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Going ‘official’ with your beau is an important milestone in every relationship, particularly in the age of social media. Putting your partner’s name when you confirm you’re “in a relationship” on Facebook is the rubber-stamp seal of 'being an item', the millennials’ official signpost to say they’re coupled up. Naturally, as our use of social media changed, going ‘Facebook official’ gave way to being ‘Insta offish’ – declaring your romantic exclusivity to your friends, family and the whole online world that you were in a relationship by sharing a goofy picture of the two of you together at Nando’s.
But in more recent months, these bold proclamations of romantic pairings have diminished in favour of something more understated. Instead of a sickeningly sweet (and let’s face it, fairly cringe) couple’s selfie to announce the big news, people are now more discrete – posting a picture of two cups of coffee on the table at Costa, or a short post on your Insta stories of a man’s arm. It’s not what these otherwise mundane pictures are showing us that’s important, but rather what’s implied – letting your followers read between the lines about your relationship status.
This subtle new approach to revealing your new bae is known as ‘soft-launching’, and while the act has been in practise for a while, the term was popularised on TikTok thanks to Digital Marketing Specialist Jess Fisher, who was asked to explain it in simple terms.
“For the girls, she will post a picture of him at a restaurant, his face will not be in it, she will tag the restaurant but not tag him,” she says in a now-viral TikTok video. “For the guys, it will only be a photo of himself and he will tag her as the photographer either in the description or in the photo.”
So why have we become so coy about revealing our romantic relationships online? Relationships expert for Condoms.uk, James Thomas believes it’s the unfortunately short-lived nature of hook-ups that apps have revolutionised the dating world with. Gone are the days where we could have a few dates with someone and call them our boyfriend, there are now a whole new roster of labels we have to go through in order to deem a relationship ‘official’.
congrats on the instagram soft launch of ur boyfriend (pic on story, elbow and side profile only)— Rachel Sennott (@Rachel_Sennott) July 13, 2020
“We’re definitely less confident at putting labels on relationships,” he tells Tyla. “ A lot of people just find it ‘awkward’ to put a label on their relationship – many would rather just go with the flow and see where things head. Instead of endless labels like seeing, dating, in a relationship, engaged – and so on and so forth.
“Sometimes the biggest commitment you can make to someone is just seeing them, being there, supporting them – and eventually sharing your lives, your home and possibly even children. Labels aren’t required for any of these things to happen.”
James continues that a ‘soft-launch’ also gives us a get out of jail free card if our new partner turns out to be a bit of a douchebag.
“A ‘soft launch’ is usually a few subtle hints that you may be seeing a certain person,” he explains. “Most people care about the opinions of their friends and family, and if there’s uproar, the soft launch can give you the opportunity to say: ‘I wasn’t even with them anyway, we were just friends.’
“If you jump straight into a relationship and then announce it, extracting yourself from said relationship can be very tricky. Soft launching gives you the best of both worlds – it confirms your decision to date that person if the feedback is positive. And you know you should probably run a mile if everyone you know and love offers their disapproval.”
However, the more cynical among us have touted the soft-launch as the wannabe influencers’ dream – a way to create intrigue about your life and posts (move over, Molly-Mae, we’re all making our announcements on the ‘gram now).
Match.com’s dating expert Hayley Quinn explains that the soft-launch can be used as a weapon in your dating arsenal against potential creepers and exes: “Lots of people use their social media accounts to get validation about their life in the form of likes. It could be posting a picture showing you’re at the super cool festival, on an exotic holiday or that you’ve recently gone exclusive with someone,” she explains.
“Teasing this information builds curiosity with your friends and followers, and may even create envy in an ex who suddenly realises you’re not longer single. The ‘are they/ aren’t they’ question mark makes for great content that keeps people guessing, and makes your lifestyle look even more enviable.”
Hayley also points towards the permanceny of the internet, which makes admitting break-ups as potentially a source for embarrassment if you’re splashing lovey-dovey pictures of your beau all over your profile.
“As you move to a place where you’re exclusive with a partner, but not in an official relationship yet, this is where you may choose to tease the relationship on social media,” she says. “That way you don’t make a bold declaration which could backfire if things don’t work out further down the line.”
So should we be keeping coy about our new beaus online? Dating experts are torn about soft launching as a viable way of introducing your newly taken status the world.
James believes we’ve evolved past the need to ‘label’ relationships, and that a soft launch is simply updated terminology for a technologically advanced world: “It’s a personal choice to soft-launch a relationship,” he says. “If you love someone unconditionally and you cannot see that changing no matter what, then go straight in at the deep-end.
“If you’re unsure and you’re also heavily swayed by the thoughts and feelings of your family and friends, a soft launch can be a safer bet.
“Labels are just words when it’s all said and done – before social media the step before ‘dating’ (or ‘courting’, depending how old you are!) was ‘seeing’ someone. Soft launching just replaces the ‘seeing’ someone which was more common in pre-social media times – it’s progression as we continue to embrace technology and social media in our lives.”
Hayley, however, argues ‘soft-launching’ sees us focus more on how our relationship is presented externally as opposed to how healthy the pairing is internally.
“Instead of looking for approval from social media, it’s better to focus your attention inwards to the actual quality of the relationship. Think ‘is this person being clear with me as to their intentions?’ ‘How good a connection do we have?’ ‘Are my relationship needs being fulfilled by this person?’.
“Ultimately it’s about building a great relationship in the real world, not with your social media followers that truly counts.”
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