Slaves to the Algorithm
Three couples discuss managing their relationships in the digital era.
Let’s face it: relationships can be complicated. Numerous factors contribute to a couple making it or breaking it. And while finances have been known to be a key factor, there’s a new player in the game: social media. From salacious sexual imagery to the pressures of posting your spouse online, it can be tricky trying to navigate the social stratosphere—even with the best of intentions.
So, what are the rules for relationships and social media? How are relationships surviving technology (or not)? We talked with three couples (one who asked to remain anonymous) to find out how they do it.
Martin and Gina (names have been changed to protect privacy)
Martin is a successful software engineer and recreational DJ. Gina is an accomplished attorney for a popular global streaming service. The couple are married and reside together in NY. Most active on: Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn Time spent on social media: one to three hours per day.
Lee and Jenn
Lee is an established community liaison for New York City Mayor DeBlasio’s Vision Zero Initiative. Jenn is a championship-winning coach in the health, fitness and athletics industry. The couple is married and reside together with their two daughters in Queens.
Most active on: Instagram
Time spent on social media: Lee, more than half of the day; Jenn, an hour or less per day
Tang and Portia
Tang is a retired football player turned project manager and entrepreneur. Portia is an experienced investment banker. They are not married but are in a committed, monogamous relationship. They reside separately in Toronto.
Most active on: Instagram, Facebook
Time spent on social media: Tang, active throughout the day; Portia, several times a day. –Linda Day
How do you use social media?
Martin: I find Twitter best for ongoing discourse with friends and professional colleagues. As a DJ, Instagram, being a visual platform, works best for growing my brand and my fan base and promoting events that I do. I also give folks a peak into different facets of my life. If you were to peruse my account, you’d see that I’m a techie, a foodie, a travel enthusiast and an all-around fun person who likes to motivate others. As for LinkedIn, I primarily use it for growing my professional network. Through my connections on LinkedIn, I’ve gotten job offers, built teams and met amazing people who have played key roles in my own professional growth. There’s overlap in all three audiences, but for me, it’s important to set a different tone on each platform.
Gina: I am most active on Instagram.
Jenn: I have Instagram and Facebook, but I’m mostly on Instagram. I like the platform better, and you can find things and follow friends easier on here. I also like the stories better. I am a visual person, so photos engage me, and then if I am interested, I read about it. I find Facebook too wordy and a lot to navigate. Great if you want to be a part of a group, but for everyday entertainment, I prefer Instagram.
Lee: I use Facebook and Instagram, but I am most active on Instagram. I believe it is user friendly for one, and it is very entertaining and more popular than other social media.
Tang: I use Instagram and Facebook but spend most of my time on IG for my business because of the demographic and instant engagement.
Portia: I have Facebook to stay connected to friends and family. I don’t have Twitter or Instagram.
Have you felt or do you currently feel pressure from your spouse to post them on your platforms?
Martin: We don’t. We accept social media for what it is and lead pretty private lives. Though we use it for different purposes—her, to stay connected with friends and me, also for self promotion and professional networking—we’re conscientious about representing each other respectfully, and we confer with each other before posting something that is about the other person
or both of us.
Jenn: Not at all, although I am sure he has felt pressure from me.
Lee: I haven’t felt pressure, but I post my wife to share my happiness with my family and friends. The majority of my followers and friends tend to be people I actually know. So it makes posting each other so much more fun, when you know the
people who are viewing are genuinely happy to see and like your posts.
Tang: No, I don’t.
Portia: Yes, I do. I’m private and petty because he hasn’t posted us as a couple. Even though he does post me, from the outside in, it looks more like a professional relationship than it does personal (if you don’t know us). I don’t want to be “that” person that has him all over my page as a couple, and on his page, I look like just another person he’s working with.
How does social media affect your relationship if at all?
Martin and Gina: We live in an always-connected world today, which means “disconnecting” is your responsibility. Social media usage can easily negatively impact a relationship if you don’t set boundaries or at least have a discussion with your partner about acceptable usage. Notifications could be triggers. A late-night DM may be inappropriate. Liking an image may cause a problem. Posting something or being in a post with someone may cause a rift because things like those may be innocent when taken at face value but be problematic when context is applied. It’s all nuanced, and it’s important to have those conversations with your partner, because what is okay for one couple may not be for another. We’ve had conversations about some of my posts, and if it’s something I (Martin) need to remove or simply not post in a similar vein again, I act accordingly. Ultimately, communication with your partner is key.
Jenn and Lee: It doesn’t affect our marriage at all, but we do feel we spend more time in front of one another on our phones than talking to each other.
Tang: I think my lady takes it overboard because she doesn’t have IG and at times doesn’t understand when I need to engage with others to promote my brand.
Do people “slide in the DMs” despite knowing you’re in a relationship?
Jenn: Not to me, but I am sure to my husband, which is mad shady when they know he has a wife.
Lee: I’ve had females slide into my DMs before, but never on
anything disrespectful. It’s mainly compliments that I believe they didn’t want anyone to see that can make people get the
wrong idea. And which I totally get for the most part.
Martin: It’s happened, particularly on Instagram. My profile is public. People can scroll back and see what my life’s about. People see what they want to see, though, so it’s my responsibility to set that boundary.
Tang: Random women that don’t know I’m in a relationship do. But not those that know I’m in a relationship.
What rules do you have that ensure social media doesn’t affect you and your relationship in real life?
Martin and Gina: One simple rule: put her first. If she’s
always top of mind, I’ll represent myself and her with dignity. If there’s a gray area, we’ll likely have a conversation about it to know where we stand.
Jenn and Lee: We don’t really have any “written” rules but, for sure, an understanding over the years. When we first met, we were both on MySpace. When we became a couple, I asked him to take down all the pictures of Meagan Good he had all over his page. Then I had to be No. 1 on his friend list.
That public status was important back then. Now, it’s pretty
simple. If either one of us does not like a post, we tell each
other and we take it down or change it. I think an obvious rule is not to post things that are disrespectful to ourselves, each other or our relationship. I can say when my husband does post about me or us, and writes a beautiful or profound message, it makes me love him more. I do get upset when I post about him or post something good, and he doesn’t write a comment. You want that stamp of approval, recognition or attention from your man more than anyone else. Other people can see who comments, so if the world is expressing how amazing something is, the absence of your partner’s voice is loud—both to you and to others. I know it sounds crazy to say, but when a man takes time to write a beautiful message and expresses it to the world or just a comment
about something you are doing, it means a lot to a woman.
Tang and Portia: We keep social media separate from reality. Social media can be a façade, and a person shouldn’t let social media fame get to their head, because they may not be viewed that way in reality.
What advice would you give someone who may be struggling with balancing their relationship amid social media attention/popularity?
Martin and Gina: It’s important to stay grounded and don’t live for social media, but use it as a tool to fulfill some purpose, whether it’s staying in touch with friends, growing your network or promoting a business venture. Whatever your reason, my belief is that you’re controlled by anything you’re not in control of, so don’t let that dopamine hit from likes and engagement cause you to lose sight of or devalue what’s most important to you. Among other problems, social media—especially more visually stimulating platforms like Instagram—can easily spike insecurities, and your use or misuse of it may exacerbate the problems that arise. If you can’t control it, get off it if your relationship is more important to you. Maybe the solution is having someone else manage your social media presence on your behalf.
Tang and Portia: We would tell them to remember that social media is just a platform to interact with people. Nothing more, nothing less. This world is very fickle. People will love you one minute, then hate you the next. But the people in your life that are by your side day-in and -out are the ones that should matter the most.
Lee and Jenn: For one, I do not envy young people today. I do not know how I would have managed dating during this social media time. This is just an entertainment/business platform. It is a tool that one should not get caught up or too obsessed in. If you are using it for personal use, which most of us do, pay attention to your partner more than your phone. If you are posting about each other, it should be consistent and positive. Have open conversations about what is acceptable and interact with social media as you would want your partner to. If you have people sliding up in your DMs, imagine how you would feel if your partner was engaging in that. Don’t do it, or stop it if it is done to you. Social media can break a couple up. I’ve seen it happen before.