Originally published on Glamour.com
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Miranda and her boyfriend, Daniel,* have been together for almost two years. They’ve traveled around the country, spent holidays together, and seen each other through family and health crises. They’re even moving in together soon. Though Daniel is hardly Miranda’s first boyfriend, he is the first one she’s ever posted about on her social media accounts.
When they met, Daniel was not on Facebook or Instagram—a sharp contrast to Miranda, who actively documents her life and work online. When Miranda began sharing stories and photos of Daniel, she was surprised by how enthusiastic the feedback was.
“I’d been single for a long time, but it felt a little overzealous,” she said of the response posts she received from her network of more than 4,000 Facebook friends. “Then I realized later that as long as I had been on Facebook, nobody had ever seen me in a relationship.”
Before starting her relationship with Daniel, Miranda had spent nearly five years with a partner who had a hard-and-fast rule that their relationship never be documented in any way on the Internet. Having been harassed by an online stalker a few years before he met Miranda, he was determined not to repeat the experience.
But what was self-preservation for him was unintentionally hurtful to Miranda, who said her ex’s code of silence about their relationship made her feel like he was ashamed to be with her. “I understood what his concern was, but it was always an issue of contention for me because I felt unacknowledged,” she said. “And it was even worse because I would explain I felt unacknowledged, and he would try to make that seem like I was being ridiculous because it was a vanity thing or because I needed outside validation or something.”
Miranda isn’t alone: Out of the almost 2,000 married people polled in a survey by the law firm Slater and Gordon, almost 25 percent argued weekly—and 17 percent daily—because of social media activity. But when everyone is so hyperconnected, such conflict may seem like an inevitable part of modern life. So how do you avoid it? For some couples, it means just not being connected online at all.
That’s the option Alan and Kevin* chose on day one. The now-engaged couple, who proudly proclaim they’re able to complete home repairs together without fighting, have no idea what the other is posting on Facebook. It was Kevin’s rule to never be Facebook friends with the people he was dating, which Alan admits bothered him. He repeatedly tried to friend Kevin, thinking he would “wear him down.” But Kevin refused to budge.
“I don’t want to have an online relationship with my real-life person,” says Kevin, whose posts often display his biting, sarcastic, and sometimes profane sense of humor. “I don’t want to be judged by anyone he’s friends with or his family, and I don’t want outlandish things that I say to start drama with someone he’s close with.”
He might be on to something. Though connecting on social media seems like an easy way to unlock an endless supply of information, too much information about someone new too soon can be detrimental to a relationship.
Daniel and Miranda did not face that challenge. They dated for almost a year before he created an account on Facebook, and even then his intention was to keep up with the comments from Miranda’s friends on posts in which he was tagged. The day he joined, the two updated their profiles to say they were “in a relationship,” inspiring a flood of reactions from Miranda’s friends. They were enthusiastic and positive—so much so that they actually irritated Miranda a little.
“Everyone and their uncle were saying all these things about my relationship,” Miranda said of the comments, many of which were from people she hadn’t met in person and who had never commented on updates she posted about her professional life. “I was like, ‘This is some weirdly gendered bullshit right now. Could you be more interested in my work than the fact that I have a date?’”
The longevity of Miranda and Daniel’s relationship may be, in part, due to the lack of social media in their lives as they got to know each other. Psychology Today reported that the more Internet use by one partner in a relationship, the more conflict in the relationship. In comparison, of the people who waited a month or longer before friending their date on social media, 48 percent were a relationship that lasted longer than a year.
That fact may change the habits of many single people when they learn that, while the instinct to friend or follow someone after a first date is strong, it could hurt the relationship. Almost half (42 percent) of respondents to a survey from WhatsYourPrice.com friended or followed someone after a first date, and they dated that person for less than a month. Some hopeful lovebirds didn’t even wait until the first date and friended someone before going out. Twenty-five percent of those eager people dated for only one month, and 34 percent of them dated for less than six months. Few who friended their date right after meeting made it past six months; only 12 percent of them dated for a year.
Neither Alan nor Kevin are very active on social media, posting an average of two or three times a month—a marked contrast to Tracy*, who updates her Facebook several times a day with sarcastic and dramatic posts but is not connected in any way online with Scott*, her closest male friend.
The two hang out together several times a week, cooking and watching their favorite TV shows. She has her own key to his apartment, where she helped him set up a Christmas tree. But they’re not friends on Facebook. That’s because, says Tracy, their real-life connection is so special that she doesn’t want to change it by taking it online.
“It can change the way somebody looks at you, and I don’t necessarily know that I want that,” she said. “I don’t know if I really want that messed with. If somebody’s experiencing you in an organic way, why would you put this extra layer in before you’ve really established a rapport?”
It’s a lesson she’s already learned the hard way. Tracy had been Facebook friends with her last serious boyfriend, who told her he had been surprised how different she was in person from what he expected based on her online presence. On the Internet, he told her, “you sound much more aggressive.”
The careful preservation of an online image is often deliberate and misleading, and that can trigger insecurities or misunderstandings, says Robi Ludwig, Psy.D., a psychotherapist and author of Your Best Age is Now. “It’s almost like people are their own publicists, and it’s important to keep in mind what you’re seeing is just what people want you to see. But I don’t think that many people keep that in mind.”
Tracy’s decision to remain disconnected from Scott on social media is what keeps their friendship authentic, preventing her from projecting her hopes and expectations onto another person based on their profile updates and shared photos. “You’re just making up a person based off their [social media] cues,” she said. “But you can build up any kind of story you want. People can take bits and pieces of you and fill in the gaps and make a version of you that maybe isn’t accurate.”
The real factor in determining whether to connect online is maturity, says psychotherapist Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D. And that maturity often is acquired by interacting offline and in real life.
While scrolling through photos of your crush may seem fun in the moment, it can also detract from the actual excitement that accompanies the beginning of a relationship, Dr. Ludwig says. Curiosity about the unknown is essential to beginning a connection with someone. “If you’re going to know everything about that person via cyberstalking or social media, maybe you have a negative feeling about something you might see and the relationship isn’t at a point where that can be discussed or should be discussed,” she says.
But while most of us have experienced the urge to covertly investigate a romantic prospect, that investigation doesn’t always stop once a relationship has been declared “Facebook official.” Dr. Raymond says her patients have expressed sadness and anger about social media interactions, even with their long-term partners. “It triggers fear of infidelity and envy,” she says. “They accuse each other of lying when they find that social media posts don’t tally with what they are telling each other verbally.” More than that, if they’re not giving you the Instagram love you want, you may infer that they’re not fulfilling you in real life—whether or not that’s actually the case.
Both Dr. Raymond and Dr. Ludwig emphasize the need for maturity and self-awareness when dipping a toe into the world of social media—particularly when it comes to broadcasting our relationships. After all, when romantic dates are bragged about on Facebook, anniversaries are honored on Instagram, and wedding receptions include custom-created hashtags, it’s clear that the Internet has an undeniable influence on our IRL social lives. When I told Tracy that Alan and Kevin are engaged, but not Facebook friends, her immediate reaction was to ask, “How are they going to invite people to their wedding?”