From soft flings to appearing married: the new relationship rules are revealed

Whether it’s the best caption to inspire curiosity or adding just the right amount of mystery arm to your Instagram story, there’s no shortage of advice on how to get your relationship going, but what if you’re less inclined to Does the world know about your relationship? nice, especially before you’re sure it’s the real problem?

Keeping things so low-key can be a struggle for celebs, who only need a whisper of rumors before they have to battle the paparazzi, but they still have their own ways of owning that ad. FKA Twigs recently went public with new boyfriend Jordan Hemingway, hitting the post and claiming control over when and how their relationship would go public. However, for us non-famous people, privacy is a choice, and some actually take advantage of that choice.

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Presentation: The spousal release. The antithesis of soft-launch social media’s gradual, timid reveal, the spousal launch is when couples wait until there’s a ring on their finger and the ink is dry on a marriage certificate before sharing their relationship on Instagram.

Cue surprised comments from people you went to elementary school with and direct messages filled with amazing emojis, but why would you want to keep everything offline until that big milestone? After all, the months or more likely the years in between are full of fun times, cute dates, and great vacations, all of which are perfect fodder, right?

Going public on social media can be a “major commitment milestone,” dating expert Hayley Quinn admits; after all, not everyone is eager to get married, and “while some people thrive on privacy, others will enjoy the support and commitment of friends and family to their relationship as it evolves.” But while seeing likes pour into a cute baecation post gives you that fuzzy feeling that only Instagram can bring, staying offline can actually benefit the relationship, according to psychologist Wendy Dignan. “Social media builds a world around approval and validation,” he says. If you start letting your online commitment affect your decisions just so you can post the best stuff, “the relationship becomes very distorted and very far from reality.”

For Nia, who kept her partner offline for two years before going public with photos of their intimate wedding with only 12 of her closest friends and family in attendance, the decision to keep things offline it was because of how people avoid other couples online: “the main benefit I found in keeping my relationship offline until marriage was safety. I was confident in knowing that if we broke up I wouldn’t have to delete a bunch of photos and for everyone to wonder what happened, which is what I do when the couples I follow seem to have broken up.”

Klaus Vedfelt

The banter facilitated by social media is why Rachel* and her boyfriend of six months have decided to stop posting on social media as well. “We both speculate if couples have broken up if they delete their photos or haven’t posted for a while, and we didn’t want people to speculate on us.” Also, while an offline relationship can be published in the couple’s moment, a social media release cannot be drafted. “We knew that once we told people on social media, we couldn’t go back to being a private thing. We didn’t want any kind of external validation in the form of likes or comments.”

Relationship expert and CEO of wedding service Vows for Eternity Anuradha Gupta agrees that this desire for validation can be problematic. Just seeing people’s highlight reels can mean you feel pressured to “outdo others” through the image you’re giving, “and these external factors can create unhealthy comparisons and expectations.” By removing that source of validation, Quinn adds, “You’re sending a message to yourself that it’s what happens between the two of you in the real world that counts.”

For some couples, there are cultural factors at play. Khizra decided not to date her husband before their engagement, in part because the dating phase of a relationship is not accepted in conservative South Asian cultures. However, the privacy meant the couple had the opportunity to engage with their immediate family without “irrelevant input or unsolicited opinions” and while some family and friends were upset at being left out of the process when the wedding photos were revealed, “most people were happy” for the couple.

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But Khizra’s decision was also due to a cultural fear of bad luck: many Asian cultures believe that posting good things into your life could attract nazar, understood as black magic or the evil eye. While celebrating happiness with your online connections is well-intentioned, you never know who might be lurking about your tastes with jealousy in their hearts. The belief is that this negativity could cause misfortune to invade your life, even if the jealous person doesn’t explicitly mean to send you bad luck. Khizra’s own conviction of this negative manifestation was supported by her close family, who encouraged her to keep things private just in case.

So how do you communicate that you’d like to keep things offline, without making your partner feel like an embarrassing secret? Gupta suggests that communication should start by “letting a partner know that you value their time and privacy, and would like them to value yours.” Try to lead with positivity, Dignan advises: Emphasize that you’d rather focus on your relationship in real life, rather than leading with all the negative stuff on social media that can cause the relationship to go wrong.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that social media doesn’t have to be part of your relationship. There’s no rule that your partner has to post to have a strong bond, and no one has the right to know about your personal life until you’re ready to tell them, even if it deprives your followers of ‘something to gossip about.

*Name has been changed for anonymity.

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