Illustration By Erin Taj
On the agony & ecstasy of sharing romantic love online
The first night we met he took a picture of me. We stayed out until 2 a.m., our stomachs full of beer and cheap whiskey shots. It was summer 2012. The dance floor had a strobe above it that let off rainbow beams of light, which looked like tiny fireworks when captured by his iPhone. In the photo, my silhouette was dark, my face obscured, and the strobe’s yellow star bursts somehow contained within my body’s outline. In the bottom of the frame, two strangers are about to embark on a dance, their arms outstretched, fingertips almost touching. Before I left the bar, I asked him (Alex) to send me the picture as an excuse to get his number — intrigued by the way it perfectly captured the rush of a chance first meeting.
In the wee hours of that morning, he texted to ask me out the following week. He couched it with, “You can say no,” showing the bashfulness I’d later fall in love with. I took the entire day to respond, mulling over my loosening ties to the city he lived in, my fast-approaching move to California. I knew it was a bad idea, but the force of the night before propelled me to text: “Okay.”
When I got home, I posted the photo on Instagram. It would be the first of many.
Unlike most memes, no one has obsessively tracked (or taken credit for) the origin of “Relationship Goals,” which is odd, especially for something so prolific. You’ve seen it scattered across the web, as a hashtag on Twitter, a listicle on BuzzFeed, the caption on your annoying college roommate’s photo of his girlfriend on Instagram. Relationship Goals signifies a piece of content that is everything one aspires to be romantically; it’s like a culture-wide Pinterest board for romantic ideation. Scrolling through the hashtag reveals that we still value partnership, particularly the performance of it.
Everyone knows “that couple” on social media — the one who feels the need to constantly reinforce the strength of their bond publicly. They post pictures together, anniversary status updates and inside jokes about that one time they got food poisoning in Costa Rica. This couple loves “ussies,” and using the Man Crush Monday (#mcm) and Woman Crush Wednesday (#wcw) tags. They seem to live by the credo that if love isn’t broadcast on social media, it isn’t love at all. Very few people who exist in 2017 aren’t this couple to at least some degree, even if they actively don’t want to be. (I once spoke to a woman for a story on wedding hashtags who was vocal about not wanting one of her own; in the end, it wasn’t up to her — her guests made several.)
When it’s not you, it’s easy to surmise that a couple must be oversharing to overcompensate for something. Gwendolyn Seidman, a psychology professor at Albright College who researches couple’s social media habits, found that this behavior definitely makes a couple “less likable” to onlookers. But she also found no evidence that extreme oversharing is indicative of a weak or shallow relationship. “I think [skeptics would] be surprised to hear that it is associated with being genuinely happy in their relationships,” she told The Atlantic…