“She took your pictures off her ‘gram. Y’all must have broke up.” Everyone with a social media account understands that verse of Yo Gotti’s song “Down in the DM.” We’ve all felt the pressure to prove a relationship is going well through an outpouring of highly visible romantic messages, but how much of what we portray online is reflective of reality? And does our public performance of love hurt our real relationships?
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In July my husband and I celebrated three years of marriage. Getting married at the tender age of 22 came with its own set of challenges; we’ve been discovering ourselves in the process of discovering each other. Over the last three years, we’ve had our share of ups and downs, but the best lessons have come from the downs. One of the most surprising pertains to how our relationship is portrayed online.
I’m fairly active on social media and used to post frequently about my daily experiences and my relationship. My husband, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. Sure, he has a Facebook profile, but he definitely has low levels of engagement. I knew his relationship with social media meant he was unlikely to post about me, but that didn’t stop it from irritating me when he didn’t.
I made the mistake many do; I equated my insufficient presence on his page to insufficient love for me. Surely, if he loved me, he would shout it from the rooftops of the interwebs. So we did what most couples do when they have different views: We argued.
I’m not alone. Research gathered by the Pew Research Center suggests at least 24 percent of individuals think technology has either a negative or less-than-positive impact on their relationships. So… what about those people who incessantly post about how gorgeous and perfect their lives are? How real can those “perfect” Facebook couples really be?
We’ve all seen photos and statuses of friends and acquaintances who gush over their partners, the latest trips, the latest gifts. But what’s the reality here? More than once, I’ve talked to a distraught friend after they had a relationship-threatening fight, just to see them—moments later—post an “I love you more than the world” status and a photo of their partner on Instagram. And I doubt I’m the only one who’s experienced something similar.
I’ve envied the relationships I’ve seen online—you know, the really sentimental ones, where partners write long, heartfelt statuses about each other. But in reality, the couples who write those gushingly romantic posts might be, at best, trying to make up after a bad fight or construct a reality that portrays their desired relationship, rather than their real one. At worst, they might be victims of territorial controlling partners.
There’s some data that suggests frequent social media use has a negative correlation with levels of relationship satisfaction, and recent research has shown that individuals with multiple social media profiles often suffer from increased risk of depression. This is particularly common among millennials.
There are any number of reasons people fall into social media overshare, ranging from simply enjoying the dopamine releases that come with an influx of notifications to covering up uncertainty within a relationship.
And romantic relationships aren’t the only ones affected by this behavior. If you’ve ever wondered if your friends are jealous about what you post on your page, the answer is “probably.” Nearly half of social media users reported feelings of jealousy when their content didn’t get as much positive attention as their friends’. In order to keep up with the Joneses, many people feel pressure to uphold an unrealistic persona to garner more likes.
Remember, there’s significant work that goes on behind the scenes when you take the perfect couples’ picture for social. These images don’t just happen: You have to consider lighting and angles, arrange the backdrop, take several iterations, engage with all the feedback… so when, in this process, are you really spending time with your partner?
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Some experts believe the pressure to post the “right” relationship photo makes it difficult to be present for our partners and live in the moment. A study published in 2016 revealed that the more selfies posted on platforms like Instagram, the higher the likelihood of relationship conflicts and jealousy, particularly when those images get significant attention. Other issues can arise when everyone but your partner likes your pictures (at least that was the case for me).
The truth is a good amount of tech-related conflicts happen in relationships: 42 percent report being distracted by their phones, 18 percent argue about the amount of time spent online, and 8 percent have conflicts due to what a partner does online.
The way someone chooses to portray their relationship on social media is a personal decision, and many happy, fully functional relationships are broadcasted on social. And for good reason: A cute post can be a wonderful way to make your spouse feel appreciated, if that’s their “love language.” However, there are also many people like myself, who have become so consumed with the stressors of their online footprint that it causes issues.
Do what works best for you but be vigilant and wary of the issues you and your partner face that are social media related. In my case, when I stopped obsessing over the fact that my husband wasn’t posting about us (and started mentioning my husband as little as possible), it removed a ton of pressure from our relationship. As the old adage goes, the grass isn’t always greener.
A. Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez is a diversity content specialist who produces materials relating to mental and physical health, sociology, and parenting. Her work can be seen on several national platforms. Check her out on Facebook and Twitter.