It has to be said: dating is weird right now. As someone who re-entered the scene after the end of a seven-year relationship this past summer, I can say with full conviction that it is the wild, wild West out here. In particular, the social media etiquette surrounding a new relationship is enough to make even Emily Post’s meticulous head spin. What does it even mean to soft launch a relationship on Instagram? And how does that differ from a hard launch? Does it matter?
Factor in nearly three years of on-again, off-again lockdowns and social distancing and it’s no wonder that people are eager to get back into the dating scene and showcase their newfound love on IG or TikTok. Hey, when you’re happy, it only makes sense to want to share those feelings with the world. But it’s fair to consider when a coy post or two (or a conspicuous couple selfie if that’s more your speed) leans more towards performative rather than being truly authentic to you and your relationship.
As I headed into cuffing season with a new man in my life, I polled my friends (who range from happily married to blissfully unattached) to learn more about the “rules” behind a soft launching or hard launching a partner on social media. But despite their best intentions, the answers were mixed and I felt no closer to understanding how to announce my new relationship without feeling... blatantly obnoxious. More to the point, I worried that I was simply overthinking everything altogether.
Ultimately, it seemed wise to ask a few professionals for some advice about navigating the dating world in the age of social media, and what it really means when (and how) we choose to announce our relationship status to our followers.
Is Sharing Your New Relationship On Social Media Harmful?
Like most aspects of social media, it’s important to be mindful of putting too much stock in what you post, or what the people you follow share. “I’ve seen a lot of people portray their lives on social media trying to attain that perfect ‘It girl’ aesthetic, which can be really damaging to the relationship you have with others,” says Christina Cipriani, a dating and relationship coach based in Seattle. “A lot of my clients tell me they are comparing their lives and relationships to those they see online, which can create a lot of resentment within their relationships.”
But what if you’re in the throes of a new love and can’t wait to give your friends (and yes, sure, your followers) a peek behind the scenes?
First, it’s time to chat with your new boo about what their comfort level is around Instagram or TikTok. As Keriann Long, a licensed marriage and family therapist and dating and relationship coach, explains, “If you want to have a healthy and happy relationship, it’s helpful to communicate about the boundaries for social media use in your relationship. What is going to feel comfortable and right will vary from person to person.”
Remember, for as commonplace as broadcasting your personal life online might seem to you, your partner might not put as much weight on the choice to either hard or soft launch. “Everyone is going to have different preferences for how they want to share their relationship on social media, and they have a right to that,” says Long. “Categorizing [a hard launch versus soft launch] seems neutral to me. What is most important is that the people in the relationship are able to communicate with each other about what they would like to share publicly about the relationship, and what they would like to keep private.” When in doubt, always talk to whomever you are dating about what you envision and truly listen to their response.
Living In The Age Of A Hard Launch Vs. Soft Launch
So, you’ve got the green light from your sweetie to post (and maybe tag, gasp!) them on your social channels — turns out there’s something of a modern code of conduct around that as well. “I can see why people would want to ‘soft launch’ their relationship on social media,” says Long. “In the early stage of a relationship, you are not entirely sure of how your relationship is going to go, so it is less vulnerable to hint at your relationship than it is to fully share it.” She goes on to explain that the connotation of a soft launch might be that you want to suggest that you’re seeing someone, whereas a ‘hard launch’ might have a different level of status associated with a partner. “[A hard launch] sends a message to others that both of you are now taken, if your relationship is monogamous.”
Obviously, there is a bit more drama to a soft launch, which even the experts can admit to enjoying. “As a social media consumer, I love the mystery behind the relationship soft launch,” says modern dating coach Alexis Germany. “If it’s done well, it’s fun to discuss and wonder when we will get the full reveal.” She does add, however, that soft launching can be a way of not fully committing.
There is more of a sense of safety when it comes to keeping your new boo slightly hidden. Says Cipriani, “I personally think soft launching is people’s way of protecting their heart while at the same time wanting to tell the world that they are seeing someone. I think hard launching is when people finally feel safe and secure in their relationship and are ready to make things official. We do a lot of things online for comments, attention, and likes.” It’s important to examine if sharing that photo or video is more for your personal brand as opposed to celebrating your relationship. Still, “if soft launching makes you happy go for it,” adds Ciprini. “If hard launching brings you joy, I also fully support it.”
To Launch On Social Media Or Not At All?
The rules surrounding these different types of social media reveals can feel arbitrary in the grander scheme of your new relationship, but Germany explains that it does prompt a valuable conversation to have when you’re dating someone new. “I don’t think there needs to be a rule set in stone about when to reveal your relationship on social media,” she says, “but not being on the same page with your partner can lead to resentment and other issues down the line.”
But if someone shies away from sharing anything online? That can have certain connotations in our digital-native world as well. “It’s important to be comfortable with sharing your relationship with the world,” says Germany. “If someone has social media and refuses to share their relationship at all and keep everything private, there is a problem. It invites mistrust and can even cause insecurity in your partner.”
According to writer and branded content director Maria Del Russo, her past experiences with social media and dating informed her approach with her newest partner. “As someone who had been perpetually single and dating for most of my 20s, I got in the habit of being a little sneaky about my relationships on social media,” she says. “Right before Ben [my current boyfriend], I had been dating someone semi-casually for three months, but if you'd seen my social media, you'd have never guessed. With Ben, avoiding the ‘soft launch’ and waiting to be ready to ‘hard launch’ was less about fear over it not working out and more about protecting the bubble we’d created. I was eventually forced into a hard launch because we went to Italy together three months into our relationship and it was going to be hard to hide him at that point.”
Del Russo adds that she doesn’t view the connection between social media and dating as some web of rules; rather, “what matters most is that you and your partner are on the same page in real life, not online. [Now] I'm just trying to go with my gut and not overthink the process so much.”
Ultimately, clarifying where you stand in your relationship should always be priority number one, much more so than deciding which cute selfie to post on your respective grids. Once that’s established and you’ve determined how much you’ll reveal about your new relationship to the world (I landed on a tasteful “medium launch” for the record, with a slideshow of individual photos of myself and my partner), you can enjoy the much more tangible, and enjoyable, aspects of being part of a couple.