The day after a boyfriend and I broke up during my sophomore year of high school, it was an instant matter of public record, plastered all over Facebook as if it were breaking news. This sounds bizarre today, but it was normal back then — every new relationship and breakup was catalogued on the site, listed not only on your own profile, but on the news feeds of everyone you were friends with for the whole world to see.
When I told my mom the breakup had been shared via Facebook, she literally cried for me, upset that it was “normal” to deal with this so publicly. When she cried, I cried. Sure, it was a convenient way of letting everyone know that a breakup had occurred, but it was also overly invasive — I was sad about the breakup, but it was made worse by mutual friends commenting “Nooooo!” on the topic. It was something that should have been managed privately.
Perhaps this all scarred me enough to be where I am today, barely posting anything about my relationship of several years, save for the occasional funny tweet or “soft-launch” style Instagram story of his hairy arm across from me at the restaurant table. Now, the details of who I spend my time with offline largely remain offline.
I believe that everyone should maintain their public social media profiles in whatever way they see fit. If posting a selfie every time you cry makes you happy, great. If you’d rather it be a secret that you recently moved overseas and adopted three kids, that’s your choice, too. The problem is that much of our social media use feels compulsory, and relationships seem to be one area for which this is particularly true. Is it our duty to the world to divulge our intimacy? Is it our duty to the relationship itself? Moreover, does the relationship even exist if we’re not posting about it?
There’s actually been some research conducted on the matter. In a 2019 study from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Kansas, researchers found that frequently posting about one’s life on social media has a negative effect on relationships unless a person’s partner was regularly included in the posts. Meanwhile, a survey of 2,000 British people in relationships found that those who never posted about their partner online were most likely to report being “very happy” in their relationship compared to people who posted about it a couple times a year, once a week or three times a week. There’s also plenty of data to suggest that having a “high-visibility” relationship on social media is a sign of relationship insecurity.
In the eyes of many, however, not sharing your relationship online is a form of pretending to be single, like taking your wedding ring off before you go to the bar. Particularly when someone posts about every other facet of their life, it’s reasonable to feel excluded. Still, it’s strange that the mere absence of something on social media is seen to be a statement in and of itself. I’m not regularly posting photos of my friends on Instagram, yet it’s generally not assumed that I don’t have friends at all.
We certainly don’t owe anyone else the opportunity to consume the details of our relationship, and the idea that we owe it to our partners is a myth. In most cases, the pressure to post about a relationship is largely to keep up appearances, and it’s done because it seems like something we “should” do. And sure, if you’re already offering up every detail of your life online, you might as well throw a mention of your partner in there, too. But I don’t want every detail of my life out there, particularly as a writer who’s sharing so much of it already. My partner, who hasn’t posted on any social media platform in years, agrees.
After all, everything we post is subject to scrutiny. I’m constantly curating a particular image of myself online, particularly surrounding my work, accomplishments and personality. For me, posting about a relationship becomes one more angle I need to manage. This seems particularly true with respect to the fact that our digitally curated image is often an inflated one. I know plenty of couples who post smiling selfies and gushy paragraphs about each other on Facebook, only to be known for loudly and publicly arguing at every party.
Perhaps when they’re alone together, these public declarations work to bring each other closer. But from an outsider’s perspective, they seem entirely false. Miley Cyrus’ numerous posts about ex-husband Liam Hemsworth’s “good dick game” and calling him a “snack,” for example, are even more cringeworthy in light of their divorce.
Admittedly, that’s not a very generous analysis of someone else’s relationship, but that’s exactly why I don’t want to post much about my relationship — I’d rather not be subjected to these criticisms at all. But every relationship is unique, and there’s no “right” amount of relationship vomiting on social media. Nor is there anything inherently wrong with posting about your partner, so long as you’re posting for yourself and your partner, not for the pressures of oversharing and public image.
A carousel of photos on your anniversary or Valentine’s Day seems fine, but a weekly post that reads like you’re reciting your vows points more to an instability in the relationship more than anything else. Quite frankly, nobody else is that interested in your cutest couple selfies, anyway.