instagram is the only dating app we're all using

Instagram publicizes our private moments and makes our relationships "official." It's shaping how we love even if we think it doesn’t.

by Dane Harrison and Dane Scott
30 August 2018, 2:49pm

Last March, I got a DM from a boy I’d never met, saying he’d walked past me in a subway station and that my skin “glowed.” Thrown off by that collision of real life and Instagram, I think I just responded, “thanks lol.” The friends I’d been with thought the DM was weird and I did too — but a few months later, that same boy was giving me a tattoo in his neon-lit bedroom, and I was confusingly, completely in love with him.

Since that DM, Instagram marked our major moments — from the night we became official to our first vacation together. And then I eventually could tell we were over before we’d even actually broken up, just judging by how little we showed off what love we had left.

Has Instagram become our new preferred way of meeting people online? It’s a weird concept that in order for love to be real in 2018, it needs to be first posted onto an app — but is that increasingly becoming the case for our generation?

I unpacked these ideas with my friend Kaitlyn in her West Village studio as we split a bottle of wine and talked over our back-to-back breakups — trying to get to get to the heart of how Instagram has affected the entire concept of Modern Love.

“I know so many people who’ve met romantic partners through Instagram,” Kaitlyn tells me, as we we masochistically listened to Lorde’s saddest songs on loop. “It’s a new way of meeting people — this bridge between internet and reality, this curated realism of who we want to be as people. Tinder, Grindr — everything else is more shallow, and it’s harder to gain perspective. From someone’s Instagram you can learn everything about this person -— see who they’re following, what designers they like. It’s almost like a first date before a first date. People don’t have to really tell you anything anymore.” But also not unlike most first dates, when you look through someone’s Instagram, you of course only see the self that they want you to see.

My friend Teja recently also ended a summer relationship, and was hanging out at the bar of the Chateau Marmont when I called her to talk about all this.

“Yeah, that’s definitely kind of ingrained in my mind,” she says, when I ask her whether she thought love is now only official if it’s first been put on social media. “There’s something about that formal announcement — ‘Hey world, I have a boyfriend/girlfriend.’ Once it’s public, you can’t go back from that. Going from private to public — it’s this step for relationships now. You’re letting your followers become invested in your relationship.” This summer, several of her friends — myself included — didn’t even know she was in a relationship until we found out about it on IG.

On the flipside though, “there’s something about Instagram that is almost positive for relationships. It’s like, I want to show this person I love off to the world. To me, that’s a nice thing,” Teja continues. “It’s an amazing feeling — that this boy had felt good enough about me to share me with his world. I didn’t want to just end up being this fleeting summer moment for him.” Because that fear does exist — that “I hope I’m good enough to make their Instagram” fear.

I wondered what our digital world would look like if Instagram did decide to morph into a true dating app, as well as an image-sharing platform. VICE’s Hannah Ewens recently went impressively in-depth into Instagram Stories has significantly altered the way we flirt and thirst trap online. Because Stories disappear in a day, the feature gives us this uniquely low-risk ability to engage with a stranger or acquaintance in a casual way.

By 2040, it’s estimated that 70% of all couples will first meet in some way online. It’s clear however that we’re getting bored with traditional dating apps, looking at the array of think-pieces being published with titles like “The Rise of Dating-App Fatigue,” and statistics stating that, for example, 32.9% of Tinder users delete the app less than a day after they download it. It would make sense that Instagram would capitalize on our natural romantic evolution, especially considering the app is the fastest growing social media platform, now averaging over one billion active users every month.

And besides, if Instagram has already effectively eliminated Snapchat, and basically no one uses Facebook, why not add in a dating app feature and take down Tinder while its at it?

My friend John is one of countless people I know who found love over the app — twice. Yet it also was a factor in breaking up one of those relationships, when he discovered his ex was following new guys while they were still together. Another friend, Lili, spent months communicating with a Quebecois boy she met on the app — “messaging back and forth almost every single day.” He told her he loved her, aggressively flirting and making false promises for future plans. She went on an eight-hour bus ride to see him for his birthday, only to discover upon arrival that he’d entirely flaked out. “I literally thought we might start dating or something — and I don’t ever really get that way with people.”

Near the end of my last relationship I was on the subway, bored, and a bunch of Instagram posts started blurring through my mind. For a second it felt like I was scrolling crazy fast through my future feed — I saw a photo of me playing piano in Paris, the boy behind me in the frame, smoking on the balcony. Day-drunk selfies. Weekends in Montauk and Montreal, blue sunrises over white sheets.

Our relationship ended a few days after that, but I didn’t really process it ending until I clicked “delete” on my post with him, watched us flicker off my feed. Because then I got hit by everything we’d been, and everything we could have become — my thoughts pixelated as I saw that same flood of imaginary posts. I was on the subway again, and weirdly at that same moment I noticed a new DM, from another cute boy.

I looked at this new boy’s feed wondering if you could fall in love at first DM. He could be a new boyfriend or a soulmate or someone I’d never even actually meet, let alone connect with. It struck me that Instagram really is our 2018 Cupid, sparking endless infatuation between total strangers, introducing us to future lovers, giving us the ability to visualize and create our fantasies.

Instagram is shaping how we love even if we think it doesn’t, or if we think we’re above it having that level of influence. Whether or not Instagram decides to become a Real Dating App, we’ll still increasing use it as one as our ideas of ‘“real life” become further distorted.

This viral Modern Love piece captures the risks of dating off Instagram perfectly. The writer describes how over time she came to shape her entire online identity in order to become someone that this one specific guy might be interested in — and how that persona gradually “bled off the screen and overtook [her] real-life personality, too.”

If we’re all to some extent curating our personalities online, the people we date won’t get to actually know the real us. Or they will — but only after they’ve broken through the illusions we’d projected first.

Think Pieces