Are You Really in Love if It’s Not on Instagram?

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My friend stuck her phone under my nose. On it was a picture on Instagram of a couple we both know, a photo of one of them pursing her lips over a frothy cocktail in a dim bar, flash on. Underneath, the caption said something like, “Weekly Love Post #72: Fancy cocktails with bae #mygirlfriendisbetterthanyours #weekiversary #sorryshestaken.”

The members of this couple are nice in real life, and they are in love, and that is wonderful, but they are terrors on social media. The weekiversary posts are just the tip of the frozen-barf iceberg. There are also close, glistening photos of their home-cooked nightly dinners (kissy face #shesakeeper). There are unrelenting, near identical pictures of one of them napping next to a cat (heart-eyes #allmine). The content is nauseating and compelling; an endless highlight reel of two people who are strangely uninterested in keeping private, small joys in their relationship private.

Why do people perform their relationships online? Who is it for? I don’t understand the point of regularly writing deeply personal declarations of love, even if it’s platonic friendship love, for thousands of strangers to see. Do people do it to mark territory? To make their person feel good? To show others that someone is worthy of love, but — hold up — you’ve already chosen them?

Our real lives and online lives are merging; they’re starting to feel indistinguishable. Even regular, noncelebrity people cultivate their own brands. Is a relationship real if it’s not flaunted on Instagram? Is the new definition of a commitment-phobe someone who chooses to keep relationships offline?

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You Up? College in the Age of Tinder

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Dating apps may have killed the college dating scene. Because it’s so easy to swipe left or right on a seemingly endless pile of potential partners, it’s become harder to actually meet anyone. As students, we are told over and over that college is a time for us to expand our social groups, to meet new people and grow into adults. But the indecisiveness that is built into dating app culture can stunt us — we’re trapped in an endless cycle of swipes! Commitment, already a scary concept to many, becomes even more difficult with the false illusion that the dating possibilities are endless.

Frankly, dating apps can also just make things incredibly awkward.

While single students at Mercer University use dating apps like Tinder and Bumble, Snapchat reigns as the most eye-roll-eliciting app for sparking college romance. To know if Brian is interested in a serious relationship or a casual fling, read the time stamp on his flirtatious Snapchat message. The same Snap asking to “hang out” sent at 2 p.m. can have a completely different meaning when sent at 2 a.m.

The New Dating Requirement: Consuming All of Your Partner’s #Content

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Declaring your relationship on Facebook used to be enough to solidify your online bond with a partner.

Not anymore.

Now, couples are forced to navigate the murky waters of Twitter faves, Snapchat streaks, twinstagramming, subgramming, going Instagram official, and more.

As Alana Levinson wrote in Splinter, “A love interest consuming your content is now as perfunctory as opening a door for a woman once was.”

If you really cared about me, the theory goes, you’d care about what I’m up to. Ergo, watch my Stories.

For most people, watching their partner’s Instagram Story is a way to show they care. Whether done consciously or unconsciously, it sends the message that you’re interested in what your significant other is thinking and doing.

“I’ve never been in this situation, but I think if I were dating someone who was as into social media as me and they didn’t rabidly consume all of my content, I would definitely be pissed,” said Molly in New York.

Most partners will begin watching each other’s Stories in the courtship phase of the relationship.

Instagram Is Now a Dating Platform, Too. Here’s How It Works.

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Not only does Instagram provide a visually driven collage of your life, it also offers a subtle way of expressing interest through likes and comments, and connecting in the form of a private chat. Meanwhile, the lists of users who have looked at each of your Story cards mean that you now have data — rudimentary and inconclusive, but still, data! — on who exactly is obsessing over you today, tomorrow and yesterday.

Confused by the order of story views? Don’t worry. So is everyone else.

“The theory is that whoever are your biggest stalkers on Instagram are at the top,” Ms. Fisher said, referring to the lists of users who have looked at your Story. But that is just a theory. According to a spokesperson, the order is “based on a number of signals including people who recently viewed your story, accounts you interact with the most on Instagram, and more.”

The mystery has spawned endless ideas about the ranking of handles. In a thread on Reddit, users have documented experiments in which they altered various factors like how often they looked at a friend’s profile, or how often they liked photos on a profile, to see which ones had an effect on the order and which ones did not. The goal for many was to figure out that all-consuming question: Does my crush like me as much as I like them?

Thirst traps: what they are and how to use them

Thirst: a strong desire for something; a lust for attention.

Thirst trap: An image or video that’s intended to attract attention from someone and elicit a response.

“A thirst trap can be as simple as a selfie,” said Andrew Keller, 25, a creative strategist at Paper magazine. “I can put up a really cute selfie of me, and the caption can be, ‘Just ate a bag of Twizzlers, hate myself.’”

“It’s like you’re throwing out a net into a sea of fish,” Mr. Yau said. “Whenever I post a story, I kind of have an idea already of who will respond or what kind of response I will get.” If you are successful, the person you are targeting will be tempted to comment. Might even actually comment. Might even “slide into your DMs.” If so, you have pulled off your very own thirst trap.

When Your Therapist is Facebook Friends With Your Ex.

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“I saw that….my ex is….friends with you on Facebook.”

It felt like I was drunk and had to make extra effort to enunciate. I had to pause twice to catch my breath. I felt my heartbeat reverberate throughout my entire body and my eyes stayed fixated on the box of tissues in front of me. All my weight sank further into the couch the longer the silence dragged out.

“Well, I can imagine how difficult and jarring it must have been to see that. But…I’m actually curious if I know her now.”

I told her my ex regularly engaged with her posts, and she thought she had a clue as to who it was. She was super apologetic and empathetic to how frustrating this was for me. We spent a few minutes rationalizing how this could have happened — my therapist works heavily with young people in the LA music scene, and my ex works in music. It’s admittedly an extremely small scene we have here, you can easily have a handful of mutual friends with virtually anyone. We made it clear that my ex is not and never was a client of hers.

“How do you think we should proceed?” she asked.

 

What We Learned from Staring at Social Media Data for a Year

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Many of our interactions are moving exclusively onto online platforms. As our lives become more tethered to online platforms, we become more vulnerable and emotionally attached to what happens on them.

In other words, what happens to us on the internet does matter, regardless of how it may or may not manifest itself in the real world. Social behavior online often mirrors social behavior offline—except that online, human beings are assisted by powerful tools.

We are also starting to see the emergence of social structures—the formation of “in-crowds” and “out-crowds.” Internet culture is optimized and visually designed to encourage quick and emotional sharing, not thoughtful, nuanced discussions. This means that people are encouraged to jump into the fray based on whatever outrage/joy they feel. There’s little incentive online to slow down, to read beyond headlines, and to take the time to digest before we join our respective ideological crowds in cheering on or expressing our discontent with a certain issue.

Human beings are tribal at their core. It’s easy to follow the urge to fall into groups that affirm our views. Algorithms only steer us further into those corners.