Editor's note: Whatever your stage in life, an ill-timed Facebook post or TMI tweet can deliver a digital hit to your self esteem, whether it's news of an ex getting hitched or photos of someone's too-cute baby. CNN's Jessica Ravitz and Sari Zeidler share their reactions to the phenomenon and how they talked themselves off the virtual ledge. Read Sari Zeidler's take here.
(CNN) -- I was blissed out on vacation when Facebook gave me a one-two punch to the gut.
A lovely breeze blew and jasmine hung in the air at the outdoor café as I flipped open my laptop. Among the first things I noticed: A friend had commented on my ex-fiancé's photos -- an ex I am not Facebook friends with, think about only occasionally and haven't spoken to in more than four years.
I had nowhere to be and was curious. So with my latte in one hand, I clicked with the other. Boy, do I wish I hadn't.
In front of me were wedding pictures. And no matter how long it's been and how wrong I know he and I were for each other, nausea washed over me -- and then came the short outburst of tears. You see, it's one thing to hear that your ex-fiancé got married; it's another to find out by being slapped with the image of him kissing his beautiful bride.
In that moment, before I was able to be genuinely happy for him, I was a 43-year-old woman who hated Facebook. But thanks to my friends who learned about my experience by way of Facebook (yes, I see the irony), I quickly realized I wasn't alone. Plenty of others have had those moments when, simply put, Facebook sucks.
Of course, there are the exes, including those who said they didn't want kids but are now cradling newborns. But also consider those grappling with infertility who then get blindsided by ultrasound photos and baby announcements. Or the newly divorced mother of three who's working to build a new normal but gets knocked down each time she sees vacation albums of happy, seemingly perfect and intact families. Oh, and don't forget the guy with the crumbling career who must see how another man's soars.
I can't help but think about the 20-something kids running around Facebook headquarters, too young to know the hurt of not being able to bear children or failed decades-long marriages. What do they know about these sorts of life challenges?
A friend from graduate school, who like me wasn't friends with his ex, had it worse. His ex got married twice, on two different continents, and then -- just when he thought he was in the clear -- she had to have an additional reception.
"I couldn't get away," he said. "It dragged on and on."
And in today's Facebook world, he added, it's not enough to move from pain to acceptance. We also feel pressure to "like" what we see.
"If I were talking with a friend and I said, 'It's fine. I'm over it. I'm happy for her,' and he pulled out a picture of her on the beach in her wedding dress and said, 'Oh yeah? Look at this. Now how do you feel?' I'd probably have to punch him," he wrote.
Of course, Facebook offers privacy setting options and ways to block people, which can be a salve -- if, unlike me, you're able to keep up with how they all work. But like it or not, in a world where being part of Facebook seems inescapable, there's a new reality. It's one in which tiny personal daggers may be thrown at you when you least expect them.
A social media expert, who refused to be named but works to put all of us out there (yes, I see the irony), had this to say in response to my concerns.
"For every ex girlfriend bummed by an old boyfriend pic there are families reunited, kidney donations offered, old friends reconnected, family reunions planned," he wrote in an e-mail. "Just because there is Facebook doesn't mean this is a new problem -- women with fertility problems can't avoid seeing pregnant women on the street or seeing babies in strollers either, and newly divorced people or newly broken up with people can't avoid seeing happy couples on the sidewalk."
Fantastic points, to be sure. I get and have benefited from all that is good and powerful about Facebook. I'm not even blaming the company. I'm just formally acknowledging that sometimes it can, well, suck. It can screw you up in the head and heart in a way strangers on the street don't.
The happy couple kissing on the virtual sidewalk of Facebook might include the ex. The bride, all smiles, who strolls by on Facebook linked to another man's arm could be the one who tore out your heart and stomped on it. And those new moms pushing strollers on Facebook, the ones who had perfect ultrasound photos and were able to carry babies to term, they might be the high school girls who made you feel insecure, the college roommates you once competed with, the cousins who seem to have it all when you're still struggling.
"Facebook is a happy place, for happy people, posting happy things," said one friend, who's had a doozy of a year. "So when you're in a difficult life situation, it can become a terribly painful place to visit."
So very true, but the thing is this: When I got slapped with my ex-fiancé's wedding photos, I was in a happy place -- nowhere near a difficult life situation. I had no reason to avoid the visit. It was a Facebook moment that put me in a painful place.
Like ripping off a Band-Aid, I both heard the news of his marriage and saw the proof in seconds. And it, frankly, sucked.
The good news is, I got over it quickly. Half an hour later, I was soaking up the sunshine and could honestly say I was happy for him.
But I know I was lucky. There are plenty of others for whom those beatings from Facebook last longer. For that very reason, I cannot possibly "like" this part of our new reality.
Have you been punched in the gut by Facebook? Share what sparked your strong social media reaction in the comments section below.