When I was in middle school and wanted to lay claim to my boyfriend, I put his name in my AIM profile. When I moved on to MySpace, I put my boyfriends into the number one spot in my Top 8. In college, I made my relationships Facebook Official to let the world it was real. Now, it seems like every time I open Instagram, I see couples tagging each other in Stories, in addition to a slew of wedding hashtags.
Constantly seeing people who are in seemingly happy, loving relationships has made it easy to aspire to be like them in times when I’ve been single. I assumed that once I finally found the John Legend to my Chrissy Teigen, I’d want to share that with the world.
When I met my boyfriend on Tinder earlier this year, I felt the opposite. After a string of almost-relationships, including one with a guy who faked his father’s death to end our relationship, I was seriously done with dating. I vowed to myself that my next relationship would be something of substance. I was no longer going to entertain meaningless hookups and dating people who had no intention of ever committing.
And then? After taking a break from dating altogether, I decided to get on Tinder.
Before I even met Noah*, I had a feeling he was different from the other guys I’d met. He didn’t try a cheesy pick-up line or immediately compliment my photos when we matched. Our initial conversation began as if we already knew each other—it felt incredibly normal. He asked if I was at a show he had been at earlier that week because he was sure he saw someone who looked exactly like me. On our first date, we met up at a bar near my apartment, and I felt the same sense of familiarity. We continued to see each other regularly, almost right away.
Even though things were going well, we were both cautious not to move too fast. I worried he could end up being another Tinder dude who would ghost me, leaving me to wonder what weird thing I said that made him run (or invent a family death to justify running). A little over two months into dating, Noah went away for a week. His absence made me realize how he had already become such a part of my daily life. When he got home, we made our relationship official.
That was six months ago, and if you only looked at my social media, you wouldn’t know any of this. You’d have no idea I’m in a relationship at all. We’ve been learning to cook together, but I’ve never posted a meal we made. We’ve introduced new films and shows to each other and experience new ones together. We even had the opportunity to travel across the country to work together on a project recently. I posted on my Story while we were there, but no one knew we were together. It’s not that I don’t have those shout-it-from the rooftops, Tom Cruise–jumping-on-the-couch kind of love feelings—I simply never feel the urge to post anything when we are together.
In previous relationships, I shared a photo here and there if I was doing something fun or interesting, but I’m pretty private about my love life online, in general. Once a relationship ended, I usually scrubbed that former partner’s existence from my feed. It always felt weird to erase photos of my exes, but it felt even stranger to keep them since they no longer reflected the current—single—version of my life. After my last long-term relationship ended two years ago, I made the decision to post less about my love life.
My boyfriend is the same way. I noticed early on that he never shared anything on Instagram when we were together, but when we were apart, he posted Stories. When I asked him why he’s never posted anything about me or with me, he said he prefers to share what’s around him, rather than his own personal life, and that he usually posts when he’s bored, but he’s not usually bored when he’s with me. Over time, he’s posted when we’re together, but never pictures of me. He sees me as with him, behind the lens of whatever we do together. He’s a photographer, so he uses his Instagram mostly as a portfolio to share his work. Most of his photos are of models from photo shoots he’s done, or beautiful landscapes he’s visited while traveling. Before I knew him and was doing initial Instagram stalking, I was curious and a bit intimidated. I wondered who all the beautiful people on his feed were, and who he visited all the places with—I’ve traveled, but I’ve certainly never been to as many places as he appeared to have visited. One night, we went through our Instagram feeds together and told each other the stories behind the photos. I found out who everyone was and all the places he’s been, and that we share a love for traveling. Rather than getting intimidated, it only made me like him more.
A recent study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin says that maintaining very high “relationship visibility” on social media may be a mask for relationship insecurity . Still, I wondered what it was like to share your personal life with a following that really cares about knowing the details, and what motivates a person to share her relationship with her online community, so I asked model and designer Nadia Aboulhosn, who is very open about her relationship. Although Aboulhosn shares a lot about her partner with her 500,000 Instagram followers, she told me she waited eight months into dating to post a video of her boyfriend picking her up at a bar. Even then, she still didn’t tag him or show his face at first, since she didn’t want her followers to then ask questions about her previous relationship and wanted to be sure the relationship was one that would last before introducing him on her feed.
Aboulhosn says the way she presents her relationship on social media is exactly how she and her boyfriend are in real life. What she chooses to share online is an ongoing conversation in her relationship. She’s “upfront about feelings and worries” she has with her boyfriend so there’s no miscommunication. She credits their open dialogue as one of the main reason her relationship has been so strong for three years. Talking to Aboulhosn, I realized that even people who do choose to share bits of their love life are doing so in a carefully curated way. If I were to decide to bring my relationship into my online persona, I would be as careful as she has been.
I asked some non-famous people how they approached posting about their partners, too, and I found that most of my friends, who are also in their 20s, are nearly as private as I am. Hazel, 29, is a friend who is in an open relationship. When I first met her, I had no idea she was even with her partner. She’s never felt the need to claim anyone online or in real life. “Many of the happiest, healthiest couples I know rarely post anything about each other,” she says. “In my eyes, this is because a stable, safe, and healthy relationship thrives within itself and does not need to be shouted from the rooftops for validation.”
Andrew, 30, and Zoe, 24, have been together for almost two years. They’re two of my best friends and recently got engaged. They’re one of the healthiest couples I know. Zoe rarely uses social media, but Andrew posts often. They didn’t start sharing their relationship online until two months in. Before they did, they had several conversations about introducing social media into their relationship. Andrew brought it up early on because he’s divorced. When he and Zoe were newly dating, he didn’t want friends and family “in his business” before he knew if she was someone who would be permanent in his life. When Noah and I started dating, I felt the same way—I wanted to know if it was real before I even considered introducing him into my life online.
“Not only do I take it pretty seriously—I didn’t want to be one of those people who is constantly posting about their partner being the light of their life, only to have a new one a few months later— but I rarely choose to post on any form of social media for any reason, because it’s just not my thing,” Zoe told me. Two years later, Zoe still doesn’t post much about her now-fiancé, not even when they got engaged last month. Andrew remains cautious about the moments he chooses to share online. Seeing friends whose relationships are completely different than they appear online has made them even more hesitant to post.
“The more I see people post about their relationships that I know for a fact are the exact opposite in real life of what they portray on social, it makes me never want to post anything,” Zoe told me. That was a big factor in my decision, as well.
I tend to post after things have happened and when I don’t have much going on. I’ll post a picture from a trip I went on two months ago because I’ve been holed up in my apartment for three days. I never post to prove anything, but maybe to make myself feel like my life is a little more interesting than it is in the moment. When I look at my relationship with Noah, I want to know that we’re present when we’re together. We’ve traveled, gone to music festivals, and eaten at amazing restaurants. I want to actually be having fun when we do these things together, not interrupting to make sure we make good content as we go. Maybe one day I’ll feel different, but for the moment, I’d like to keep our relationship between us, in real life.