Do you feel pressure to portray your partner in a more positive light on social media? You’re not alone.
There are three things you can rely on in this world: death, taxes, and at least one schmaltzy picture of a couple popping up in your Instagram feed every day.
It’s a cliche because it’s true. Social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook have become the corner of the internet in which relationships are played out like Shakespearean plays. But all is not what it seems in the theatre of public opinion that is the 2018 internet.
According to a new study of 2,000 British adults on behalf of couples support network Relate, 51% of millennials admitted that they use social media to portray their relationship in a more positive light. Some 42% of millennials, almost half of those surveyed, admitted that they would go as far as to give the impression that their relationship was “perfect” online when it often was not.
(The numbers are slightly lower for the general public as a whole, with 39% of those surveyed revealing that they misrepresent their relationship online and 27% admitting that they use social media to portray their relationships as “perfect”.)
“In the world we live in, getting validation from social media and likes can feel as important as in-real-life interactions, and this can make us feel under pressure when it comes to relationships. We are constantly comparing ourselves to what we see of others, rather than a genuine representation of the ups and downs of a relationship,” psychotherapist Kate Moyle tells Stylist.co.uk.
Where once we used to peek our heads over the the neighbour’s fence, Moyle says, now we’re scrolling through Instagram and Facebook with our faces “metaphorically pressed against a window looking into other people’s lives and relationships”.
Moyle’s concern is that by living our lives this way, we can place undue pressure on our own relationships. “We lose sight of what genuinely makes us happy as we are so focused on seeing it as how we think others will perceive us,” she explains.
Misrepresenting how happy we are online also gives the false impression that we don’t need any help or support, because everything in our relationship is Facetuned and filtered to perfection. So when moments of conflict and shift do, inevitably, arise, the fall-out can be keenly felt.
For Isobel, 28, the answer is simple: barely post about your partner at all. That was the approach she took during her most recent three-year relationship, in which she estimates she only shared a picture of her boyfriend to Instagram a handful of times, and all of them were positive, loved-up images.
“For most of the happy long-term couples I know, you would barely know they were together from their social media presence,” Isobel tells Stylist.co.uk. “The absence of daily confessions of love seems to point to something more stable.”
Isobel says that she “thinks - or hopes! - everyone realises [Instagram] is not indicative of real life”. For her, the social media platform is a “personal highlight reel, and that’s the key word there,” she explains. She believes that Instagram exists for this exact reason and she wouldn’t want social media to become flooded with realistic missives about the true state of everyone’s lives, the literal warts-and-all dioramas of our relationships.
“I don’t think there’s ever a time to shade your partner on social media,” she says. “The idea of sharing moments is almost always predicated upon happiness. Maybe people don’t want to take a selfie and write about how they’re feeling in a low moment, but a TGIF cocktails boomerang with the girls is as no-brainer when you’re two martinis deep. I think it will always remain a glossy, happy place as that is just what people are more willing to share.”
But there has to be a middle ground between Isobel’s no-selfie-is-a-good-selfie approach and what 51% of millennials told Relate they indulged in: the misrepresentation of their relationships online.
The solution, Moyle suggests, is to untether our sense of self-worth from social media. To do this, you might need to give yourself a serious break from the online world, such as through a week-long social media detox, to see how much of an impact platforms like Instagram and Facebook are having on your life. Think seriously about why social media makes you feel the way it makes you feel, and what you can do about divorcing yourself from those feelings.
“The difficulty is that the grass always appears different,” Moyle says. “If you are feeling negative about your relationship, try and take a step back and think what’s [going on] behind the scenes of the photos… What we need to think about is this gap between what’s presented and what’s reality.”