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Ask Jules: I can’t escape toxic online culture around relationships

(iStock; María Alconada Brooks/Washington Post illustration)

Hi Jules: I recently got married in my early 20s and it feels like social media harps on marriages that are full of nothing but love and perfection. I’ll see content and comments that define one relationship quirk or argument as something to “wake up and breakup” about. How do you deal with the toxic online culture surrounding relationships?

— B

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B: I deal with the toxic online culture surrounding relationships by rejecting it. Valuing a stranger’s approach to something so subjective and personal is bound to do you more harm than good. On Instagram and Twitter, I don’t follow any accounts focused on relationships. On TikTok, I’m not opposed to watching videos from couples I find entertaining, but I quickly scroll past videos of people sharing their opinions about relationship dynamics so the algorithm understands I’m not interested. On YouTube, I don’t click on videos about the topic so that more aren’t pushed to me in the future.

Truth is, relationships are one of the most curated things on social media. There have been countless couples who created entire accounts dedicated to the “greatness” of their relationship, gained hundreds of thousands of followers, and then “abruptly” split up. Viewers are still somehow shocked to realize they’d been witnessing a very skewed representation.

People tend not to share the negative parts of their relationship with others — and rightfully so. Romantic or not, relationships are some of the most intimate parts of our lives, and a holistic view of them is not something anyone owes strangers on the internet. As a viewer, it’s important that you keep this in mind if you ever start to compare your relationship to what you see online.

It sounds like you’re consuming people’s commentary on relationships as well — icks, red flags, etc. — as well as couples’ content. When considering these opinions, remember that we’re all different. One person’s dealbreakers could be another person’s complementary traits, or simply not a big deal. If you hadn’t questioned something about your relationship before seeing these commentaries, it’s probably not something to worry about.

That’s not to say that opinions online aren’t valuable to consider, but it’s necessary to think through the information you’re internalizing. How many people do you take relationship advice from in real life? Not that many, huh? That same percentage, if not lower, probably applies to people on the internet. You have little to no insight into the nuances of their life, character and intentions — so you certainly shouldn’t take their opinions at face value.

If your relationship is working for you and is a source of positive growth and development in your life, that’s what matters. Don’t make conclusions about it based on a few videos or comments on the internet.

@julesterpak Advice column with @washingtonpost ♬ original sound - Jules Terpak

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