For as long as I’ve had a Facebook page & a smart phone I have known that on February 14th, all social media must be avoided like the plague.
Valentine’s day for obvious reasons has become the most popular day of the year for posting, sharing and commenting about all things related to your own personal romantic life. Before you assume that I’m just single and bitter let me assure that I believe everyone regardless of their relationship status are equally culpable. While those who are coupled up celebrate their significant others, the single crowd often works overtime to express their disdain for the holiday…while simultaneously (and quite impressively) use it as an opportunity to make sure that their followers are aware that they are still, in fact, on the dating market.
However, the behavior demonstrated on this holiday is present on these social media platforms all year round albeit less concentrated and thus less noticeable. What on the surface are just websites and cellular apps meant to provide entertainment, news, and a link to friends both old and new, have now become tools for aggressive self-promotion that may have singularly transformed our collective attitude and approach towards the dating game.
An October 2015 study on “Teens, Technology and Romantic Relationships” conducted by the Pew Research Center revealed some illuminating findings on the role that social media plays in adolescent relationships and how teens display and monitor their love lives on the internet.
Among the findings was that 63% of teen daters (primarily young women) use social media to express support for other romantic relationships by liking or sharing their friends’ content. The teens surveyed also explained the many ways in which a couple could display their relationship on various social media sites and some respondents expressed anxiety over the difficulties that these new dating rituals posed for their own relationships.
How does one know when a relationship is serious enough to make it public on Facebook?
How embarrassing will it be when all of my followers know about my break-up after I remove my boyfriends’ photos on Instagram?
People might think that I’m obnoxious if I post this photo of us… but if I don’t, will my girlfriend feel hurt?
These findings paint these platforms as spaces where our most intimate relationships must be appropriately tailored and displayed for outsiders on a timetable that most of us do not even fully understand. On these sites, followers play remarkably important factors in our romantic lives as they have the power to cosign or disapprove of relationships. In this digital world, insecurities about break ups as well as misunderstandings about the level of seriousness of an individuals relationship can have very real (and very awkward) consequences.
While it may be easy to laugh off the findings in the Pew study because of their decision to focus on adolescence, the romantic anxieties that they detail should surely sound familiar to older users of social media as well. In fact, young adults, the primary audience using these platforms may even be more susceptible to the influence that social media has had on our views on dating.
Social media can be particularly damning in our romantic lives in a society where individuals place far too much emphasis on physical attractiveness when making decisions about potential partners. The visual component of many social media platforms where selfies and spring break snapshots abound has created near impossible standards against which it is difficult for many to feel as if they are viable options in the dating market.
Furthermore, mobile platforms have in many ways made the presence of such a market and the competition that it creates more palpable. Social media has transformed the knowledge of the fact that a potential suitor may have multiple other options from a vague idea into a tangible reality.
Young adult users may also be particularly vulnerable to some of the romantic anxieties created by social media because they have reached a stage in their lives where they must start solidifying their identities. 20 and 30-somethings stand at a critical juncture where they are beginning to choose their careers, build long-lasting relationships and decide where they wish to settle or if they wish to settle down at all. Those who engage in social media while making such decisions are able to display them post by post…and watch their peers do the same.
As somewhat of an unspoken rule, users of these platforms understand that it is only proper to exhibit the positive aspects of your life on these online profiles. You typically don’t post a selfie when you find out that you didn’t get the job, or when you get rejected from grad school or when the decision to move back home for “just 3 months” gradually becomes a year…or two. In fact, you’re likely to only mention those moments of struggle after you’ve already dug yourself out of the hole and you can post an inspiring quote with a motivational caption about how you made it through.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to put our best foot forward but when we intentionally curate and promote squeaky clean versions of ourselves we too often fail to realize that everyone else is doing the same as well. We forget that the hundreds of other people we’re following have also chosen to omit the unsavory aspects of their lives and we trick ourselves into believing that we’re the only ones who may not have it all together.
When we map the dating scene onto this messy landscape we’re likely to emerge with a heightened level of insecurity concerning our own prospects in the dating pool as well as an inaccurate perception of how amazing and unattainable our potential partners actually are.
…and this is all assuming we’re even able to consider new people when a glimpse at our previous partners is never more than a click away. With minimal effort we can find ourselves locked in the past as people whom we may have otherwise long let go of still occupy our digital worlds. Few are unfamiliar with the curiosity raised when you see an ex posing with someone else and many of us fail to escape the “how come?” “why not?” and “what if?“s that arise when an old flame likes your recent photo.
The portrait I’m painting here is slightly grim. Perhaps most people don’t spend as much time on these platforms as I have assumed they do and maybe the majority of users are aware of the fact that 80% of what we see online is all performance. It is however, worthwhile to give some thought to how social media is altering our perceptions of what a good relationship is and what a good partner ought to look like and how we may subconsciously be disseminating those ideas ourselves.
At a time when everything is on display and open for critique it’s important to evaluate our insecurities, use ourselves as our own barometers for success and maybe allow those relationships that are most intimate and private… to remain just that.