The New Dating Requirement: Like My Shit on Instagram
Early on into dating, Tara and her boyfriend had an argument about Facebook.
"My boyfriend posted a photo during the day, and when I saw him later, he was like, 'Did you 'like' it?'" Tara*, 26, told Mic.
Then it happened a few more times. Her boyfriend Keith would casually — but fairly earnestly — ask her if she had seen and "liked" his latest post on social media every night. Eventually, Tara brought it up.
"I said to him, 'Wait, should I 'like' every single thing you post?'" she said. His response: "I mean, yeah?'"
The mandates of relationship maintenance used to be a well-timed compliment here and there, plus anniversary gifts and planned weekly dates. Today, that may also include liking all of their shit on Instagram and Facebook. But the expectations, as with everything else in dating, aren't clear-cut.
Jonesing for the "likes": Though it may seem like a silly request, not endorsing something our significant others posted on social media can have IRL consequences.
That's in no small part because, man, do we like when people like our shit. According to a 2014 survey from Pew Research Center, 16% of men and 17% of women cite getting feedback on what they've posted as one of the big reasons to use Facebook.
In fact, research has shown those small Instagram hearts and mini red flags give us something of a high by boosting oxytocin levels and reducing stress hormones, akin to falling in love. That likely doubly applies when you get a like from someone you're actually in love with.
Those "likes" can be a thrill because they validate our relationship to the world. Scott*, 27, who's in a committed relationship with his partner, craves his boyfriend's endorsement of his social media presence. "Usually it is for a super petty reason, probably because I don't feel like enough people have liked the post," Scott said. "It's also kind of a public display of affection in a weird way, where everyone can see that this person is outwardly liking your shit."
They can also, for better or for worse, be a way of seeking validation of your partner's feelings and respect for you.
Why didn't you "like" me? The problem is that our thirst for likes can become a major relationship buzzkill.
"Just this weekend, I posted a random scene about Shonda Rhimes from the Mindy Project on Instagram," Scott said. "Shonda's name in general is something of an inside joke between us, so the post was 50% directed at my boyfriend specifically. I showed it to him IRL and he laughed. But I'm still waiting on the like."
"If my boyfriend doesn't like a photo of me ... I'm sort of just like, 'What's wrong? Did I not look good?'" Jenny*, 26, told Mic. "I know it's kind of lame, but I've come to expect that he will like all of my stuff. Because, I hope, he likes all of me."
But backseat driving your S.O.'s Facebook likes and encouraging them to fave your tweets right after you post them might be a sign you're trying just a little bit too hard.
"Demanding validation could be indicative of low self-esteem," Martin Graff, a psychology professor at the University of South Wales, who studies social media and romantic relationships, told Mic. "On the other hand, if we are close to our partners and love them, then we give validation unconditionally."
When a "like" can make all the difference: Demanding validation can also mean we aren't getting all of the attention from our partner that we need — and, yeah, a retweet on that DFW quote might make us feel a little bit more secure.
Corrine*, 32, who just had a child with her boyfriend of years, told Mic she was profoundly disappointed when she saw her partner like someone's skateboarding clip on Instagram, even though he hadn't liked any of the photos of their baby's first trip to the beach.
"I found myself trying to bait him into liking the photos by putting up a few more pictures and tagging him," she told Mic. "I was looking for some acknowledgment of all the hard work I was doing at home. Even just a high-five or a pat on the back — especially a public one."
On the flip side, Tara found that after she got over Keith's "liking" expectations of her, his own social media generosity was really sweet.
"I noticed that he is often the first to 'like' any of my Facebook posts... And I have to admit, it's nice seeing that first 'like' there from him — it's like a show of support, from someone I always have in my corner," she said.
Loving without 'liking:' At the end of the day, just because we're dating someone doesn't mean we like their social media presence. Our social feeds, after all, are highly curated — we're not always as witty and urbane as we try to be on Twitter, nor do we have the FOMO-fueled Instagram lives we pretend to have.
"My boyfriend complained that my Facebook posts are agonizingly long and a little too self-indulgent," Christina*, 27, told Mic. "I'm a cartoonist and will sometimes post daily sketches on Instagram along with my thoughts on my process. He hates it and, nope, never 'likes' it."
The key to avoiding petty, Facebook-related fights is to remember what a relationship is really about: the subjects of our photos, not the photos themselves. Our significant others are rarely the same people they present themselves to be on Facebook and Instagram — and thank God for that.
"I've had to get over expecting my boyfriend to 'like' my art," Christina said. "But he shows up to my shows and supported me through art school, so I guess Instagram at the end of the day doesn't actually matter."
For the people still nagging their significant others to "like" their photos of sunsets and feet, it might be time to actually evaluate what you're really looking for with that orange heart.
"One of the things about making a relationship work, is that we have to be relaxed with a partner, therefore our partner should not expect us to 'like' everything we post on social media," Graff said.
"Surely there is more to a relationship than this."
* Names have been changed to allow subjects to speak freely on private matters.