Cuffing season is approaching, meaning an imminent flurry of new relationships popping up on social media. Being featured on a partner's account indicates that a relationship is at least somewhat serious—it's a way of telling the world, "I'm invested in this person enough to claim them online."
In 2017, as Facebook matured and Instagram grew, especially among younger users, social media writer Taylor Lorenz declared going "Instagram official," rather than updating your Facebook, "the new way to declare your relationship status." She pointed out that Instagram did not have an actual feature built within the app to declare a user single or in a relationship. That's still the case, but users are finding newer methods for announcing a relationship on Instagram. In the past couple years, it’s become cool to dislike social media—even if you post on social media constantly. As such, the trend has shifted to kind of announcing your relationship on social media, but not really, while actually definitely announcing it in a way that makes you appear unbothered and like you don't care what your following knows or thinks, when you actually care a lot.
Instagram launched its carousel feature, which allows a user to post up to 10 photos in a single post, in 2017—the same year Lorenz made the case for "Instagram official." With it came a new kind of online commitment announcement: the "carousel reveal." This involves posting several photos in a single feed post, but putting a photo of a new significant other in the middle of the carousel, rather than the beginning. Singer Dua Lipa utilized this in August when her boyfriend, Anwar Hadid, made his first appearance on her Instagram in the middle of a carousel.
Be it a way to refrain from "bragging" or just a turn to subtlety, the carousel reveal, according to people who have done it, is a way to ease into a posting about a relationship. "The carousel post is the intro, when it's a little more low-key," said Sarah Freedman, a 25-year-old Los Angeles resident working in TV. "I never thought I would be the kind of person to announce [my relationship] right away, or to always post couple photos. I was really adverse to it for a while," she said. She wanted to keep her relationship special—which meant not constantly posting about it on Instagram. Instead of posting a straightforward couple shot to Instagram, Freedman chose instead to tuck a photo of her boyfriend in a carousel of photos of a Labor Day weekend trip.
For Freedman, the carousel reveal stemmed from wanting to be more inconspicuous about her relationship—"to introduce this part of my life in a way that doesn't take up a full post. A way to introduce someone in a moral subtle, natural way. The people who really care are going to be like, 'Who's that?' but it doesn't put [the relationship] in someone else's face."
Christina, a 24-year-old working at a nonprofit in North Carolina who asked that her name be changed for privacy, said she wanted her social media choices to reflect that relationships were not the most important aspect of her life. "I don't think it's necessary to 'announce' that I have a new partner," Christina said. "Yes, he's in my life, and, yes, he's important to me, but I don't owe anyone an 'announcement' about him/the relationship."
Still, Christina felt that pull to post about a weekend trip she and her new partner spent together. "I wanted the post to focus on the trip itself, rather than who I went on the trip with, so I put the photo of him and me in the middle of the carousel," she said. "I assumed that more people would be interested in stunning landscapes and food than my love life."
But this is Instagram—not every reason to post a carousel reveal has to do with privacy. For others, the reveal is strategically based on aesthetics. Twenty-five-year-old Sarah Campbell, a designer and art director in New York City, takes photo quality and subject matter into consideration when she posts. When Campbell was seeing someone new, she said, "His childhood friend came to town and is a talented photographer, so we went shooting around Chinatown and had all these really great street shots. I wanted to share them for artistic reasons, to share support for the talented friend, and to say, 'Hey, you're cute,'" she said. But the man Campbell discussed got cold feet in terms of getting more serious, she said, so she never posted the photos. "I don't usually post pictures of people I'm dating unless it's serious and worth staring with my friends, so that would have been a big thing for me to share," she said.
That points to another appeal of the carousel reveal: A photo of the significant other doesn't taint your feed if the relationship fizzles because it doesn’t display on the grid, and you don't have to go through the potentially messy work of deleting said photos. "It seems like a soft introduction in case the relationship doesn't work out," Christina said. "You can still keep the carousel on your profile without the ghosts of lovers past jumping out at you every time you scroll through your posts." That is, unless said ghosts haunt you anyway among the photos of the road trips and landscapes and food. Should couples that have employed the carousel reveal break up later, they may have to reckon with the memories still living on Instagram, even if it's something they want to avoid. The outcome may be the same as traditional Instagram official posts: scrubbing one's feed of any sight of their ex.
Whatever the reason, the carousel reveal, given its subtlety, is a lower-key tactic for couples to show themselves off on social media. Going "Instagram official" is a shout. The carousel reveal is a more intimate whisper.
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