Black man using his phone

Self-censorship: Dating in the age of apps

My last partner followed me on social media.

For anyone who has maintained an active social media presence for the last 10 years, they know instinctively that statement is laden with meaning. I didn’t want my significant other to follow me on Twitter. Our relationship was one of those ones that had existed as a very casual friendship for years before a series of events propelled us headlong into a relationship.

Following me on Twitter, where I am most vocal and where a number of the events that trickled into our offline conversations happened seemed a natural progression for my partner. I said nothing and dutifully followed back because asking them to unfollow me, or showing any emotion other than enthusiasm made it seem like I was hiding something. I wasn’t, but I was vocal on Twitter because I didn’t feel like anything I said there could have a tangible effect on my life or my relationships offline. Following me changed the dynamics of how I expressed myself there and felt like a violation of my privacy.

I could have explained that to my partner at the time, but it felt much easier to just follow back.

I also followed back because it was much easier to just DM things I found interesting and not have to explain it third hand. My partner could finally understand my jokes in-situ.

For most of our relationship, my significant other had problems determining which of my posts about myself on Twitter were tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic or a literal representation of my thoughts. After a few DMs asking me, playfully to explain a tweet, I found myself filtering my thoughts before I put them on social media, pre-empting how it would be received/interpreted by my partner. It didn’t take long, but I stopped putting up anything about our relationship, good or bad. I didn’t like it, but it was easier than saying the wrong thing and having to explain myself.

When our relationship eventually ended, offline and for reasons that were related only marginally to my self-censoring on Twitter; I found that I couldn’t grieve on Twitter, because my now-ex still followed me, and it felt disingenuous to talk about them now that our relationship was over, when they didn’t exist to my online community when we were together. I felt forced to keep things the same even though I hurt terribly just from seeing their handle flash across my timeline several times a day.

Sometimes, I wish I had told my ex how being followed on social media was a big deal for me and why it mattered then, & matters now.

Perhaps it’s time we started asking our significant others for consent before we follow them on social media platforms, perhaps it’s time we respected that some of their spaces are sacred and not open to us, and that doesn’t diminish the quality or intensity of our relationships. 

It takes an incredible amount of self-curation to date in the age of social media. It takes an incredible amount of self-control to grieve in the age of social media.


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