Every year on Valentine’s Day, it seems like everyone I know posts the gifts they received from their loved ones all over their social media platforms. There are those in relationships posting photos of them with their partner, a bouquet of flowers or a box of chocolate-covered strawberries decorated in pink and red. Then there are the more cynical people — those that post comments on couple’s posts with things like “getting in the bath with a toaster now,” or “sticking a fork in an outlet, be right back.” You know, the ones with a darker sense of humor. There is also the subtler version of these people, like those that post when their mothers are the only ones to send them flowers or buy them chocolate. At first glance, you think these people aren’t really bothered, until you read the caption about how their mother is going to be the only one to ever truly love them. Truthfully, I loved it when I only received Valentine’s Day gifts from my mother, because I thought it took the pressure off. Lastly, I think there are some people who truly are unbothered by the whole spectacle of Valentine’s Day. Whether in a relationship or alone, some people just like to keep the day more personal and low-key. I think I would fit into this category. But, upon thinking of the many different ways people respond to Valentine’s Day, I found myself curious as to why people choose to post on social media. I wondered, is posting on social media a way to prove you’re in love, and are you really in love in the first place?
The Rusbult relationship investment model describes that relationships are sustained in a variety of ways. One way of continuing one’s relationship is by publicly committing to the other person. In the past, people have demonstrated that they were committed to someone through wearing engagement or wedding rings, by being publicly affectionate or by holding celebratory functions when milestones in the relationship had been reached. Today, these behaviors are still common, but they are frequently shown on the internet instead of in person. While the Rusbult investment model was created before social media became so widely used, it explains why people would turn to social media to show off their relationships. Additionally, self-reports have shown that those who choose to display their relationship publicly are greatly satisfied with their relationship and consider themselves to be more in love. Perhaps this is why people post so frequently on a holiday that is meant to allow them to express their affection for one another. Mainly, it seems that social media is now the way that people show their devotion for a single person, and that Valentine’s Day is the perfect opportunity to do this.
Others, however, do not see posting their relationships on social media as beneficial to oneself and their relationship. Specifically, some argue that posting pictures of one’s partner can cause more trauma if a relationship ends. After all, people in a relationship must decide what to do with their photos after a breakup. On the one hand, someone can delete or archive their posts, which hide pictures from one’s profile without fully deleting them. However, this process can feel like going through a breakup again, as one must relive their experiences with their previous partner. On the other hand, those who decide to keep their pictures up face the fear of judgment from people who know they are no longer in a relationship. In this way, the decision of what to do with pictures can make a breakup even harder and more stressful. In this situation, people worry about offending their previous partner by deleting photos with them, or looking desperate by keeping them up. Therefore, it’s a lose-lose situation. To add to this, if one isn’t posting their relationship for this reason, they are assuming it will fail.
The difficult aspect of not posting about one’s relationship at all is also the potential criticism from friends and family, who constantly question whether or not one is in a relationship. This leads to interrogations about whether or not someone is dating, why they are secretive about their love life and whether or not they will be single forever. This can cause added pressure and make someone question the validity of their relationship if they are in one. It can make people wonder if their relationship is only legitimate if it’s posted on social media for all to see. Specifically, Northwestern University Ph.D. candidate Lydia Emery claims those that post even subtle reminders that they are in a relationship are perceived as being “more satisfied and committed to their relationships.” In addition to this, psychotherapist Rachel Sussman believes that refraining from posting about one’s relationship could represent one’s issues with attachment or fear that something bad will happen. So, perhaps not posting about one’s relationship at all can mean something deeper, more personal and more problematic.
Personally, I have never been in a relationship, but I don’t think that I would be someone who is constantly posting pictures of it if I had. This has to do with the fact that I am largely more private about relationships and like being in the moment more than worrying about capturing the perfect photo or writing the best caption. However, I don’t see anything wrong with posting about one’s partner either if it makes both people happy. I find that social media can be a great place to share certain aspects of life, but that it never truly shows everything. For this reason, it is important to remember that even if people are posting the most romanticized versions of relationships, they have dark times, too. So, just because your social media might have been filled with photos of happy couples on Valentine’s Day, it doesn’t mean they are perfect.
Kathleen Lion is a senior majoring in history.