There’s no easy way out when you’re in love and your partner tells you they want to post that picture of the both of you sipping bubble tea together, on Instagram. “What should be the hashtag?” they might ask. “Can we add one of those songs trending on Reels?”
Only, you never envisioned this – the topic of making your relationship “Instagram Official” had never come up before. How do you say no to the person who you still get butterflies around each time you see them? How do you not ruin the honeymoon phase of your relationship? And why does your partner want to “come out” on social media?
Riya, a 32-year-old merchandiser who works at a fashion house, believed for the longest time that making a social media debut together was the only way she could ensure that her partner wasn’t cheating on her. Her past experiences with “casanovas of the highest order” didn’t make trusting men any easier.
“You can’t afford to go on dates with blinkers on,” she told VICE.
Though, if things go south, she doesn’t feel the need to delete or archive older posts, because they serve as reminders of her own history. “It’s the same as deluding yourself into believing you never had a past. It’s the same as trying to foolishly hide your body scars.”
But does the need to share necessarily stem from past experiences or other insecurities? According to relationship counsellor Ruchi Ruuh, some might simply be proud of their partners and want the world to partake in their happiness.
“Only deeply secure people are able to share their happy moments on social media – the ones who don’t fear competition, judgement, or disapproval,” said Ruuh. “Also, it’s a basic human need to want to share [significant moments] from one’s life.”
However, she said that it’s likely a red flag if your partner shares every aspect of their lives, but shies away from sharing the relationship.
“When a partner consciously keeps you away from their inner circle, it is known as ‘stashing,’” Ruuh said, adding that this can be because they don’t want to get called out by exes or for potential partners to know about the current relationship. “Sometimes, this behaviour also points to a commitment-phobic partner who is still not ready for a public relationship, but promises a great deal in private.”
According to a study of 108 couples who shared their relationship statuses on Facebook, conducted by Northwestern University, people often amp up their “relationship visibility” when they’re feeling insecure about their partner. In the case of Mohit, a 27-year-old software engineer, the same held true.
Mohit said that he turned to social media to share pictures of him and his partner as a way of securing commitment. “I could see that our relationship was crumbling. There was no communication from his end, we weren’t even having sex, but he did not want to end things either,” he said. “I needed to know that he was still mine, so I aggressively started posting old vacation pictures of ours on Instagram stories.”
Mohit was “mate-guarding,” a term used by researchers to describe a strategy employed by humans to fend off potential mate poachers and prevent mates from defecting. The strategy, however, didn’t bode well for Mohit’s relationship, as his boyfriend claimed to have been “triggered” by the sudden onslaught of posts. “He said he got overwhelmed and couldn’t keep up with my pace of expressing love, and we broke up within a week.”
In the Indian context, the fear of online hate and abuse might also be a deterrent for partners in non-traditional relationships including interfaith and intercaste – even when they are married – to not want to make things “Instagram Official.” For a previous VICE story, we had spoken to Jagisha Arora, a 29-year-old journalist, who shared the daily barrage of hate comments she’d get on her posts with her husband, who is from a less privileged caste. “Only a few days back, there was a comment that said he bagged an upper-caste woman like me through reservation,” Arora said.
In July 2018, a Muslim man was chased by a mob and beaten up while attempting to register his marriage with a Hindu woman. In such scenarios, sharing one’s relationship status online can invite violence on the couple.
“In South Asian societies, there are always classist, casteist, and religious dimensions that might make your partner [want to] hide things,” said Syeda Ruksheda, a psychotherapist. “A lot depends on the cultural context and upbringing – you might be from a liberal background but your partner might not, so you might want to consider that too.”
She added that a couple must first establish a baseline of trust so that even when your partner does not want to share things online, you should be able to “trust” their reason for not wanting to. “When your partner answers in the negative, do you really trust their reasons for it? If you are an adult in a consensual relationship, you need to understand that both need to consent to everything they do. If you need your partner to make things public on social media, you need to understand why.”
In certain cases, partners might also feel the need to live up to the increasing pressures of public expectations.
Jessica Small, a licensed marriage and family therapist is quoted as saying to digital news and lifestyle site, Inside Hook, that “Posts on social media can create unrealistic expectations for partners or lead them to feel that their partner is only interested in sharing how great the relationship is if it’s on public display.” Small adds that when this is the case, it results in a loss of intimacy and decreases emotional safety within the relationship.
Vidhi’s former relationship is a case in point. The 22-year-old software developer who prefers to be anonymous said her partner would give her all the Instagram validation she needed and then some. “He would pick me up from college and take me to the fanciest new restaurant in town, almost every other day,” she said. Posts included the couple hanging out, trying new dishes, and exchanging gifts. “Our social media feed [looked like something] straight out of an American rom-com. But when it came to getting married, he backed out saying his parents were not getting convinced because he was from a different religion. Now, what will I do with those public displays of love when it never translated into anything meaningful?”