You know what they say, the secret to a long and happy relationship is communication and liking each other's Instagram posts.
Kidding! But, not really. In 2018, when so many relationships start online, doesn't it make sense that maintaining them would also demand some virtual TLC?
"Overall, we look to social media for validation," says Julie Spira, online dating coach and author of The Perils of Cyber-Dating. In most relationships, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, engaging on social media is more important to one person than the other, so whether they've changed their actual Facebook relationship status to 'in a relationship' or not, Spira always tell couples, '"You need to be on the same digital page."
But what should that digital page look like?
Does it depend on how long you've been together? Do the rules change for each social media platform—Instagram versus Facebook versus Snapchat? What if the two of you have drastically different tendencies in terms of what and how often you post? And finally, is consuming each other's #content necessary for the modern-day happily-ever-after?
For answers and advice, we called on the experience of Spira, and a committed couple of the social media age — Mariah Kulak, 23, and Jagger Villalobos, 24 — whose habits fall on opposite ends of the spectrum. (Kulak posts like it's her job — because it is! She's the BRIDES Associate Social Media Manager — while Villalobos "literally posts, like, three times a year tops.")
Below, their thoughts on the exact social media requirements for a healthy relationship these days, plus what they say about couples in real life.
BRIDES: What feels realistic in terms of what partners should expect from one another on social media?
Spira: It depends on your relationship status. All digital connecting— texting, watching stories, posting couple photos, liking, commenting — takes effort. Expecting everything puts too much pressure on a relationship. Pick the one or two most important, but don't ask someone to validate your relationship seven different ways on social. It's a huge time suck and it's exhausting!
Kulak: It's also about personal preference re: what social media you use and how. Jagger doesn't have a Facebook and I barely use mine. We use Snapchat the most. On Instagram, I don't expect him to comment, but I do expect him to like every single one of my pictures.
Villalobos: Even though I never post on my feed, I'm more active with Snapchat and IG stories, and I do look at the people who view them. I always hope to see Mariah's name in the first five and she never fails me.
Kulak: Yeah, if I look at who's viewed my IG story, and he hasn't within an hour, I'll probably text him, "Did you check out my Insta story yet?" (Clarification: not because I want him to keep tabs on me, but more that I want him to tell me the truth if I look like an idiot...) I just want to know what he thinks about my posts because his opinion is the most important.
This may also depend on the person, but do some platforms carry more weight than others?
Spira: Social media isn't a one-size-fits-all formula; everybody looks at it differently. One half of a couple might use a social media for business, and may not want to share a kissing photo from Valentine's Day dinner or a Saturday night dance floor snapshot with their boss or people who work under them. They have a LinkedIn attitude towards Facebook or Instagram that needs to be respected by their partner.
Villalobos: I'd say normally Instagram is more your profile to the world—like, "Hey, public! This is what's going on right now." Snapchat and IG Stories are your profile to your close friends and people you interact with regularly — like, "Hey, friends who actually care about me as a person! What's up? This is what we're doing tonight." Facebook feels like it's becoming less of a thing...
Spira: I've actually noticed that it'll be quite obvious from looking at a couple's IG profiles that they're in a relationship: there's a romantic shot, a sexy shot, a date night shot. Yet, their Facebook pages say "relationship status: single." People don't become "Facebook official" as often anymore, often because somebody feels like they're getting their arm twisted.
So, how do you make sure you're on the same "digital page"?
Spira: You need to have a conversation—offline— about how important social media is to you and your relationship. Talk in specifics. Say, "I love staying connected with you. I love it when we post a photo together. I love it when you look at my IG story. I love us Snapchatting." Then, the question you ask is: "What is your preferred way of communicating so we can both feel good and loved?" Some people just like to be more private. They may prefer showing their attention or affection with texts or DMs.
Villalobos: I know how busy Mariah is, and even though she's working with social media on her phone, it's not like she can do personal stuff while working. So when I see she's even just looked at my IG story, it shows that she cares a lot — to stop what she's doing and check it out real quick.
Kulak: I will also say that Jagger and I DM, like, 25 times a day. They say people slide into your DMs when you're single, but we are constantly blowing each other up. My DMs are still popping even after seven years.
How do you find a middle ground if one partner posts all the time and one never posts?
Villalobos: If you hate posting, just make a point to do it on the really, really good nights for couple photos — Halloween, birthdays, anniversaries. I will definitely post when we get engaged. [Laughs] I promise!
Kulak: I think it's okay to ask your significant other to post a little more often if that makes you happy. What I do is: I'll be scrolling through my pictures and see a good one of Jagger, and encourage him like, "You look great! You should post this."
Villalobos: Subgramming might also be a way to make posts more special and feel less obnoxious. Mariah and I subgram in the sense that our photo captions will just be a random lyric that reminds us of each other.
Kulak: And even though Jagger never posts on his own Instagram, he's responsible for 89 percent of my Instagram pictures.
Villalobos: It's my second job! If you're the one in the relationship who's not posting a lot, just make sure that you are the photographer of all the posts that your partner is posting to make up for it.
Is there a bell curve when it comes to engagement? You might expect more as the relationship becomes more serious, but at some point it's like, "Meh, you put a ring on it; you don't have to respond to every single Snapchat. "
Spira: [Laughs] I do feel like it's a bell curve. Usually one partner — traditionally the man in a heterosexual relationship — loves the chase more and wants to get on the other person's radar by engaging on social media. If a couple is connected but not exclusively dating yet, there's going to be a lot more activity when someone is trying to move that online crush along. That's the digital foreplay.
Kulak: At the beginning of the relationship, I participated more because the love was fresh — and I was younger.
Spira: You see people trying harder to get the relationship. Once people are "official," social media interaction usually levels off at a fairly high level.
Villalobos: The first few years I wanted to post every little thing to show, "Hey, guys! I love my girlfriend so much." But after so long, you find less of a need to do that. Or, the way you do that changes because of a new social media platform popping up – like when I started using Snapchat.
Kulak: Once you've been in a relationship for so long, you realize how unnecessary it is that all of your followers know how much you love someone via a post. You just say it to your person's face.
Spira: You usually see a tapering off of activity either because someone backs off on social media in general, or because somebody decided the other person wasn't "the one for the long haul." For couples who are both active on social media — if your partner is liking other people's posts or viewing other people's stories, and not yours, that's the first sign that your relationship is starting to deteriorate. Similarly, you can judge the your own investment by whether or not you're happy to see something that your partner is doing online. If you're not, then it's time to have a different conversation offline.
Villalobos: With how little I post, Mariah better like it or I know something's up!
Does social media itself cause a lot of couple fights?
Spira: Unfortunately, many couples right now do validate the health of their relationship based on social media activity. It's a big issue. Some people get depressed if they're not getting that constant digital connection. If you feel secure in your relationship, you won't mind if he or she hasn't liked something yet. It's when you're walking on eggshells that you get sad when this person you're involved with isn't liking your posts.
Villalobos: We don't fight about social media per se, but sometimes Mariah's getting ready to post and I'm trying to talk to her and it just goes in one ear and out the other. I'm like, "C'mon! Put the phone down for one second and listen to me."
Kulak: Jagger's a very considerate person and will ask me, "Do you like this picture that I'm going to post?" if I'm in it, and 10/10 times I hate the picture. Hate it. But at times, he'll post it anyways!
Villalobos: [Laughs] The way I see it is that she looks good in all of them, and I only look good in a certain few.
So is posting on social media more about making your partner feel good, or reminding the Internet that you're in a relationship?
Villalobos: It should be a little bit of both, I think. Comments on your significant other's social media are a public announcement like, "Hey, guys! I'm still in this person's life."
Spira: Social media can boost a relationship status as "official," but if somebody feels they have to be connected publicly, then we need to ask why. Why is it so important that the rest of the world, and people you don't even know, see that your relationship is mushy on social media?
Villalobos: If you're having full-out conversations in the comments, confessing your love for everyone to see, it looks so try-hard. It's like, "Why can't he call her and do that?" That kind of stuff will actually make me question your relationship status.
Do social media relationships reveal any truths about the IRL relationship? Anything couples can do to improve both?
Spira: I've found as a dating expert that the more people post about each other and their lovey-dovey dates on social, the less secure they are about the relationship. This over-posting — trying to show that they're this perfect couple when deep down there's one foot out the door — is really very common.
Kulak: I'd tell couples to keep that in mind so you're not comparing your own relationship to a curated one that's full of overcompensating and isn't 100 percent authentic.
Spira: The healthiest relationships are the relationships where you're not just digital pen pals, but where you're building a life and memories together both online and offline.
Villalobos: When I post, Mariah is going to encourage me to post more by liking and commenting. But I don't care too much if she doesn't comment, because I get plenty of comments in person. She'll tell me all the things she likes about the picture the next time I see her.
Kulak: We're not into confessing everything about our relationship on social media — no #ManCrushMonday every single week, or writing novels about each other under every photo. How much you love your significant other shouldn't need to be seen on social media to be known by that person in real life. I don't need to post every single date night photo for Jagger to know I enjoyed our date.
Villalobos: Show the public that you each have your own independent lives, and save your couple posts for those special occasions I mentioned before— or for when you take a really bomb picture together.
Kulak: But that's not to say that liking each other's posts isn't important! Having a significant other means you get a "like" for life.