‘Hubby made me breakfast in bed!’ (Accompanied by #marriedlife and a photo of said breakfast.)
We’ve all seen posts like this. Many of us have done the social media PDA thing and thought little of it. But what are we really trying to convey when we do and what effects does it have on those in our online vicinity?
Arguably, people who post things about their partners aren’t trying to convey a particular message at all. Many of us are so accustomed to sharing bits and pieces of our lives online that it becomes an entrenched, unthinking habit. Graduate? Post a graduation shot and watch the likes roll in. Wearing a cute new outfit? Post a selfie. Sitting at home on the couch? Snapchat a story about it. Sharing things about our partner simply becomes part and parcel of this unselfconscious sharing process.
The phenomena of making ‘announcements’ about our personal lives covers anything from a new job to a new car to a new handbag, but it’s particularly interesting to see how Muslims announce their relationships online. Because so many relationships remain undercover until the engagement, it can come as a complete surprise to many when a friend (i.e. some person we met once at a party) updates their relationship status to ‘Engaged’. (It’s rare that Muslims will update their status to ‘In a relationship’, given the ambiguity this seems to carry, but I’ve often thought that if Facebook had a ‘in-a-secret-getting-to-know-thing’ option, we’d be all over it.)
Many people post little hints before the actual exchange of rings, but we seem to be used to people announcing their engagements or even marriages with little to no preamble.
A person’s posts about their partner often reflect the stages of the relationship as it progresses. Initially, there’s a lot of wonder, gratitude and general all-around mushiness. Love hearts and emojis will be thrown around willy-nilly. ‘Alhamdulillahs’ and ‘MashaAllahs’ will abound. Photos will often be high in volume and may be sweet and cutesy to the point of tooth decay. Once the wedding is over, wedding shots will be circulated for months to come, often with neat little hashtags to remind everyone that it’s been #threemonths.
But soon enough, these posts will decrease in their frequency and ones which are shared will begin to exhibit a quirkier, slightly irritating side to their partner, like them leaving their socks on the dining table or making a witty wisecrack at their other half’s expense.
And then there are those who remain completely undercover. No photos will be posted and no relationship statuses will be updated, leaving the general online populace slightly confused as to whether a wedding has actually taken place. For those who use their social media presence as a political/intellectual/da’wah tool, this lack of personal updates seems fairly standard. But their online silence regarding their partner arguably leaves room for potential misunderstandings and mishaps.
Some would argue that we have a responsibility to ensure that people know we are well and truly ‘off the market’, and that if our social media presence is silent on this issue, people may get the wrong idea. Is this person engaged, married, divorced or a unicorn? No one really knows.
Another issue to consider is the effect posting lovey dovey things about a partner may have on those who are struggling to find one. Frequently, we think about this from the perspective of attracting envy and the evil eye, but it’s also important to consider that the negative aspects of relationships are very rarely displayed. It’s easy to forget this when our newsfeeds are groaning under the weight of cutesy couple photos, but all relationships have their hidden struggles and disappointments, ones which aren’t easily packaged for social consumption.
The stories of sorrow behind the anniversary posts and the perfectly captured holiday shots are all too easy to miss, to the point where people even begin to compare their very real, flawed relationships to people’s heavily edited Facebook relationships.
How, when and why we share things about our relationships still seems to be somewhat unclear. As with any of the things we share, there’s no real ‘need’ to do so, but there’s also nothing inherently wrong with expressing joy and gratitude for our blessings. In fact, if we weren’t able to do so on social media, it’d be a pretty bleak, boring and meme-ridden space.
Family and friends all over the world can be connected to celebrations and even people they’ve never physically met, and this can only be a beautiful thing. But it’s also important to think carefully about the way in which we depict our relationships and how this may feed into a general culture of gratuitous, narcissistic oversharing. We don’t need to tell all 500 of our followers every time our partner buys us a chocolate muffin; we can just thank them personally and tuck right in.
Zeynab is an Australian lawyer, social inquirer, traveller and chronic human observer. She created Love Haqtually as a space for Muslims (and anyone interested) to discuss relationships, love, the weirdness of being a Muslim in the 21st century.