Let’s Unpack That

People aren’t showing off their relationships online anymore – and I’m not surprised

Forget ‘hard launching’ a new romantic partner on your Instagram, today it’s all about the so-called ‘no-launch’, and keeping your relationship as offline and discreet as possible. It’s a change that Olivia Petter welcomes

Tuesday 04 June 2024 06:00 BST
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No peek behind the curtain: the hot new trend in social media is not showing off your new partner at all
No peek behind the curtain: the hot new trend in social media is not showing off your new partner at all (iStock)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

For a while, you couldn’t spend two minutes online without seeing someone doing a “hard launch”. No, they weren’t promoting a new product or some sort of layman’s rocketship. They were posting a photo of themselves and their new partner to their Instagram grid, probably with a pithy, self-deprecating and slightly insufferable caption. Think: “Two months with this one” or “Alert the press!”.

Like all of social media, the whole thing is a little nauseating. See also: the soft launch, meaning the same exact thing except instead of posting to your grid you post to your story. Or you might simply share a photo of your partner’s hand or back as opposed to their face.

Regardless of whether you went hard or soft, both were indicative of the same, supercilious trend that saw people feeling compelled to “announce” when they were in a new relationship on social media. Of course, this holds some merit for celebrities, or influencers with millions of followers. But it holds significantly less for regular people.

And yet, all of us did it – myself included. There was a sense of pride in it – like I’d ticked off an all-important societal box: getting a partner. The validation trickled in with every like and comment, most of which came from strangers – because, of course, by the time you post about a partner on social media, chances are your friends and family already know all about them.

The ‘soft launch’ – something sometimes as minimal as sharing the back of a partner’s head online – has been phased out
The ‘soft launch’ – something sometimes as minimal as sharing the back of a partner’s head online – has been phased out (iStock)

Now, though, something has changed. More and more people are choosing to forgo the hard/soft launch altogether, despite being active on social media – Mashable labelled this “no launching”. “I’m in a long-term relationship and haven’t shared a picture of him at all,” says Jas, 31, from London. Nor does she intend to in the future. “I’d just rather keep it to ourselves for now. It makes it feel more real.”

Kelly*, 21, feels the same, and has been in a relationship with her boyfriend for over a year without sharing a single thing about him online. “Going public on social media has been made out to be a huge deal, so we feel by not doing so it lessens the pressure on our relationship,” she says. “We’re not having anyone question or expect anything from us. We just go with the flow. And it’s nice to know people aren’t thinking or chatting about our business.”

It also protects you from judgement, which, let’s be honest, is what many of us are doing when we scroll through our social media feeds. “We don’t have people trying to get involved with our relationship or purposely stirring the pot because no one thinks they know everything about our relationship,” adds Kelly. “What’s ours remains ours.”

This rejection is despite the flurry of online activity that ensues after the official launch: holidays together, anniversary celebrations, and maybe, eventually, engagement announcements. It’s not abnormal for the trajectories of our relationships to be fastidiously documented on our feeds.

As someone whose Instagram is consistently blazing with engagement announcements, pregnancy scans and birthday celebrations for people’s partners, I can certainly see the appeal of withdrawing from it all, and making the unlikely but increasingly popular choice to put privacy first in my romantic life. My friends feel similarly: one who has previously described herself as “chronically online” has only just started posting photographs of her boyfriend after three years of dating. “I just needed to keep something to myself,” she explained to me, referring to a previous relationship that she shared a lot of.

We don’t have people trying to get involved with our relationship or purposely stirring the pot because no one thinks they know everything about our relationship. What’s ours remains ours

Kelly*

Oversharing is an uncomfortable by-product of social media culture, as is the expectation to behave like we’re all the star of our own reality show. There are clear consequences to this where our relationships are concerned, though. There’s the pressure that Kelly mentioned. But there’s also the performative element of it; after all, who are you posting your partner for? Doesn’t your partner already know how much you love and adore them? Why feel the need to tell a bunch of strangers on the internet about it?

It can easily turn into an unhealthy obsession, too, eliciting anxieties around engagement with posts about you and your partner, leading you to draw meaning from things that are inherently meaningless: “This friend didn’t like this post of the two of us, do you think it means they don’t support the relationship?” and so on. Then, like with everything we share online, there’s the compulsion to present a perfect narrative about you and your partner, one that will never reflect reality. Because how could it?

It’s the antithesis to romance in almost every single way. And frankly, I’ve drawn far too much meaning from it with exes in the past, getting fixated on why they hadn’t shared photos of me after months of being together, and levelling accusations of infidelity at them as a result. None of this is healthy, nor is it conducive to a loving relationship. And the older I get, the more visceral this all feels.

Privacy is a privilege, and when I enter into my next relationship, it’s one I’ll be prioritising.

*Names have been changed

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