If a couple is in love but there are no Instagrams to prove it, does it even exist? I think most people with common sense would say, “duh, of course,” but as someone who has been in a committed relationship for the past three years with no “relationship status” on Facebook, I can tell you it’s not always that simple.
I met my boyfriend in 2016, about a year and a half after getting out of a long, tumultuous relationship with my high school sweetheart. During that time, I had mercilessly stalked potentially suitors with my friends, and often found myself digging for reasons, as so many people do, to cross someone off my list before even meeting them. Which is why my New Year’s resolution was to wait to meet someone before scouring their Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
So I went into my first date with my future cohabitant relatively blind. I knew his name, where he was from, and that he had a great, weird, smart sense of humor. Our first meeting confirmed those qualities, and I learned so much more. Within a week, we had spent nearly every day together, wasting hours loitering in the local playground at midnight, talking about everything and anything. We had so many similarities, and so many differences. He told me he deleted his dating apps. I told him I didn’t want to see anyone else. Yet, months later, he still hadn’t sent me a friend request on any social media platforms.
At first, it felt a little weird. My friends were (and still are, TBH) suspicious. In today’s world, everything is out there for everyone to see, so how could you not want to know what kinds of things he likes, shares, and comments, they wondered. But things were (and still are, TBH) just so good, we decided that there was no reason to add another, potentially damaging factor into our solid romance.
In some ways, I feel like this lack of a social media connection is our secret to success, but I wanted to know what a real, live relationship expert thought. Luckily, Dr. Ari Sytner — a therapist, author and social worker with a private practice aimed at helping couples reach their ideal relationship — was willing to give me his insight into my unorthodox setup — and how doing something similar could potentially help your love life, too!
Sabotage Before The First Date?
We’re living in the age of information. We love it, crave it, and are conditioned to seek out knowledge about anything that’s new to us. And that’s an awesome thing! Except when you look up people, you’re only seeing what they want you to see. That’s why immediately stalking a potential partner can be so dangerous to the future of your relationship.
“The whole idea of starting a relationship with stalking someone on social media right off the bat kind of speaks of a lack of trust and honesty with one another,” said Dr. Sytner. “Get to know the person for real, get to see what they’re like on good days and bad, and then form your own picture based on your personal impression.”
Social media can create a really warped sense of a person, because “everyone knows each other in different realities.” When you have to create one image for everyone in your life to see, it’s going to be missing parts of who you are. “At the end of the day, I don’t care how awesome your Insta feed is,” said the therapist. “It’s, how do we work together? That’s what makes a great relationship, and social media has become a distraction, especially at the formation of a relationship.”
The Cure For Political Bickering?
Couples can have all kinds of disagreements, but lately, it seems like politics create some of the worst rifts. Creating space from your significant other on social media can give you each room to express yourselves without the fear of offending each other, or subjecting your partner to the scrutiny of your friends and family.
“For some of my clients, the biggest disagreements that they get in are over politics,” said Dr. Sytner. “People often ask me, ‘if I’m a staunch liberal, can I date a Republican who’s an awesome guy, but who I strongly disagree with on political issues?’ And my answer is, you can make it work if you want to. A good relationship is not about being clones, it’s about learning how to show respect for the differences you share.”
“A recommendation that I make to clients — and I have seen it work successfully — is to keep certain topics off-limits. No watching the news together, no commenting or posting about each other’s political issues,” he explained. “And amazingly, if they follow these guidelines, their relationship can continue to grow stronger. That is a really good example of how couples can avoid the trap that is social media, which stands to potentially harm the relationship.”
Keeping Intimacy… Intimate
Another way social media can harm your relationship is by sucking the intimacy out of even the most special things. “Emotional intimacy is a sacred space, that trust and love that two people share is profound and essential,” Dr. Sytner began. “So often, I see people on social media that are ‘wishing a happy birthday to the love of my life’ or writing, ‘I’m so happy to celebrate my fifth anniversary.’ Who are you talking to? You’re talking to the entire world to say the most intimate thing to the person who is most important to your life. Intimacy isn’t intimate when it’s said in front of 100 people.”
Not only does that take away the intimacy of your message, but it also creates unhealthy expectations for our whole society. “Couples May feel pressure to start inflating their reality on social media,” said Dr. Sytner. People say things like “‘I had the most amazing honeymoon, or the best vacation,’ but at the end of the day, you spent half the time fighting. Yet the pictures only show the best. How often do we hear that those amazing couples break up and everyone is shocked? It is often because we only see the filtered images that they want the world to see.”
As a society, seeing only the best, all the time, from everyone, can create a sense of dissatisfaction with your own life and partner. “When one gets on social media and posts about their wedding anniversary, yet, has online friends that are single or recently divorced, how do you think that makes them feel? It can inadvertently be insensitive, causing pain to others and ultimately only perpetuates jealousy, making others feel inadequate.” Instead of trying to show how successful we are, people should try showing how real we can be.
“But Aren’t You Afraid He’ll Talk To Other Girls?”
The biggest argument that I get as to why I should be connected with my S.O. on social media, is that I need to be keeping an eye on him. Personally, I think most people can tell when something is off in their relationship, and they don’t need to find likes or comments to validate that gut instinct. And basically, if someone is going to be unfaithful or do shady stuff, they’ll do it whether or not I’m watching their every move. But for a relationship to work, you need to trust them. If every little like will test your trust, it may help a lot just to not look, and instead focus on being the best partner you can be.
“There are many situations where things are going on behind the scenes, and the other person doesn’t know. Some people are really good at hiding it,” the doctor explained. However, he actually thinks that keeping your relationship in the real world only can do more to protect from things like that.
“Here’s the interesting difference. When two people make a shared decision to not be connected on social media, it’s a conscious conversation. They’re saying, ‘I trust you. We’re so connected in the real world, and that’s what really matters.’ I think when people are hiding behind the screen, it becomes so much easier to start playing games and trying to cover tracks. You’re saying ‘I want to be authentic, I want to be real with you.’ And that’s a good foundation for any relationship.”
And if seeing likes or comments on your S.O.’s social media account constantly sparks jealousy, you might have bigger problems. “That quality is toxic,” said the doc. “Research shows that when people start fantasizing about how things would be better with someone else, that’s the beginning of the end.” At that point, it’s more important to get therapy and decide if it’s still worth pursuing your partner, because there’s most likely a huge lack of trust.
How To Disconnect So You Can Reconnect
So, are you convinced yet? If you think that it might be worth a shot, I would urge you to give it a try in your next relationship. But what if you’re already in one? What if you’re already friends on social media, in the constant cycle of likes and comments and posting photos together? Dr. Sytner doesn’t think it’s too late to put some space between your online personas so you can get closer in real life.
“I would approach it on two fronts,” said Dr. Sytner of how to approach the subject with your partner. “One, say ‘if we want to make a renewed commitment to strengthening our relationship, how about we both take a complete social media vacation from two weeks? Not from each other, from social media, so we’re shining the light of the relationship back on us.”
Social media can often be a distraction from what’s important. “When you have X number of apps that you’re checking X times a day, your head is in many other distant relationships and not present,” he continued. “Which means that when we’re in bed, talking, having dinner together, any of those are opportunities for us to be close and yet my mind is elsewhere.” The first step is to tune out those distractions and kind of recalibrate your focus. Then, it’s time to return to social media, without your partner.
“Step 2 is when you return from that vacation, make a concerted effort to be real and present with each other at all times, which means let’s sever this whole fake social media connection, unfriend, disconnect from each other and try it,” he suggested. “It’s not going to work for everyone, but to try specifically preserving your relationship in the real space, and work hard on it. But it’ll only work if you really try to make your relationship much stronger. Because social media has benefits too, and I don’t want it to be misconstrued that relationships are going to thrive because people stop talking to each other.”
Would you consider disconnecting with your boyfriend or girlfriend to make your real-life relationship stronger? Share your stories with us on social media with #DisconnectToConnect!