Dear Nomi, I’ve been dating my boyfriend for three years and he hasn’t posted a single thing about me on Instagram. But he puts up selfies and random stuff? Maybe I’m overreacting but I feel like I post pictures of him and he never cares to post about me… I don’t want to beg him but it’s really annoying. And he’s posted pictures of a past girlfriend from a long time ago. I need some help with my modern day dating dilemma, and I’m a big fan of your writing, so I’d really appreciate your thoughts!
Oh, how modern day dating this quandary is. Though, I can’t say this is a particularly modern issue… us millennials have been wading through the murky, pixelated waters of digital dating since the dawn of the Myspace Top 8 (I consistently negotiated a top three position with my high school boyfriend’s best “girl-friend” which drove me absolutely insane!).
In some ways, Facebook drew the clearest lines. You were either “in a relationship,” “single,” or it was “complicated.” How honest, how refreshing to consider only three options when organizing your personal relationships. The social code with Instagram becomes more nuanced, but ultimately just as clear – we’re talking about being Instagram Official.
To become Instagram Official is simple – you just post a photo of your romantic interest in a manner that clearly identifies who that person is. Oddly, this doesn’t necessarily signify exclusivity, nor does it recognise any sort of past or future commitment to this person. Rather, Instagram Official means you are announcing to friends, family, co-workers, and anon-followers that you are choosing to be publicly associated with a particular individual. In some ways it’s more intimate than the relationship status because you are elevating this individual to a very public stature within your (don’t deny it) extremely curated representation of your life. The platform has become our space of performative identity, meaning, despite who we may really be, Instagram is the place where we present ourselves as we’d like others to see us.
This being said… a ghost on Instagram is equivalent not to being dumped, but to being shoved in a corner; of someone dropping your hand in the hallway when the cool kids walk by; of not being brought home to meet the parents. It doesn’t mean “I don’t love you” it means “you don’t fit my brand.” Modern day dating comes with a whole new set of complications.
And yet, while Instagram is certainly presented like an authentic representation of one’s life, we all collectively know that it is not.
You know that your boyfriend cares about you. You know that he likes you, that he’s attracted to you, that he thinks you’re smart, or cool, or funny, or whatever assortment of positive personality traits you imbue. You know this because he’s been committed to you and your relationship for three years. So when he posts, or rather, doesn’t, on social it’s not so much an expression of his feelings towards you, but rather an active statement he’s making about himself.
Maybe he assumes posting about his girlfriend will put him on the out’s with his friends – are they all mostly single? Perhaps he doesn’t want to invade your privacy, preferring to keep the special connection you have between just the two of you. Or maybe he’s posted a girlfriend in the past and felt really weird about the dynamic social media played in their relationship. There are a variety of reasons that could be at play, but without asking you won’t ever get your answer.
I’d say it certainly means something that he doesn’t post about you. Perchance, when confronted with this question he’ll say social media posts don’t matter, that you’re getting too worked up about nothing, and why should you care about what he posts? If he feels social media doesn’t signify anything symbolic, perhaps start posting other dudes on your page and see if he still feels it is a hollow, meaningless gesture with no real-life implications 😉
In whatever society we humans find ourselves there are normalized methods of communication and expression. There are signals, symbols, and rituals we partake in to signify various things about who we are. It would be an incomplete picture of society, and therefore an incomplete picture of a relationship, to not discuss social media practices.
This doesn’t mean that social media platforms define a relationship. And this doesn’t mean that a couple that doesn’t post each other won’t stay together (I mean, look at how many couples nauseatingly post about each other and end up breaking up. Or worse yet, the exploitative trend of Instagram Husbands).
Ultimately, in modern day dating, I think when a guy posts his girlfriend on social media it means he is proud of her – he wants to present her to the people in his life; he wants her to be associated with him.
If I were dating someone for three years and they acted like I didn’t exist on social media, I would go on and not exist in their real life. It is significant that the person you are with feels you are a positive contribution to their life; that they appreciate you. It’s not meaningless. It’s not silly to feel that you’d like your partner to feel good about you. Your desire for your boyfriend (of three years!) to post something about you on social media doesn’t mean you want to be seen, it means you want to be valued.
And I’m sure everyone is sick of his selfies, anyway. Let’s get a shot of the girlfriend, already.