If there’s one thing people love to blame their problems on, it’s social media. Social media makes us bad at holding conversations or paying attention to our partners. Social media makes us spill our dating drama and constantly compare ourselves to other couples. But the thing is, an app on its own – while arguably addicting – is neutral. It can’t “make” you do anything.
Still, opening up Instagram all the time and being bombarded with positive images of everyone else’s lives can make you feel like the app is designed solely to make you insecure about yourself and your own relationship. “Blaming it on the technology means you don’t have to exercise self-control,” says Dr. Pamela Rutledge, Director at the Media Psychology Research Center. The thing is, being on Instagram isn’t too different from being at a high school reunion, where everyone mingles and boasts about their accomplishments, all attempting to do it tastefully. “We think with social media that there are all these new rules, but if you take out the word ‘social media’ and describe behaviors, it’s much easier to see what’s going on,” says Rutledge.
When it comes to relationships, it’s easy for not-great habits to become even more glaringly obvious with Instagram. Here are nine Instagram mistakes couples should look out for:
1. Constantly posting about each other.
Everyone is annoyed by at least one couple who almost exclusively posts about their relationship and nothing else. “Instagram is not about person-to-person communication – it’s about person-to-world communication,” says Dr. Rutledge. “Evidence suggests that people who overshare romantic relationships end up with their friends feeling less friendly toward them.” It comes off like you don’t care about anything else but your partner, which can definitely alienate your friends.
If you just got a boyfriend, or engaged, or married, or traveled somewhere cool together, people will probably smash that like button. But couple selfie after couple selfie and nothing else will likely make your followers drop off, either from boredom or annoyance.
2. Writing long, gushy paragraphs under your #MCM post.
Publicly going on and on about how great your partner is and how in love you are can be a sign of anxious attachment, where you want the relationship to remain highly visible so that it feels extra solid and un-breakup-able. But also, again, it can be really irritating to the people who have to tune into a fresh #MCM essay every week.
“It would be exactly the same thing as if you went to hang out with people and all they did was talk about each other and didn’t include you in anything,” says Dr. Rutledge. “Social media is a conversation. It’s putting something out there that other people care about.”
3. Storying everything you ever do together.
Even if you’re going out and doing fun things together, both of you whipping out your phones so you can put up your own 12-part stories of the same dinner can mean trouble down the line. Simply put: if you’re both in the habit of being on Instagram the whole time you’re on a date, you’re not actually talking to each other or connecting in a real way.
“If you’re in a one-on-one situation and you’re using a device to avoid a one-on-one situation, that indicates a problem,” says Dr. Rutledge. “It’s like going to a bar and watching the game every time.” It’s chill to take out your phone for a quick gram, but if the next 45 minutes are you both trying to think of captions, you’ll miss out on so much.
4. Only one of you being on Instagram during the date.
The only thing worse than both being on your phones and not talking to each other is just one of you being on Instagram. “If you’re watching a movie together and one of you is flipping through Instagram while the other person is viewing the movie as a shared activity, then the fact that [their partner] is using their phone is going to feel abandoning,” says Dr. Rutledge. “Giving someone your attention is the foundation of intimacy.”
TBH, this is a normal problem – we’ve all been there where we realize our partner was saying something important when we were too entranced by hedgehog videos to notice. The key is to talk about it and set ground rules about when you actually put your phone away.
5. One of you never posts photos together.
I personally never trust a guy who has zero photos of him and his girlfriend together while she’s tagged him in countless couple selfies. It’s suss as hell for him to gram his grainy IPA bottle and never his partner – isn’t he more proud to date her than eat nachos on his couch? But there might be a reason for that reluctance: “People with avoidant attachments styles are less likely to want to share their romantic relationships online,” says Dr. Rutledge. “If intimacy and closeness are sometimes a challenge in a relationship, why would you want to post about it online?
Of course, labeling every man as an avoidant personality for not gramming you can be a bit much, especially if he could actually just be really shy. “A partner who doesn’t want to post a relationship in spite of prolific posting of other things may be be an introvert and uncomfortable posting about intimate things,” adds Dr. Rutledge. “The rule is this: if it bothers you, have a nonjudgmental and non-emotional conversation to understand why.”
6. Never leaving each other cute comments or DMing each other.
Similarly, knowing your partner is *always* on Insta but never DMs you a funny meme or likes your photos can feel like you’re being subtly rejected, though it feels silly to make a fuss over not getting any heart-eyes emojis under your selfie.
But you’re entitled to feel a lil weird about it! “There’s a conversation needing to happen there,” advises Dr. Rutledge. “That’s the same as going to a party with a bunch of other people around you and ignoring your partner. We view attention as value and regard, so if you’re not giving that to someone who you say matters to you, then that’s a problem.” It just makes you wonder: what is your partner even doing on Insta if they never think to interact with you on it at all?
7. Leaving up photos of your ex.
Dating when you still have photos up of an ex (who you’re not still friends with) can become unnecessarily complicated because people WILL wonder why you kept the pics. “You can’t control how anyone interprets anything online, which is why, when you’re posting publicly, you have to think about the receiver, not about yourself,” says Dr. Rutledge. “It’s much more likely that people will assume you’re still going out with someone or haven’t gotten over them if your page is littered with images of another person.”
If it was a mutual, we’re-better-as-friends kind of breakup, that can always be explained to your partner. But still having photos together with an ex you don’t like simply because you were embarrassed by the breakup at the time or didn’t want to look hurt will ultimately haunt you.
8. Consistently lurking on your ex’s stories.
For starters: this isn’t shaming anyone who looks at their exes’ stories or feeds. We’ve all been there, drunk at 1AM and wanting to know if the guy who dumped us three years ago might be broadcasting a lame Friday night that makes you even happier you broke up. “It’s a natural instinct to support our own self-esteem – we don’t want to feel that we were not good enough,” says Dr. Rutledge. “So in some ways, people can be doing this to look for confirmation that they’re not missing out on something.
Of course, most people only gram the brag-worthy things that happen to them, so it’s easy to fall into resentment when you see your ex vacationing with someone new, even if you’re digging your own relationship.”It’s important to remember that you’re not looking at real life and if you start comparing yourself, other than just satisfying curiosity, and it’s dampening your mood, that’s when you pull the plug,” says Rutledge.
9. Silently judging each other’s Insta activity.
Sometimes, though, what seems like a “mistake” just boils down to a misunderstanding between two people. For instance, some people don’t mind if their partner likes photos of bikini-clad Kardashian; others are put off by it. The problem starts when you each do things on Instagram that ruffle the other person but never address it.
“The real crux of this is that relationships take two people and therefore, being honest and upfront about posting styles in a relationship is important,” says Dr. Rutledge. “If your boyfriend ‘likes’ a picture of an attractive girl, do you feel jealous? Does your boyfriend view your selfies as looking for other guys, intimating that he is ‘not enough?’ Is there a way to find out if your posting bugs your significant other? Yes. Ask.”
Whether it’s comforting or not, the truth is that social media alone can’t ruin your relationship or make all your friends roll their eyes at your incessant humblebragging. Only you can do that.