Trouble in the Twitter-sphere?
“He never posts about me; I’m never on his story; why doesn’t he like any of our pictures?”
As a millennial and an avid user of social media, I’ve become all too familiar with this issue, in addition to hearing nearly every one of my female friends complain about it. Instead of taking my usual “give me a freaking break approach,” I decided to assess the situation as a journalist, and not as the easily-pissed off, immediately-soured person I am.
So how does any good journalist search for an answer like this? We Google! (Just kidding, but as my issue involves social media, I deemed search engines an okay place to start) What clouded my results page was grossly alarming.
Personally, I could care less if my significant other posts about me or our relationship on social media, nor am I bothered when they don’t “like” or “share” my posts. I don’t think the kind of love I’m searching for exists in a digital reality or could survive in a virtual medium.
However, I’m fairly certain we all have that one couple on our feeds, the couple who constantly post selfies (or should they be “relfies” – “relationship-selfies?”) of themselves smiling and sipping margaritas they probably didn’t have to pay for, being the waiter took one look at their adorable faces and said, “No charge.” Their status updates are full of quotes from date nights to inside jokes laced with intricate strings of emojis. They post pictures of a perfect relationship, but you can’t help wonder what’s really going on behind locked phone screens.
Serial over-posters may be suffering from unhappiness and dissatisfaction, so they find it easier to emphasize and hype up the positives of their relationship to avoid the harsh reality of the negatives. Couples may be over-posting to mask relationship insecurities as social media is a form of self-validation and acts as reassurance or affirmation of making good choices.
Think about it this way…
You take a picture of your breakfast and post it on Instagram; the likes blow up within a matter of minutes. As the content creator and owner, you recognize the picture of pancakes and bacon is popular among your followers, and the likes reaffirm that was a good choice for breakfast. Now, let’s say the next day you post a slightly less colorful picture of a bowl of oatmeal, and it only musters a measly four likes. Are you more likely to eat and post about the meal again?
No, you’ll eat your gray microwavable oatmeal in silence in your dark kitchen scrolling through stories of your friends’ pages. You’ll set aside Saturday to cook yourself another beautiful plate of breakfast, spend twenty minutes lighting and selecting a background, attaching some cute hashtags and an eloquent caption. Then, you’ll realize you’re not even hungry.
When someone likes your posts, they are reaffirming the choice/choices you make in the photo, such as eating the “right” foods, wearing the “right” clothes or dating the “right” people.
I’m not saying the only reason couples post about each other is to validate how supposedly awesome they are; it’s just one plausible conclusion.
Couples may post incessantly as a sort of reverse mating call, as if to send the message “back off, they’re mine” to potential (or who they perceive to be) romantic threats. Regardless, possessive action is self-centered and driven by insecurity seeking to be satisfied by validation. Furthermore, individuals who post pictures with captions “my man” and “my woman” may be signs of possessiveness.
The Science Behind Likes
When we interact on social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter, the “pleasure” center of our brain is activated. This reward center, or nucleus accumbens, is a small region in the hypothalamus responsible for releasing dopamine neurons once a reward is perceived to be achieved, according to a 2016 SAGE Journal study on social media’s effect on adolescence.
When you win a scholarship, taste something delicious or have great sex, the nucleus accumbens recognizes these activities as rewards and releases dopamine into the body, causing feelings of elation and happiness. Similarly, when someone likes your posts or pictures, stronger activity in the same region has been reported, according to a 2013 Frontiers of Human Neuroscience study.
Research proves it’s no secret we crave social media affirmation in the form of likes, and while this desire may be perceived as seemingly harmless, our incessant need for recognition can be catastrophic to modern relationships.
“Not only is social media such as Facebook changing the way we relate to one another, many are also confusing digital intimacy with true intimacy,” said Dr. Rachel Needle, a psychologist at the Center for Marital and Sexual Health of South Florida.
However, there is a flipside to all of this; social scientists use the term “relationship visibility” to explain the extent to which we make our relationships part of our public personas, according to a 2014 SAGE research article. High relationship visibility correlates to what I referred to above as “serial posting” and can be linked to insecurity, while low relationship correlates to comfortability and feelings of contentment.
Something I find disturbing is the culture forming around social media and relationships, as more privately-owned blogs are placing the blame on women. One post from Women.com titled “You’re Not On His Social Media: There’s a Reason,” suggests a social media blackout could be a sign of cheating and proceeds to break down “his” social media actions platform by platform.
“Check out this list of seven things to look for on your boyfriend’s social media profile that could give you reason to believe you actually have a problem on your hands,” said Gillian Watts in a 2015 Unwritten article.
It’s posts like these that make women possessive and image-obsessed, affirming every sneaking suspicion of infidelity rather than providing a rational counter-argument.
Bottom line – social media is NOT reflective of real life. Your timeline is a carefully-crafted, meticulously-curated collection of your “best” moments, not an accurate representation of your life on the daily. I’m just assuming most of you don’t post every accidental fart, bad test grade, intense argument or awkward sexual encounter you’ve had.
In the end, no relationship is as perfect as it’s portrayed on Instagram.