But I also have reasons for not wanting to have children, and there are more of those and they are more emotionally salient. I don’t think I could mentally handle such demands on my time and energy, on my very body itself. I don’t want to give up all that brainspace that was previously spent on friends, work, writing, and other stuff and instead spend it on feeding schedules, shopping lists, doctor visits, and all the many, many other forms of emotional labor mothers have to do. (And I know that if my coparent is male, there’s almost zero probability that this labor will end up fairly distributed.) I don’t want to slow or damage my career. I don’t want to stop having sex, or be forced to have it in secrecy and silence. I don’t want to lose the ability to, at a moment’s notice, just say, “Fuck it, I’m going out to drink/bike/watch burlesque/see a friend/see a movie,” without needing to inform anyone else of my plans or arrange a babysitter or whatever.

I don’t expect to have enough resources and social support to make parenting financially and emotionally sustainable, not even with one co-parent. (Raising children in a large polyamorous household would be a different story, but one unlikely to happen in this society.) I am wildly terrified of pregnancy and childbirth and literally any medical procedure, so the only options for me are adoption or co-parenting with a partner who already has children. The former is full of bureaucratic crap I honestly don’t want to navigate, and the latter is mostly a matter of chance.

Those are just a few of my personal issues with having children. And sure, I recognize that most of these are not inevitable, that in a different society with proper support for parents (especially mothers), none of this would have to be the case. But if I have children, I have to have children in the society we have now, or the society we have in ten years when I’ll be in a position to have children. I don’t get to have children inside my own hypothetical science fiction novel with widespread democratic socialism and polyamorous communes and super advanced reproductive technology that instantly teleports a fetus out of my womb and into an incubator where it will develop for the next nine months.

So, as I said, I’m ambivalent. Maybe over the next few years, I’ll change my mind due to any number of internal or external factors. Maybe I will have kids someday after all. I don’t know. But I do know this: given my current thoughts and feelings about it, I’m neither ready nor able to have children.

That’s because for me, having children is a “fuck yes or no” decision: either I say “fuck yes” to it, or I say “no.” “I guess so” isn’t good enough. “I’m really unsure, but we’ll see how it goes” isn’t good enough. “Well, I dunno, but everyone says I’ll regret it if I don’t” isn’t good enough.

Continue reading “Not Opting In, Rather Than Opting Out, Of Having Kids”

Not Opting In, Rather Than Opting Out, Of Having Kids

Why Employers Love Advocating Self-Care

Text reads, "If you can afford to relax today, I 100% recommend you do. Stay in bed, treat yourself, watch movies, & try not to focus too much on stressful matters. Take time to be good to yourself. You deserve it."
Credit: Positive Doodles on Tumblr

Last week, feeling irritated during a training, I posted this on Tumblr:

Every professional training I go to includes a section on burnout and self-care. My thought is always the same: just pay me what I’m worth. Pay me what I’m worth. Pay me what I’m worth. And give me enough paid time off.

That’s it. I don’t need bubble baths and chocolate and massages and silly TV. I need more money. And I need more rest.

Because many people derive some sort of satisfaction out of interpreting others’ words as uncharitably and narrowly as possible, I was immediately inundated with a bunch of condescending remarks about how money isn’t everything and with that attitude you’ll burn out before you know it. So I’ll expand on my spur-of-the-moment rant.

I don’t think anyone would seriously deny that everyone needs to do things that help them replenish, maintain, and/or care for themselves. Self-care can look like many different things–taking a shower, cooking a nice meal, listening to music, spending time with friends, playing with your kids, reading, taking a nap, remembering to take your meds. Self-care looks different for different people at different points in their lives, depending on what they need in those moments.

When someone has a very stressful job or caretaking role, self-care becomes especially important to prevent them from burning out, developing mental or physical health problems, or dropping the ball in ways that harm others (clients, patients, children). It makes sense to emphasize self-care for people working in fields like mine.

Lately, however, the self-care concept has become very popular for employers to throw around as a solution for all sorts of employee issues and as a way to continually extract more and more productivity from their workers. Stressed? Do self-care! Poor? Do self-care! Forced to work 12-hour shifts with no paid time off and no guarantee that you’ll still have a job if you stay home sick one day? Do self-care!

At that point, self-care is less about actually caring for yourself and more about forcing yourself into compliance with dehumanizing and intolerable conditions. It’s less about making things better for yourself and more about surviving things the way they are without making anyone else uncomfortable by forcing them to witness your struggles.

Continue reading “Why Employers Love Advocating Self-Care”

Why Employers Love Advocating Self-Care

When Including Friends with Chronic Illness Feels Like Ignoring Boundaries

Text reads, "Plans? Yeah, I know...I cancel, I postpone, I reschedule, I delay committing. Illness sometimes controls my schedule, but I am determined it won't control me! Please keep inviting me."
I’ve been seeing a bunch of memes lately to the effect of, “keep inviting your chronically ill friends to things, even if they always say no/flake out/don’t respond at all/etc.”

(Chronic illness here refers both to mental illness and to chronic physical conditions like fibromyalgia and fatigue.)

That’s a bit of advice that I’ve endorsed and given myself, especially having so often been that exact chronically ill person. I do think that those who are close to someone with a chronic illness and want to be supportive should, if they can, make that extra effort and try to get past their own feelings of rejection to try to include that person, because even if they always say no, the invitations may be a heartening reminder that they’re still wanted and missed. That’s easy to forget when you’re in the throes of a chronic illness flareup, especially if it’s depression.

Lately, though, this advice has been giving me cognitive dissonance and I think I’ve figured out why.

Continue reading “When Including Friends with Chronic Illness Feels Like Ignoring Boundaries”

When Including Friends with Chronic Illness Feels Like Ignoring Boundaries

Brute Reason is Going Comment-Free

I am closing comments on this blog until further notice.

I’m not writing this because I think that needs justification. I’m writing this for the sake of my own clarity, to help me decide if/when I want reopen comments, and to empower other bloggers who are considering a similar decision.

Otherwise, I don’t have to justify my decision because I don’t owe you a comments section any more than I owe you access to my living room. I don’t owe you anything other than I owe anyone else: basic kindness and respect.

I’m sure you’re wondering what awful harassment and rape and death threats I’ve gotten recently that made me come to this decision, but the reality is a lot less dramatic. I rarely get harassment and threats these days. When I did, it was horrifyingly unpleasant and scary, but it ultimately did less long-term damage than the actual reason: boring everyday online negativity and nitpicking.

Continue reading “Brute Reason is Going Comment-Free”

Brute Reason is Going Comment-Free

Frivolous Friday: Social Media Etiquette

Frivolous Fridays are the Orbit bloggers’ excuse to post about fun things we care a lot about that may not necessarily have serious implications for politics or social justice. Although any day is a good day to write about our passions outside of social issues, we sometimes have a hard time giving ourselves permission to do that. This is our way of encouraging each other to take a break from serious topics and have some fun.

There’s been a lot of advice lately about what not to post on social media to avoid annoying other people, since that should obviously be your top priority going through life. I decided to helpfully condense all this advice into one article that you can keep handy.

The author taking a selfie of a flowery dress.
    1. Don’t post any selfies. People who post selfies are self-obsessed. If you’re attractive and you post selfies, you’re probably just trying to show off and make people feel bad about themselves. If you’re unattractive and you post selfies, ew, nobody wants to see that. 
    2. …except for your profile photo. People who make their profile photo anything other than their own face are so awkward and weird. What, are you that insecure about your appearance? We all know you’re not a dog or a flower.
    3. Don’t post photos of your partner(s). That’s so annoying. Besides, how are all your single friends going to feel?
    4. Don’t post photos of your kid(s). Parents are sooo annoying on social media, always assuming that everyone wants to see a hundred photos of their kids. You can post one photo of each child per lifetime–preferably when they’re born and then never again.
    5. Don’t post photos of your pets. See above.
    6. Katya, the author's tabby/tortie cat.
      Don’t post photos of your friends. That just makes other people feel bad because they might not have as active of a social life. Besides, why are you trying to show off how popular you are? Just enjoy your time with your friends without having to broadcast it to the public.
    7. Don’t post photos of food. Who cares about your boring dinner? Oh, that’s a five-course Italian meal you cooked yourself? What a show-off.
      Spiced lamb liver with Israeli couscous.
      Definitely not.
    8. Don’t post photos of landscapes, cityscapes, or cool things you see. Why can’t you just enjoy the moment rather than waste it on taking a photo?
      Flowers in Cincinnati's Eden Park.
      Not this one either.
    9. So, pretty much don’t post photos of anything at all.
    10. Don’t post about your accomplishments. That makes it seem like you just want attention and affirmation for doing totally basic things like getting into medical school or having your writing accepted for publication. Yeah, yeah, we get it, you’re soooo smart and talented and perfect. No need to rub it in people’s faces. If you were really that happy about it, you wouldn’t need attention on social media.
    11. Don’t downplay your accomplishments. Otherwise known as humblebragging. This is annoying. Just be proud of what you did and don’t act all fake and modest about it.
    12. Actually, just don’t post positive things. That makes other people compare themselves to the unrealistic standard that you’ve set and that’s what causes mental illness. Do you want to give people mental illnesses?
    13. Don’t post negative things either. Nobody likes a Debbie Downer. It’s unfair to force other people to deal with your problems by seeing them briefly in their newsfeed and then immediately scrolling past.
    14. Don’t post about politics or social justice. It’s controversial and makes people upset, and besides, all you’re doing is reinforcing your own tribalism and trying to score points with other people on your side. Politics is not what Facebook is for.
    15. Don’t post funny memes. Don’t you care about anything serious, like what’s going on in the world?
    16. Don’t post song lyrics. I’m just going to assume they’re a passive-aggressive comment about me.
    17. Don’t post about work. That’s so boring. Leave it at the office.
    18. Don’t post about sex, not even with a warning. That’s disgusting. Keep it to yourself.
    19. Don’t post about fitness. Who cares about your workout routine?
    20. Don’t post about veganism, polyamory, atheism, or any other voluntary non-mainstream lifestyle or identity. You’re obviously just trying to convert people and that’s so much worse than people telling you that you shouldn’t be poly/atheist/vegan.
    21. Don’t post about race. Why do you have to make everything about race?
    22. Don’t post about sexual orientation. Why do you people always have to shove your homosexuality in our faces?
    23. Don’t opt out of social media. After reading all these rules, you might be thinking to yourself, “Wow, social media sounds like a lot of hard work. Also, no matter what I post, I’m shallow and vain and who even cares, right? Maybe I just shouldn’t have any social media accounts.” Not so fast! Opting out of social media means that you’re antisocial, boring, and holier-than-thou. You probably think you’re so much better than the rest of us vain and shallow narcissists. How rude. Do you even have any friends?
    24. Do post about how social media is for vain, shallow narcissists who can’t think critically or engage with the offline world. As a fun thought experiment, see how many current social issues you can blame on social media. And definitely post this article on social media. No, of course I didn’t write it just for the clicks. What are you talking about?

Obviously, that was satire. Post whatever the fuck you want; other people can deal with their own feelings about that.


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Frivolous Friday: Social Media Etiquette