One of my favourite books about the downsides of social media definitely is The Twittering Machine by Richard Seymour. It is a book that documents the link between overuse of social media and societal and mental health problems.
The above book also documents the similarities between the design of online social media apps and addictive real life setups such as gambling parlors and casinos. It also goes on to describe how popularity on the interwebs has a gendered effect and how women and girls face an even greater risk of performing beauty standards on social media.
Although The Twittering Machine did not explicitly speak indepth about the romanticisation of social media relationships, reading the book made me ruminate about how the internet may have done more harm than good in the romantic lives of young women.
Don’t get me wrong. Women sharing tips on red flags and sharing how to not be man obsessed are things that have helped me personally in my dating life. Women and especially Black women sharing parts of their relationship lives that show them loved, supported and respected can be a great booster to encourage Black girls never to settle for less.
Still in all of this, it is imperative that young girls learn to resist the urge to glorify a relationship of a woman they never meet and hold her relationship as the holy grail.
Why do I say this? We live in a time where gestures of love on social media seem to be overtaking actual quality of love when there are no eyes to gush or fingers to retweet or even no mouths to utter “God when”.
What this has done is that it is slowly creating women who stay in toxic relationships because their followers have put them and their relationships on a pedestal.
This is such that as crazy as it sounds, some of these women wonder how their followers will react should they leave and no longer be the picture perfect couple. I like to think of this relationship performance and online exaggeration of the tiny good gestures seen in toxic men as the GEN Z and Millenial version of: “What Will People Say?”.
It is also what makes even feminist women so eager to tweet “This man” in a tone that can only bring to mind someone who is excited at having won a much sought for prize.
Now is this to say speaking about partners and showing gestures of care on one’s personal page are bad things? No they aren’t. But when your first identifier on your bio is “Wife” or “Girlfriend” and your partner’s bio is all about his career and interest, then it calls for questioning.
When women anticipate the reactions and respect of people on social media based on having a “Mrs X” as their Twitter name as opposed based on being a full person, then it calls for questioning.
In the extreme angle of romanticising social media relationships, we also have the women who conjure stories and quite simply do not have strong online personalities outside talking about their relationships. There may even be instances where people online feel the need to interject and offer unsolicited opinions and advise about your relationship.
What then happens when these women are broken up with? They find it hard to curate content or document themselves outside the spectrum of their past relationship.
Even more damning about romanticising social media relationships that seemed all sweet, is the way young women who put those relationships on a pedestal are brutally shocked. Or, it can even lead to the woman whose past relationship was romanticised or “stanned” being at the receiving end of disrespect by the very people who put her relationship on a pedestal.
In all of this, it is interesting to note that it is often women who are at greater risk of the above should a relationship end. Men on social media hardly feel it because men are not defined by their relationship lives online.
Speaking with Elizabeth, she explained that she views love as something she has always had and that social media can make people want to have a stake in your relationship.
In her words: “Love makes you want to scream it from the rooftops. All of that energy mixed with the aspiration to partner up sometimes breeds something really pungent in women.
You want to show everyone you are in love, you also want to show everyone you did it, that ultimate goal women were thought to aspire to, you reached it. This is not inherently bad, but many times, women start to tether between being their own person and getting engulfed in ‘these relationships.’ Many never find a balance.”
Elizabeth went on to say: “The danger is that you may end up putting it above everything else, your friendships, your interests, your person. Worst is, you may not even be aware you’re doing that.
Now social media people are in your business, God forbid either of you leaves, complete strangers are outraged, dissecting your life and giving opinions and judging either of you.
No, I’ve never regretted doing them because relationships are just what they are, relationships. I try as much as possible to not get wrapped up in them, and I’m not much of a “sharer” anyways.
Find a balance. Invest in your platonic relationships (friendship) as much as you would invest in the romantic. The way women treat their friends once they find that romantic relationship is so bothersome, your romantic relationship is not the peak of your life, it’s just one of the beautiful things that will happen to you.
Someone asked me yesterday if I’ve ever been in love, and I told them “there has never been a time in my life that I wasn’t in love.” Because love for me is not a person or one single idea, it’s encompassing. I find love in food, in other women, in the littlest of things. Broaden your idea of love.
Also, decenter men.”
For Chidera, a writer and feminist, it all boils down to how women are raised to be on an endless search for “the one”.
To quote her: “I think that women already glorify romantic relationships so much that many of us are ever willing to dump friendships for men. Women were and are being raised to build their entire worth around having and being with a man.
We also live in a world where we know that men are trash. We know that men are bottom-barrel and are the lowest level, so women often want to prove that their man is different from the rest and treats them better. With the presence of social media, women continue to use these mediums, to showcase that they finally have “the one”.”
Chidera went on to say: “This move is dangerous because it gives the poster and the women who watch these videos and read the posts the illusion that romantic relationships are better than friendships and should be glorified. This is because many women do not share their friendships in the way they share their romantic partners. It also gives the illusion that something is wrong with you if you don’t want that kind of relationship with men and that men are not as bottom-barrel as we see everyday.
The other problem is that oftentimes, when these women see that their men are not as glamorous as they thought, they carry the shame of it all, because in the patriarchy women are taught to carry the shame of men.”
The honest reality is that as much as love is a good thing, making it a priority can lead to women acting in destructive ways.
It can also lead to women being too eager to paint a picture of what isn’t there on social media if that can give them admiration in the eyes of their followers.
Angel Nduka-Nwosu is a writer, journalist and editor. She moonlights occasionally as a podcaster on As Angel Was Sayin’. Catch her on all socials @asangelwassayin.