Social media – does it make relationships easier or harder?
Like many other things, such as getting addicted to a TV show or being a celebrity, social media has its good points and bad points. When it’s being an absolute babe, social media lifts us up and gets us all dopamine-y (a scientific term if there ever was one). It can be a confidence booster – a way for us to feel liked or popular – and it encourages us to make new friends and share stuff we’re interested in. But when it’s being a pain in the ass, social media also has the potential to make us feel insecure and lonely.
With this in mind, I’m asking: what about when we use social media in relationships? Does it make the good stuff better and the bad stuff worse? Are our insecurities heightened because of it? Are declarations of love worth more if they come via Facebook? I’ve been thinking about my own experiences, as well as hounding my Twitter followers – some lovely people have shared their thoughts with me.
I can’t lie – a lot of my relationships have started in the same way. If I was a little chef, my recipe would be this:
Not embarrassing at ALL, right? Right. Glad we agree. I think we’d probably also agree that before you get to any potential issues further down the line, social media is a good way to meet people – or at least to form some kind of a vague bond with them before attempting the IRL natter.
Brittany, 24, agrees, but found that too much online contact wasn’t the best thing for her and her boyfriend: “Social media made things easier for my relationship at the beginning, but I think it makes it harder as it goes on. It allows you to get to know each other at the start, but soon you begin to rely too much on speaking via a keyboard instead of face to face.”
I can relate to that. We can probably all relate to that. We’ve all had those moments, where we’ve had the most amazing talk with someone online, only to have a “Yeah, good thanks. You?” exchange the next day, followed by tears and even more social media stalking to check things are STILL ON despite the face-to-face failure.
When things finally do get off the ground, there can be something special about sharing stuff online. It’s a very open way of telling people you really really like someone – a public declaration of luv. Rosie, 19, feels like this is the case for her relationship. “It’s nice when you get publicly appreciated online,” she says, “The downside of social media can be when girls comment flirty things on photos… but overall it doesn’t make a difference because my boyfriend always posts things about me, which is cool.”
As Rosie explains, social media can be the perfect way to express how proud you are to be with your significant other. But what about when the topic of the posts is never you? Amy, who’s 23, reckons that makes things tough: “When me and my ex were together, he moved to university and I stayed at home, because I didn’t get in the first time around. Everything he did went on Facebook – including lots of photos of him cuddling girls, them sitting on his knee, that sort of thing. He wasn’t on the ball with replying to texts or calls so the paranoia grew. It caused a lot of arguments during the year we were in a long distance relationship, because it felt like he was flaunting stuff to make me angry or jealous.”
Years later, Amy thinks that her current relationship “isn’t about trying to prove anything to anyone. He rarely uses Facebook, but it doesn’t matter as he always reassures me or explains where he’s going. He’s totally honest with me.”
So honesty’s the best policy? I’d say so. Just like real life, social media doesn’t work so well if it’s made up of lies or half-truths. That goes for everything – we all like a little show off from time to time, but think of your friends and Seth from art class and your 13 year-old cousin who reeeeeally wants a boyfriend. What are you showing to them? Is it honest? “Relationships can be used as ‘trophies’ online,” explains Brittany, “‘Look what my boyfriend bought me this week!’ or ‘Look how happy we are after two days of being together!‘”
Earlier this year, when Instagram-famous Essena O’Neill decided to quit social media – tired of posing for falsely cheerful selfies “to get likes” – it became clearer than ever that the way we do things has changed a LOT from when our parents and even our older siblings were our age. We think nothing of taking thirty photos of our face until we’re happy with the finished product, which we then whack a filter on so it looks even less like us (GUILTY AS CHARGED). We view our food in terms of how good it would look on Instagram and sometimes it’s gone a little bit cold by the time we eat it. Oh. Honestly, I think this is fine – and I’ve got very minimal amounts of time for people who are snarky about it – but surely we’re all aware that this is how we do things. It’s the world’s worst-kept secret. So why are we still so convinced that everyone’s having more fun than us and everyone’s relationship is better than ours? Are we so focused on documenting everything so we can look back on it all with fond memories in 2050 or is it more about trying to prove that we’re havin’ a blast? 22 year-old Lizi feels like it might be the latter. Her previous relationship was “constantly” discussed on social media: “If we didn’t say something publicly, it either didn’t happen or it didn’t mean anything.”
It’s easy to look back on old relationships and cringe a little, but almost all of us have been there. I remember an ex of mine creating an unspoken tradition of writing something along the lines of “Stunner!” on every single one of my MySpace photos (I’M OLD OKAY I LOVED MYSPACE) and me feeling really indignant at him when he didn’t one time. Whatever would people think?! It was like our entire relationship was based around our ‘Mr and Mrs MySpace’ persona – for us, it was more important for people to see how we interacted online than in person. I don’t blame us for it – we were both small and shy and I personally think I come across a hell of a lot better over the internet (god bless it), so whatever. But having this kind of a relationship introduced a new kind of feeling for me. Because with obsessive social media use can also come jealousy, one of the least exciting elements of this whole package.
“My partner has been cheated on in previous relationships so he does get a bit paranoid,” says Eleanor, 22. “It doesn’t help that I started blogging in September, YouTubing in October and I’m always talking about friends I’ve made on Twitter, so obviously I now spend more time on social media sites which can make him a little more worried. It can lead to a few, let’s say, disagreements…” Ahh, social media disagreements. OF COURSE. Anyone who says they haven’t had at least three of these with a boyfriend or girlfriend is probably fibbing. ‘Fess up, Pinocchio.
I admit it – I can be jealous. I’ve gained a bit of security with age, but still think “Who is JESSICA?” while eating my tea and then feel ashamed for worrying five minutes later. I don’t think anyone should beat themselves up for being human and having a little niggle from time to time, but it’s important to not let our insecurities get the better of us, either. While we’ve all experienced that shoulder-crunching, sick feeling when we’ve seen something we wished we hadn’t, we’ve also been on the other side of things, when it’s felt like someone’s been watching our every move, just hoping we’ll mess up so they can point their judgey finger in our face, have a grump about Alex from Physics and say “I TOLD you so.”
Every relationship is different, and that’s what makes them so interesting and weird and completely unique to the people in them. Sometimes I listen to stories friends and acquaintances tell me and I’ll say “Great!” while thinking “WHAT.” because their way of doing things is so different to how me and my boyfriend do stuff. But that’s okay, as long as they’re on the same page and they’re not hurting themselves or anyone else. If you’re feeling as if you and your boyfriend or girlfriend aren’t on the same page – or even in the same book – maybe have a chat with them. The quicker you can agree on what’s normal for you, the better. And if you’re feeling so insecure you’re getting that horrible I-WANT-TO-PUNCH-SOMEONE feeling whenever you click onto Instagram, try to have a think about why that might be. Is it something your boyfriend or girlfriend is doing? If it’s really dragging you down, is it time to reconsider the relationship? Or is seeing stuff on social media acting as a trigger for existing insecurities you already have?
I was thinking how to sum all this up and then I realised I couldn’t, really. Some of it will apply to you and some will be WAY off, and I’m sorry for that. But if you’re wondering how best to make the most of social media without hurting your relationship, I have a question for you to ask yourself when you’re not completely sure of something that’s happening online or your brain’s doing that back-and-forth thing when you talk to someone:
“Would I be angry or sad if this was being done to me?”
That’s it. Turn things around. It’s a simple idea, but it works. It’s amazing how many situations that question has made me RUN from before they got sticky. And honestly, when you consider things in this way, it doesn’t matter if you’re thinking in ‘real life’ or ‘social media’ terms – you’ve still got the same guidelines to fall back on. Twitter or town, Instagram or Ibiza, it won’t matter. Let me know how you get on.