Dirt: Posting single
Hide and seek.
Allison Claire on the practice of hiding your partner on social media, even when you share everything else.
Let’s say you’re browsing Instagram. Your friends are out, sharing pictures and stories, and in these you see someone you don’t recognize. Or maybe you’re on Twitter, and a photo of somebody you don’t follow materializes on your timeline. You can see that your friends follow this person, and you decide to do the same, because they are hot.
They follow you back, and when you skim their feed they seem unattached, and you let yourself get excited. When you finally ask a mutual friend what is this person’s deal? they say oh, that guy? That guy’s in a relationship. This comes as a surprise; they post quite often about their apparently active social life, and evidence of a significant other is nonexistent.
There is no formal term for this type of behavior, but for years now, I’ve used the phrase “posting single.” Posting as if you are single, collapsed to an easy shorthand.
We know what attention-seeking behavior looks like online: attractive selfies, posts about or from nights out, posts about wanting some celebrity to do something unmentionable to you. Single people commonly use social media to project the image that they are fun, hot, worthy of romantic consideration. Those in relationships may post similarly, but they also routinely share content about their partners—the internet equivalent of peppering into conversation my boyfriend or my girlfriend with someone who keeps scooting closer to you at the bar.
It is not compulsory, of course, to share information about a romantic relationship, but most people do. There are exceptions: if a man regularly tweets, say, increasingly horrific euphemisms for ejaculate, or about being gay with a male relative, he will never post about you and you don’t want him to. Many women monetize an internet presence—even if just by posting their Venmo on occasion—and the looming specter of a boyfriend can interfere with this. Some people also rely on social media for their careers, and posting a romantic partner could read as unprofessional.
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But when someone broadly and regularly shares intimate life details, excluding a significant other can (to me, as a single person) feel suspect. It is one thing to avoid posting about your personal life entirely; it is another thing to occlude a romantic partner on a public-facing platform. If you’re being conspiratorial, you can say that people post single because they want other people to believe they are single, because they no longer want to be in their current relationship. There is plausible deniability for this, which makes it the lamest kind of deceit. A flaccid betrayal. If the partners of those posting single feel maligned by this behavior, what can they say? That they deserve a post on Instagram, or a tweet? Asking for such is humiliating.
Or maybe these people just don’t want the most intimate parts of their lives to exist on the internet. It is easy to pathologize those who break from unspoken norms, but the internet is rife with pathology as is. Compared to much that’s out there, posting single is innocuous. A private life is worth protecting, after all, from the scrutiny of others. People who post frequently and have amassed large followings often contend with obsessive, entitled lurkers. For less regular users, or those who didn’t come of age with social media, the compulsion to share personal details may simply feel unnecessary and intrusive.
I was born in 1994, though, and I have never known a dating scene in which social media was not a factor. In high school, gossip around new couples included the line, “are they Facebook official?” Updating your Facebook relationship status had fallen out of fashion by the time I reached college, but the basic idea—that posting about your significant other on some social media app establishes weight to the relationship—has stuck around.
If someone posts the object of their affection to the Instagram grid, that’s serious; if they post about their gf or bf on Twitter, that’s serious; if they post a picture of some body part of the person they’re dating to their Instagram [or Snapchat, if you’re younger (I think; I use prescription retinol and thus do not use Snapchat)] story, then that’s a soft launch, which is somewhat serious; and then we have TikTok and Twitch and BeReal and probably something new coming soon, bringing with it more expectations and opportunities for surveillance.
For those who judge (which is everybody), it can be easy to crystallize a full opinion of someone based on a very narrow look into their life. A steady stream of social media content feels like enough to make a call on someone’s character. You run the risk, with every post, of spoiling the fantasy that you are in any way interesting. One bad tweet, or TikTok, or Instagram story, and suddenly somebody who once respected you now finds you stupid, or ugly, or unfunny and dishonest and mean-spirited.
It is worth remembering that assessments we make of virtual strangers are spurious judgments, that social media always involves some level of duplicitousness and deception, that people have their reasons and are not obligated to share them. As social media becomes ever more ubiquitous, it is harder and harder to determine why any of it matters. Endlessly policing the online behavior of other people only serves to make solitary posts more important, more definitive, than they ever should be. Perhaps, then, those who post single have it right: cultivate meaningful relationships in private, where they actually matter; never give the public more than they need to know; and develop an online persona that you can separate from your real life, whatever a so-called real life can look like today. You do not own who you are online. Best to put as little of yourself in it as possible. — Allison Claire
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