There were plenty of Very Bad Things about my college relationship that contributed to its downfall, but if I ever need to put it succinctly, I tell people about the time he made me stand next to him while I uploaded a photo of us so he could remove it from his profile immediately after it went online. It was OK for me to tag him in the photo on my profile, he just didn't want it on his. This was a few months after we starting officially dating, before which he was in a serious relationship that I, ultimately, ended.
I understood. Kind of. He ended his past relationship because he met me, so he didn't want photos of us showing up on his profile that would rub it in the face of his ex, with whom he was still Facebook friends. When pictures of us were taken, he was quick to untag himself on Facebook, only if he was unable to convince the taker to not upload it at all. I saw this as a kind and thoughtful gesture that indicated he put others' feelings before his own. Other people's except, it seemed, mine.
Because how would you feel if your significant other fastidiously ensured there was no trace of you on his public presence? That he didn't like to take photos together, that even any photos you uploaded of just him were swiftly removed, simply because your name was attached to it? Is this something that you're allowed to be upset about time and time again, as I was?
"I think in terms of warning signs, yes," says Jaclyn Cravens-Pickens, an assistant professor and program director at the Addictive Disorders Recovery Studies (ADRS) Program at Texas Tech University. She's also a licensed marriage and family therapy associate whose expertise concerns the influence of technology on relationships.
"I think that today, especially for younger generations, Facebook or social media visibility is something that a lot of people put importance to," she continued. "So, if we're seeing things like refusing to accept friend requests or follow requests on social media, not allowing relationship information to be posted on their page, not having congruent relationship statuses, I think all of these things may end up being a warning sign."
But at the same time, it's not necessarily fair to expect that just because it's important to you means it should be important to your partner. "For the person that's requesting those behaviors, what is it about that refusal that's so upsetting?" Dr. Cravens-Pickens asked. "What kind of meaning are we making about our partner's behavior?"
Because, sometimes, there's an understandable cut-and-dry reason why a partner doesn't allow their relationship to go online. "I worked with a couple at one point where this was really important for the female partner," Dr. Cravens-Pickens remembered. "That they were able to post about their relationship online. She had moved really far away from friends and family and really social media was one of the ways that friends and family were able to keep up with her life."
Her S.O., however, was not down, and this was because he worked a high-security government job that limited what he could put on social media. He didn't just keep quiet about his relationship, but most personal details, including a profile picture, were absent from his profile.
In the case of my ex, when, years into the relationship he still continued to hide our photos, he cited social-media-oversharers as the culprit. I agreed with him that people who boasted heavily about their relationship on Facebook were kind of annoying. I mean, just look at Justin Bieber, who caused a stir after posting multiple photos of himself and rumored girlfriend Sofia Richie on Instagram.
"If you can't handle the hate, then stop posting pictures of your girlfriend," his ex, Selena Gomez, allegedly commented. "It should be special between you two only."
Selena might have a point, since studies, like this one published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, have found that when couples have felt more insecure about their relationships, they tended to make it visible on Facebook. Additionally, a study conducted by Albright College found that couples who were satisfied in their relationships were less likely to share photos and be publicly affectionate on Facebook.
But, as Justin Bieber would say, What Do You Mean? Because, as Dr. Cravens-Pickens points out, while social media may be new, publicly linking yourself to a person definitely is not.
"Couples used to wear their partner's letterman jacket," she said. "Or they would give each other class rings, and when you would see people out in school wearing these items, it was a clear public stance that I have committed to and I am in a relationship with this person."
And just as couples of yore would throw out old notes or burn Polaroid pictures when the romance ended, today's relationships are purged from the internet. I dare you to find one picture of Taylor Swift and Calvin Harris still on their social media pages. Eliminating people from our internet footprints isn't unhealthy, it's just a reimagination of something ex-couples have always done.
"If we had pictures with our partners, we may go through and remove those pictures, or untag photos, take our relationship status down and put it back to single, or remove it completely," Dr. Cravens-Pickens explains. "So I think these aren't new dynamics or things that indicate problematic behavior, I think it's just a different way that we talk about grieving of the relationship and putting closure on that part of our life."
My ex's refusal to allow evidence of our relationship to appear online was indicative of something bigger. "I think for younger generations, being able to commit to the level that we've changed our relationship status, and having a social media presence that's representative of our romantic relationship is taking things to a more committed level," Dr. Cravens-Pickens said.
It seems to be that what you post together is another milestone in its own rite. This isn't true of every modern relationship, and the mutual decision to abstain from posting online is totally OK; the bigger issue isn't about what you do or don't decide to post on social media, it's that you're both on the same page about it. The ultimate demise of my relationship with my ex was that I wanted a commitment that my partner could not give me, and in that sense, neither one of us was in the wrong.
That relationship is long gone, preserved only in the (very limited) photos that still remain on (my) Facebook. I didn't realize how much it had affected me until I went to go visit my most recent partner, who currently lives abroad, for a week. A few days before my flight, he told me he hoped I was ready to take a lot of selfies. I paused.
"You want to take a picture with me?" I asked.
"Yes," he answered. "Why wouldn't I?"
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.