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Wednesday, June 07, 2023

Actions will always speak louder than Instagram captions

When people say that dating just isn’t the same as it used to be, they’re right.

Romance isn’t dead — but in a culture shaped by technology it sometimes feels like modern love should come with a handbook — one that can be opened on an iPhone or tablet, of course.

Today’s couples face socially constructed norms that dictate acceptable and annoying social media behavior, and when these norms are violated it can lead to conflicts that were nonexistent 20 years ago.

Social media has the potential to play a role in each stage of a budding relationship. For starters, dating apps give people the odd ability to browse the fish in the sea, then accept or reject a potential partner without actually facing them in person.

Then comes the meet-the-parents-and-grandparents phase, which often occurs for the first time on Facebook when a new person is tagged in our photos and excited messages from friends and family members blow up our notifications.

On Snapchat we’re expected to maintain the messaging streak with the most important people in our lives, which likely includes our romantic partners. On Instagram and Facebook it’s considered normal, and is even expected, for people to post pictures of the person they’re dating. It’s become out-of-the-norm or deviant for someone in a relationship not to share photos of their partner.

On one hand, I think these norms associated with modern dating are par-for-the-course. Posting pictures on Instagram and messaging through Snapchat with our friends and significant others have become mainstream ways of communication and documenting glimpses of our lives. As such, it only makes sense that we’ve created these expectations related to the apps and platforms we use most often.

And, in all honesty, it simply feels good to share happy memories on our profiles. Some psychologists refer to this as the “slot machine effect” — it’s the euphoric, rewarding feeling that stems from positive reactions on a social media post.

That being said, it’s easy to get trapped in the profiles of other couples, and this can pave way for unhealthy social comparisons. According to a recent study in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, young adults who admitted to comparing themselves to others online were more likely to have a weaker sense of themselves and their identities when compared with those who didn’t.

In the study, researchers Chia-chen Yang, Sean Holden and Mollie Carter from the University of Memphis surveyed more than 200 college freshmen and found that in students who compared themselves to others on Instagram had lower levels of overall self-esteem and psycho-emotional wellbeing.

Though social comparisons have always been ingrained in American culture, social media has made it easier to compare ourselves to others and reap negative emotional side effects, especially when it comes to our dating lives.

Older generations didn’t have opportunities to instantly document their relationship statuses with hundreds of their friends. Today, we’re faced with scrolling photo streams showcasing other couples celebrating random milestones with gold-foil balloons and constant posts showcasing the whereabouts of every romantic duo in or out of our social circles.

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With so many opportunities for comparison and a long list of modern-day expectations for people involved in romantic relationships, today’s couples can easily spiral into feelings of doubt or even question their friends’ relationships solely based on their social media posting habits.

But despite how frequently or infrequently one chooses to document their dating lives, what matters most are the stories behind the snaps and the off-camera interactions that make each relationship unique and impossible to capture on a social media profile.

Even in a world infiltrated by cute puns and pictures, the truth is that actions will always speak louder than Instagram captions.

Darcy Schild is a UF journalism junior. Her column focuses on human behavior and sociology.

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