“Swipe This!” is a new advice column about how to navigate human relationships and connections in an age when we depend so heavily on technology. Have a question? Email [email protected]
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Dear Swipe This!
I want my boyfriend to post more pictures of me on his Instagram. And by more, I mean any, ever.
We’ve been together for over a year and he never posts pictures of me or the two of us together. I don’t consider myself a mushy person in relationships, but I feel really insecure about this. In my head, I tell myself, “Be a cool girl about it.” But also I’m like, “Why do you not want to anyone to know you are with me?”
I realize my boyfriend and I use social media differently. He’s pretty private. He posts a picture of a landscape about once a month whereas I post a lot and often about everything. But it’s not like I want him to post a million photos of me. I think that would be gross and weird. I’m very averse to seeing other couples who are all over each other on social media. But at least one picture every once in awhile would be nice!
In real life, my boyfriend is totally normal. He includes me in his life and always introduces me to his friends. I feel like we will, 100 percent, move in together.
But still worrying about this one thing makes me feel crazy. Especially when he posts photos of friends who are girls. Am I crazy? Do I need to chill? I feel like everyone tries to be so chill, but I just can’t be chill! Help!
Totally Chill Girlfriend
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Dear Totally Chill Girlfriend,
It’s no surprise that you feel crazy. You are trying to exist in three distinct realities, and that’s enough to make even a sci-fi action hero’s head spin.
Your first reality is your real life where you connect in real time. You say that you can see that your boyfriend integrates you into his life and you feel strongly enough about that connection that you can imagine a future where you live with this person.
Your second reality is your social media life where you curate images and words to create a hologram of who you are and what matters to you—or, if we’re being honest, how you want to be seen. This seems like a space where you have fun and are mostly comfortable.
But then we come to your third reality: your boyfriend’s social media life—aka how you believe he sees his own life, or how he wants his life to be seen. And, according to his Instagram, it seems he doesn’t see you in it. You’ve been erased, washed out by a grassy knoll or a horizon of crashing waves. So of course, you’re disturbed!
When you scroll through his Instagram, everything you thought was true and even knew to be true in your other worlds seems suddenly irrelevant. Perhaps what’s most nightmarish about this alternate reality is that you know it’s one where you are totally powerless. Just as your boyfriend would have no right to dictate what you post on social media, you do not have the right or power to control what he shares on his.
But here’s the good news: Only one of these realities is real, and it’s the one that really matters. Can you guess which one?
It’s totally human of you to want to see yourself reflected in your partner’s social media presence. It feels good when someone tags us in a photo and writes a sweet caption. It feels good to be seen. And it feels good to our logic-leaning brains to have all our realities line up in an orderly fashion.
But as you point out, the way we use social media is deeply personal. For some people, the more you matter to them, the less likely they are to put your image on a social feed. Others will want to dedicate a whole Tumblr to you. The thing is, neither is right and neither is superior. But I guarantee you, your boyfriend isn’t posting images of landscapes once a month because he wants to move in with them and start a life together.
You need to divorce yourself from the notion that your partner’s posts mean to him what they mean to you.
Now, there’s a deeper issue embedded in your question that may be preventing you from being in a happier relationship. You need to rethink your relationship to Chill.
You say repeatedly that you try to be a Cool Girl or a Chill Girlfriend. It’s true that we live in a world where chill has become our new normal. But as you point out, it isn’t real. It isn’t something people authentically feel. Chill is what people try to project to protect themselves from being vulnerable.
Chill is a myth. And it isn’t serving you one bit.
People think chill gives them more power, when in fact the complete opposite is true. Chill tells you it’s not OK to ask for things because everything is always already fine. Therefore, when you are chill you are always at the mercy of your circumstances. Chill leaves you in a position of powerlessness and paralysis. Chill disarms you. Chill is not your friend.
Do you know what the opposite of chill is? Fire. Passion. Never have I ever heard someone say, “My relationship is fine but I just wish it had less fire and spark.”
I’m not saying you should grab your boyfriend’s phone and smash it into pieces. I’m not encouraging you to pick fights. I’m urging you to drop the notion that muting your feelings of desire or wanting to feel desired and valued will somehow give you more power or control. Because it won’t.
Ask yourself if there are other ways you are feeling ignored or erased in this relationship? What would really make you feel connected and valued? Is there something bigger you are afraid to ask for because then you might lose your throne as the Goddess of Chill?
When we stop being chill, we start being ourselves. One of the scariest things we can do in a relationship is let another person see our authentic self. It’s also then that we can feel true intimacy.
Trust your boyfriend to love you through your fiery moments. Do not pretend you are an isolated icicle who needs no one and nothing. Open up. Connect. Be warm and be fair. Tell him that you feel erased by his Instagram. Even if he doesn’t agree, he should be able to hear you. Really hear you. You deserve your feelings to be considered.
And for the sake of not splintering yourself into a thousand fractured realities, please say goodbye to chill.