As editor of a humor blog about dating, I’m used to sharing the gory details of a bad date with my readers. Stinky artists, boring accountants, snobby architects — I’ve sipped rosé with them all. And I’ve poked fun at their long fingernails, bad breath and penchant for downing energy drinks over social media.
However, it all changed when I met my boyfriend, Mike, two years ago. The more time we spent together, the less interested I was in exploiting his foibles for blog fodder. In fact, I had trouble finding anything to post about, as I found so much I admired in his kind, funny, sweet nature. After a handful of perfect dates, I decided I’d rather focus on being a terrific companion to him than make snarky observations about his behaviors to the anonymous masses. When we agreed to pursue a committed relationship, it felt like I had won the lottery.
I weighed the best way to “declare” my change in relationship status. Like most people, I was conditioned to think of social media as a digitized public square. It’s where you announce life events. For years, I’ve seen loved ones commemorate milestones on their feeds. Engagements, weddings, births, new jobs — they all get their own triumphant status update posts. But a relationship change on Facebook seemed too intense for our blossoming romance. What if we break up in six months? Is there a more modern sadness than switching a relationship status from “in a relationship” to “single”? I didn’t want to put myself in that position.
The subtle route seemed best. Two months into dating, I Instagrammed a picture of Mike’s hand while he sipped a cappuccino at our local coffee shop. That was my way of telling my feed there was a man in my life. A week after that, I posted a photo of both of his hands assembling a fancy cheese plate. The message: “See those hands drizzling honey on the manchego cheese? That’s my dude!” It was four months before his handsome face made an appearance on my timeline. I posted a picture of him on Instagram while we were at a street fair. In the photo, he sipped a pina colada out of a carved-out pineapple. I cross-posted it to Facebook and Twitter. I captioned it, “Hangin’ with my boo.”
Let’s be honest, the image was coded: I’m in a relationship! We do goofy couple-y things like go to street fairs! We’re happy!
A stream of comments flooded onto my phone. I was so distracted by the onslaught of digital approval that I almost stepped on various toddlers and dogs as I made my way through the street fair. But the excitement of sharing his face on my timeline was short-lived. It quickly gave way to anxiety as various “likes” and well-wishes rolled in on my three separate social media platforms. Sharing my happy private life with the public felt, well, weird.
Was I exploiting my personal life for virtual approval? Would my long-time readers write me off as some vapid girlfriend skipping straight into relationship-land (it’s an upscale gastropub where you get to split appetizers and dessert for the rest of your life)? My heart sank at the prospect that I was now contributing to the relationship culture I spent so much time critiquing on my blog. I slipped my phone into my back pocket, ignoring the buzzes and flashes of incoming notifications.
For years I’ve looked at grinning couples on my newsfeed, frustrated that I hadn’t found a match. In my lonelier days, I’d hide the posts outright, zapping them off the page with a few clicks. Now I wondered if my photo might make someone in my digital circle feel as alienated as I once did.
Well, it turns out my hunch was right. If you post too much about your significant other, people will think you suck.
In one study, participants evaluated fake Facebook profiles with varying levels of details about their sweethearts. Users who overshared (“Pining away for Jordan…I just love you so much I can’t stand it!”) were judged to have good relationships, but they were also declared the most unlikable.
As Psychology Today put it, “When thinking about how you should present your own relationship online, remember that an affectionate photo or simple loving post on Facebook can show your love to the world, but overdoing it could turn people off.”
Liking me less? Turning people off? That’s the opposite of what I want to do with my social media presence. For years, I’ve wanted my readers to feel good about themselves and feel understood in their frustrations with the dating scene. While it’s tempting to put an Instagram-friendly face out to the world, those pictures have nothing to do with being in a relationship because a relationship is not a photo op.
I decided to take my relationship offline. I don’t post pictures of us together now, and I never mention him on Twitter. It’s not because I’m not thrilled with my boyfriend, but because I didn’t want to alienate my single friends and social media followers. And it’s out of respect to my former single self, who didn’t want people’s relationships jammed down her throat when she was just trying to watch funny Lip Sync Battle video clips.
I still use social media for sharing pictures of my cat Danny and live-tweeting reality shows about women who wear brightly colored dresses, bicker, drink and sob. The upside: My Twitter, Facebook and Instagram followers connect with me as a person. They don’t tune me out as one-half of a nauseatingly happy couple.
And that picture of Mike drinking out of a pineapple from the street fair? I printed it out, framed it and placed it on our bookshelf. Every time I see it, it makes me smile — no comments, likes or retweets needed.