It was the middle of a snowstorm. I left work late to avoid rush hour. The streets were weighed down with snow and the flurries showed no sign of relenting. I was grateful for the metro. My short walk to the restaurant was laborious. I wanted to grab a bite somewhere warm and cheerful before a later meeting. I had an inkling it would be canceled and ordered a glass of wine even before I ordered a meal. I was nursing it when my phone rang. Everything was canceled tonight. The city had snowed to a stop.
I was sitting at the bar, people watching, scrolling on my phone, messaging friends stranded elsewhere, when I felt this strange trickle down my spine. As if the eyes on the back on my head were pulling on my hair and saying, “Turn around, you’ve got to see this.” She was brushing off her coat, talking to a hostess, then made her way to a table by the window with the poise of a regular.
I did not know this woman. But I knew who she was. Because of Instagram.
Dating was complicated enough without the invention of Instagram in 2010. It came online a few years before Tinder and Bumble, popular dating apps. They all promptly hooked up by letting users link their Instagram profiles to their dating profiles. Click here to have a look at my personally filtered and curated life and decide if you want in on my grid and what our couple hashtag should be. Instagram is the new essential service. I almost never took into consideration Tinder matches that I couldn’t find on Instagram. I wanted to snoop. And I wanted to snoop on my favorite app.
Instagram, a photo and video-sharing social network, really counts on 80 to 85% of all human learning, perception, cognition, and activities being processed through vision. And before unleashing all your other senses on a date you’ve met online, you’ll be relying solely on vision to select a candidate. On common dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge, you must make an educated choice from six profile photos. Now, imagine how much more educated that choice can be when this person has two Instagram accounts, one for their dog (bonus points), with a total of 983 photos. Jackpot. He’s definitely as tall as he says and she’s definitely not a natural redhead.
You still don’t know any of these people yet. You can see they’ve holidayed in Vietnam in 2016 and that they’re manic Barcelona FC fans, but you haven’t even swiped left or right.
This sounds like private investigator porn and not romantic at all. It is. The very essence of romance is mystery. This obsession with perpetually recording the special and the mundane moments of your life creates shortcuts in other people’s brains, bridges between known and unknown, and somehow virtually shortens the gap between you and them. You think you already know all these people with whom you’ve accepted to go on dates. Worse, you think you’ve already made up your mind whether you like them or not. Romance is dead—long live Instagram.
Some enlightened hermits have renounced social media. I dated one of those, an Instagram-less hermit. He was far from enlightened. But the girl he decided he wanted to start seeing without my knowledge had an Instagram account. He was absent from the platform, so she didn’t need permission to post a cute picture of them for her friends to like. He wouldn’t know. But I would. I was looking for it.
Instagram doesn’t give you trust issues. It enables them, and therefore ruins perfectly good relationships as well. There was a time you could view the activity of the accounts you followed, what they were liking and commenting on and who they were following in return. Hello, downward spiral. If it looks like stalking and it feels like stalking, it must be stalking. Nothing like confronting the person you’re seeing with a “why are you liking this person’s posts so much” only to find out they’re first cousins or they went to kindergarten together.
Instagram has become a stand-alone dating app. Tinder is used to geolocate potential dates and Instagram is used for the rest of the courting ritual. Slyly liking selfies, bikini shots, or sports snaps, sliding into DMs and silently flirting by watching stories. I consciously posted “cute stories” with the overt goal of wanting three specific people to see them and Instagram knew, because all three were at the very top of my viewers list. Bizarre to see them together like that, I agree.
I knew who that gorgeous woman was, the night of the snowstorm, because I was dating her ex-boyfriend. I knew because I had studied his tagged photos. Instagram has mercifully removed all activity that wasn’t my own from the pile of evidence I could consult in the blue light of my phone late at night. But tagged photos were free game. And so, I knew who she was.
And she knew who I was too. She walked passed the bar on the way to the bathroom and threw me a look, tossing her hair. Two glasses of wine aren’t enough for me to imagine things like that, but a third was now mandated to make me forget. How could she know? I wasn’t in any photos. We were just following each other. It was just a few dates. How did we both come to be at the same restaurant, on the same night, having a drink alone in a snowstorm?
I guess some people are even better at Instagram than me.
And by better, I mean not good. This socially accepted and encouraged voyeurism into other people’s lives is unhealthy. Especially if you’re hoping to build trusting, honest relationships with them. A life can’t be summed up with carefully selected little squares of success, beauty, vacations, and pets. People are who they are because of the challenges in their lives, the losses, the heartaches. Good luck finding those on IG. Do you really want to date a highlight real?
It turned me off knowing she knew that I knew who she was. I felt like I never should have. I craved mystery again, romance again, surprise again. Instagram is not the way to get to know someone. Instagram is the advertisement for who they are. I have trust issues, as you can tell, but my feed broadcasts the opposite.
Dating is complicated because people are complicated. Instagram is alluring because Instagram is easy. It’s satisfying for a little while, but ultimately, depth is lacking. Your fling with filters and likes is getting in the way of a relationship with face value and love. Get to know people elsewhere. Get to know people differently.
Also, maybe consider switching to a private account.