Years ago, the first thing a person did after officially entering into a relationship was run to Facebook and declare their relationship status via a drop-down menu. Facebook’s relationship status indicator was one of social network’s first features and it quickly became iconic.
It was a way to broadcast breakups, make ups, and blossoming love. Before we had Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and even before Facebook had photos, it provided a window into people’s personal lives that had been previously been hidden.
But in 2017, the Facebook relationship status is dead and if you really want the world to know someone has stolen your heart there’s only one way to go: make it Instagram official.
Going Instagram official means posting a photo of you and your significant other, generally looking casual yet cute, to your Instagram page accompanied by a somewhat ambiguous caption or series of emoji. It’s a way of declaring to the world, yes, we are dating.
“I love lurking on people’s Instagram official posts,” said Jamie, an advertising manager in Brooklyn. “The captions are so casual even though they know it’s a grand opening.”
Daniel, a growth hacker in New York saw one of these photos on his friend’s timeline recently he immediately knew what it meant. The photo in question featured two of his friends, smiling together, and a caption with three heart emojis and the words “one for each month.” “I dmed her and was like y’all have been dating? And they were like, sorta but now we’re Insta official,” he said.
Kristin, an apparel sales director in New York went Instagram official shortly after she and her boyfriend had the relationship talk. She posted a picture of the two of them together to her timeline and right away, people knew. “I felt like it was a nice way to show my friends and followers that we were a couple instead of just having some guy show up in my posts with increasing frequency,” she said.
She said that had she not gone official people would sort of just notice this random guy in more of her pics and be left guessing or making assumptions. “This way, I was making it clear that this life event has happened. Plus he’s really hot so I wanted to show him off!” she said.
It’s not just women who take part. Jim, a writer in Boston went Instagram official with his girlfriend last week, albeit somewhat unintentionally. Shortly after having the boyfriend/girlfriend “talk” he posted a photo of the two of them together with their arms around each other laughing to his Instagram. His girlfriend’s social network immediately blew up with the news and people sent messages saying to the two saying they were happy for them.
Jim didn’t ask his girlfriend first, and you certainly don’t have to. “After the act I thought wow, that was sort of a bold aggressive move,” he said. “But I was bored and missed her and was on insta looking at all the photos we took that weekend and I liked that one.”
Going Instagram official “was how I introduced my boyfriend into my life,” said Ellie, a communications coordinator in Washington D.C.. “It didn’t matter that we had been talking for like seven months before, that was when we became official.”
Going Instagram official can also be a good way shut down speculation about a relationship or avoid awkward conversations.
Michael, a video producer in New York went Instagram official shortly after he began dating his coworker because “I wanted to stop having to answer questions if we were dating or not. I’m notoriously terrible about talking about my relationships with anyone (probably has to do with being raised in a culture of shame and all my relationships prior to being an out gay adult were secret). So I basically just did it so I could go back to not talking about my relationships with people and just be in one.”
It’s important to note that there’s a hierarchy in social platforms and where you appear in a person’s feeds can say a lot about the status of your relationship.
For instance, putting a guy or girl in your Instagram story doesn’t particularly mean much. “It basically just means I’m hanging out with that person whenever, they don’t really have to mean anything to me,” said Katie, a student in Washington D.C.. “Same for Snapchat, it’s more just like, oh this person happens to be around.”
The permanence of posting something to your Instagram feed as opposed to your story carries more significance. People spend an enormous amount of time and effort curating their public facing Instagram presence and each photo is highly thought out. There’s also more limited space, so posting there is seen as more intentional.
As for Facebook? “I would never post pics of anyone I liked on Facebook, that would be weird,” she said. “Maybe in an album.”
Normally, by the time a couple goes Instagram official, friends, followers, and keen observers have seen the writing on the wall for a while.
The first inkling of a relationship generally includes sub-gramming. This entails posting photos of places and things that you both have referenced or talked about together, but not explicitly visited together.
For instance, a woman might subgram a photo of a park her and her crush recently visited or an ice cream shop they both like. “After we followed each other back on Instagram I posted pics of stuff that I knew he would like for a while,” Brooke, a student in Virginia said. “He would get the significance but my friends probably thought ‘oh that’s just a cute picture.”
Next, a lot of couples will begin twinstagramming, Instagramming either the same photo or similar photos from the same places. This is usually a tell tale sign that two people are hooking up or at least hanging out a lot. “That’s always a dead giveaway,” said Katie. “Like, oh suddenly you’re both posting different versions of the same museum sculpture and the same show? We know what’s up.”
She said Instagramming in this way feels safer when the relationship is undeclared. “You would never post a photo with just you two in it when you’re just hanging out, that’s so aggressive,” she said. Twinstagramming is a way to document the relationship less overtly.
From here, the relationship either fizzles out or you go official. Once the relationship is on solid ground and a significant other is introduced most couples will integrate regular photos together into their feed, until occasionally, things go south.
Sarah Adler, a Baltimore-based blogger, said. “Going Instagram official is absolutely a thing. It’s also a thing though where third parties can check for deleted pics after a breakup to confirm, snoop, and determine how messy it was.”
She and others said that usually the first sign of a breakup is when a friend’s significant other disappears from their Instagram feed. “It feels awkward because there’s no way to confirm, but you sort of one day notice they’re gone,” said Ally, a student in Maryland.
Unlike Facebook’s relationship status indicator, Instagram has no way to officially declare your singledom. I’ll never forget how cathartic it was to finally declare, via dropdown menu, that I had dumped my college boyfriend and I was once again single. These days, I’d have to delete all trace of him from my feeds and hope that someone would notice.
It’s for this reason and many others that some people still choose to keep their relationships off Instagram or bypass the Instagram official relationship marker.
Kate, a startup director based in New York said, “my boyfriend doesn’t have an Instagram account and even if he did, there’s something about being so public that ruins it for me. I like that my Instagram is much more about a version of me than it is a reflection of my personal life.”
Bianca, a public relations executive in New York agreed. “I like keeping the mystery alive by taking pics with guy friends, but then maybe throw in a pic of someone I may or may not be dating,” she said, “then people don’t know what to assume.”
“The worst is when you take a GREAT pic with someone you’re seeing, but you can’t post it on Instagram because it would ~*mean something*~. And then it will only ever see the light of day if the two of you DO become IG official someday and you can finesse it into a #tbt post. I have so many great photos of myself that will never leave my iPhone because of this. Tragic,” Molly, a writer and editor in New York responded via Facebook.
Though Instagram itself continues to release new features like polls and tagging capabilities, it’s unlikely the app will ever roll out any sort of official relationship status indicator. In the meantime, cuffing season is just beginning and the app’s over 700M daily users will be left to decipher a stream of subgrams, twinstagrams, and official declarations of love. When it comes to love on Instagram: it’s complicated.