I’m an active social media user — and my boyfriend isn’t. His most recent post on Instagram is almost 3 years old, and we still aren’t friends on Facebook. In fact, after dating for about a year, he still hasn’t followed me on anything.
When we first met, my boyfriend’s suspiciously blank social media profiles threw up an unequivocal, unmistakable, glaring red flag. I’ve dated a number of men who refuse to interact with me online or simply don’t want to be found by me or anyone else because they already have a girlfriend, don’t have any friends, or have a whole entire child they’d rather not tell me about.
It seemed borderline sociopathic that a nearly 30-year-old man working a media-adjacent job would choose to live almost completely off the social media grid. But I liked him, and I eventually determined that he wasn’t a secretly polyamorous faux-feminist or the leader of an underground men’s rights group.
Still, despite our growing connection and closeness, I found it odd that he didn’t seem interested in adding me on Facebook or even liking my photos. I was unnerved and a little hurt that he seemed to want to hide our relationship and connection to each other.
As someone with a mildly slutty internet presence, I wondered if he was embarrassed or ashamed of me. We liked each other, and we spent plenty of time out in public together, so why didn’t he seem interested in being together online?
It was a petty grievance, but relationships don’t exist in a social or cultural vacuum. The internet is real life, and what happens there does affect us individually and socially. As much I cringed at how stupid and unsexy I thought I sounded, I eventually told him that I wanted him to like me on the internet, too.
As it turns out, my boyfriend isn’t ashamed of me or trying to look available online. Instead, like many people who’ve opened Twitter or Instagram only to instantly regret it, scrolling through social media makes him feel really, really terrible.
Studies indicate a strong correlation between social media and feelings of depression and loneliness, and since my boyfriend already lives with depression, spending any amount of time on social media usually just makes him feel worse. He also sometimes experiences severe anxiety and panic attacks, which can be triggered by feelings of inadequacy that result from comparing himself to others online.
Browsing through photos of celebrities or friends with better-looking online lives made him feel like garbage, so he stopped. My boyfriend wasn’t disinterested or actively avoiding me, but instead taking steps to manage his symptoms and practice self-care, which I support.
When we talked about this, he told me how much he values our relationship, that he thinks I look great, and that he’s proud to be dating me. This was all I really needed to hear.
We agreed to keep our relationship social-media-free, which means we don’t interact with each other online, post photos together or discuss our online lives in detail. I don’t visit his social media pages because they’re basically frozen in time, and he rarely visits mine, so most of our conversations and interactions typically happen around offline, in-person experiences. Neither of us feels pressured to engage with each other online because we’re more mindful of our time spent together, though I still love gushing over my partnered friends’ photos.
These aren’t strict boundaries or unbreakable rules, but so far, staying social-media-free feels exciting and incredibly refreshing. I’ve been in many unhealthy relationships with jealous partners who closely monitored my social media pages to keep tabs on where I went and who I spent time with, making me feel like I was constantly being watched. I’ve also gotten into heated conflicts over “racy” posts of mine.
I know my current partner trusts me, and I feel I can finally relax without the pressure to perform an online identity my partner finds “appropriate.” Posting a cute photo with my current partner would certainly feel like a long-awaited “fuck you” to all the exes and non-boyfriends who’ve made me feel unlovable and unwanted, but now that I’m in a healthy relationship built on mutual respect and privacy, maintaining healthy boundaries feels much more productive.
I don’t believe that everyone needs to erase all evidence of their relationships, or that social media is definitively ruining dating, but this way is working for us.
Now that we do have a few photos together, I might eventually decide to post one, but probably not anytime soon — despite having been naked on the internet on more than one occasion, it turns out I prefer some things, like my family and my relationships, to stay personal and private.
I’m in my happiest, healthiest relationship yet, and I still don’t want my boyfriend to follow me online.