On Social Media, Love Is In The Eye Of The Poster

Feb 14, 2020

Today is Valentine’s Day, which means your social media feeds are likely flushed with saccharine sentiments from couples who are SUPER IN LOVE. Or are they?

Kerie Trimble, also known by her stage name Eden Ivey, is a frequent user of social media, which she uses to both promote her work as a burlesque performer, and to share about her personal life.

Trimble says she used to get a lot of unsolicited male attention on social media. But after she got married and posted pictures of her wedding on Facebook and Instagram, much of this correspondence stopped. She’s OK with that. 

Photo from Kerie Trimble's Instagram.
Credit Kerie Trimble

“I’m very happy in our relationship and our marriage,” she said. The photos had an impact of relaying a message, she says: “I’m taken, please leave me alone.”

It’s a message that many people in relationships put out into the world.

“We found that people who were very motivated to protect their relationship were more likely to engage in these dyadic displays online,” said Kori Krueger, a social psychology graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, who specializes in studying relationship maintenance strategies.

A dyadic display is a behavior that publicly communicates that you are in a relationship. This might include mentioning your partner in conversation, wearing a wedding ring or changing your last name after marriage.

In a recent analysis, published last month in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Kreuger and her advisor looked at dyadic displays on Facebook. Previous scholarship has found that Facebook is a threatening environment for relationships as these networks often include alternative partners, rivals and exes.

Kreuger found that dyadic displays on social media are motivated by a couple of factors. One is that relationships, including romantic ones, help form someone’s identity. So, posting about your love life allows you to communicate an important aspect of who you are to the world.

The other reason someone might create social media content about their relationship deals with mate protection.

“By engaging in these dyadic displays, you’re really signaling to all of these different kinds of threats that you are in a committed, satisfied relationship, and so is your partner,” she said.

Which will perhaps discourage people in your social media networks from messaging you on the sly.

Krueger also found that the happier a person is with their relationship, the more likely they are to post about their significant other.

That doesn’t surprise Krista Kelly, a Cranberry-based therapist whose clinical practice includes married couples, single adults and teens. Kelly said that, especially for those of younger generations, people display genuine emotion on social media.

“It may even be equivalent to writing a love letter, prior to social media,” she said.

But Kelly cautioned that online activity is frequently performative, with people curating what they do and do not share. All this is complicated by the fact that social media is an extremely public way to communicate.  

“If you are overly posting, it’s seen as obnoxious, you know, maybe it’s seen as co-dependent. And if you’re not posting enough, people are questioning what your relationship is, what it really looks like, or how secure you are in the relationship,” she said.

Kelly also notes that social media habits vary by individual. So, if your significant isn’t that into Facebook or Instagram, don’t assume they don’t care about you. They might just show it in a different way.