Excluding my high school boyfriend whom I broke up with on the regs because I was bored (and, you know, 16 years old), I’ve had two serious partners. The first hailed from the era of Facebook pokes and the other, just in time so I could subtweet him and worry about him finding out. Of course, that never happened because neither of my long-term partners was as invested in social media as I am. Although they both had Facebook profiles, they never made it over to the ~cool~ kids’ lunch table where we ‘gram and tweet with reckless abandon. So, your SO isn’t on social media, is it really the end of
the world your relationship? In my experience, no, but there are a few other ways this might come up.
When I think about these relationships and then my own with social media, I categorize them in two eras: before the ‘gram (B.G.) and after the Instagram selfie (A.S.). What can I say? Once a Catholic school girl, always a Catholic school girl and hey, now I finally have some referential use for the terms B.C. and A.D. Anyway, B.G. and its resident off-the-grid partner felt a lot less awkward than A.S. if only because Instagram has come to dictate so much of our lives. I mean, being Instafficial is an actual thing now and that certainly wasn’t the case for my first long-term partner and me. We did change our relationship status on Facebook, though.
You see, he wasn’t abhorrently opposed to social media. He had a Facebook account and he humored me with a thumbs up if ever I tagged him under some funny but most likely meaningless video. When Instagram finally surfaced near the end of our relationship, he took a genuine interest in how much I enjoyed the platform. He prided himself on knowing which events in our lives I would deem Insta-worthy and which angles I liked my self-indulgent #travelgrams taken from. #Goals, I know.
It didn’t matter to me that he didn’t have a profile of his own because I respected his decision to limit his social media involvement. It also didn’t hurt that he never shunned my own vaguely obsessive interest in social media. Somewhere in the middle, we were able to accept each other for who we were online and in real life, too.
The truth is this was a much more positive experience than I encountered a few years later. Twitterless and Instagramless much like his predecessor, my next long-term partner approached social media with hesitation and disinterest. And again, I was in no hurry to change his mind or plead my case. I, too, understand the need to reserve certain realms of my life for myself and my inner circle only. If someone chooses to keep it all private, it’s certainly not my place to question them. As a web writer, I’ve encountered my fair share of trolling so even if personal preference weren’t enough to sway me, that sure as hell would be.
The problem, though, wasn’t in our polar opposite data usage but in our failure to carve out space for us as a couple online or offline. I struggled to get to know my partner because of how little he shared in general (in real life, too) and I couldn’t help but wonder if things would be easier if he had a more visible social media presence that I could take my cues from.
I can’t say with certainty that any correlation lied between his online and offline secrecy but I often felt shut out of my own relationship. In fact, in the end, it was my finding out about my partner’s secret life and habits that tore us apart. When I think back now, I wonder why I rely so heavily on social media to provide context for my partners’ lives and if, given my experience, there’s any merit to it. If I had known earlier on that my last partner and I held such different values (not just where social media is concerned but in larger, more urgent matters, too, like politics and substance abuse), would we have avoided each other? Would we have side-stepped a long, messy, and painful breakup? Maybe.
I can’t change the past but I’d like to think that we don’t always have to rely on social media to reveal ourselves to the people closest to us. If I’m being honest, my online self is sometimes furthest from my true IRL self so that probably wouldn’t be a good idea, anyway.
If anything, I’ve learned what social media means to me — where its influence in my life begins and where it ends and how I navigate that within my private relationships. It’s not important whether or not both partners in a relationship have similar social media usage patterns, as long as they are able to share themselves with each other.