What Is a Relationship ‘Soft Launch,’ and How Can You Pull It Off?

What Is a Relationship ‘Soft Launch,’ and How Can You Pull It Off?
Photo: yurakrasil, Shutterstock

Decisions about when and how to post a new (or not-so-new) partner on social media are surprisingly weighty. It might seem easy to dismiss: Who cares? Instagram is not real life. The thing is, though, Instagram kind of is real life. Social media has grown to be such an integral part of who we are and how we communicate that choices about who, what, when, where, and how to post reflect a lot about how we’re really feeling.

For proof of how serious the Instagram reveal of a boo is, look no further than the case of Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson. While they’ve been photographed together by paparazzi repeatedly for months, her former husband has attacked Davidson online and in songs, and Davidson vaguely referred to his “girlfriend” in an interview a few weeks ago, it wasn’t until Kardashian posted a photo of him on Instagram that they were considered “official.” That happened just days ago and Kardashian went on Ellen afterward, where she said, “I guess it’s, like, not official until you post.”

Kardashian admitted in that same interview that because she’d been out of the dating game so long prior to her divorce, she hasn’t been sure what the unspoken rules of posting a new partner even are. You might not know, either, so before you upload a photo of your sweetie to your grid, read on.

What is a “soft launch?”

There are a number of ways to indicate you’re off the market using social media, but they all boil down to fit into two categories: Overt and subtle. A “soft launch,” or vague acknowledgement of a relationship by one or both posters, is subtle — but tricky to get right.

Back in the day, you could just change your Facebook status to “in a relationship,” have your partner change theirs, and be hyperlinked on each other’s profiles for all your friends to see. That definitely falls into the “overt” category. You can still do that, of course, but it isn’t nearly as powerful now as the Instagram reveal.

These days, an overt relationship update involves a grid post. There, on your permanent feed, is a photo of your partner, which hopefully acts like a scarecrow to deter pests from barging into your DMs. To older generations, that might seem like a laughable indicator of commitment, but it’s the modern-day version of wearing someone’s class ring to signify you’re going steady. Anyone who looks at your profile will see the other person and know you are, in fact, quite taken. Bonus points if you tag your partner.

Cassandra Henriquez, a certified dating and relationship coach, said she waited a year into her relationship with her now-husband before they “launched” on social media, which they called their “press release.”

“We uploaded all of our travel pictures and all the fun stuff we had been doing over the previous year and folks were shocked,” she recalled. “Exes came out of the woodwork and some people were not that happy, but we knew that and that’s why we took our time to build a solid foundation before we decided to be all on blast.”

Social media has certainly evolved to be a real-time reflection of what’s going on in our lives, but that also means it has the potential to be an indicator of what’s going wrong. There is a reasonable fear among daters that posting about a new flame too quickly or sincerely will only lead to embarrassment if and when the relationship ends. For that reason, many social media users prefer the soft launch method. We see soft launches all the time and, depending on how nosy we are, may not even realise it. A woman you went to college with might post an unassuming Instagram Story of her dinner — but is that a second plate and wine glass behind hers? A guy you briefly dated posted a video that pans over a woman sitting on his couch. Is she a friend, a cousin, or a girlfriend? Two of your coworkers might upload pictures of a sports game that, when you stop and think about it, look like they were taken from the exact same spot in the arena. Are they there together?

There’s a plausible deniability baked into each of these kinds of soft launch. No face, no case, as they say; if the relationship doesn’t last, it doesn’t matter, since you just posted a few vague indicators that you might have been spending your evenings with an anonymous somebody for a while. Then again, slowly easing followers into getting used to seeing someone else on the old Story might make it easier to fully commit to a grid post.

What does a relationship launch on social media mean?

Henriquez said a social media post announcing — or even implying — the existence of a romantic partner is full of meaning. It means you are claiming the other person, committing to them, and even considering a future with them.

This can be a fun part of the commitment process, and you shouldn’t look at it like something stressful. If you are stressed, ask yourself why — the cause of your discomfort is probably rooted in the relationship itself, not the social media announcement.

“To watch when you’re like, ‘Oh, wait, I see two plates… I see holding hands…’ It’s the build-up of, ‘Who is this person?’” Henriquez said. It’s exciting to reveal when you’ve found someone you’re serious about (and exciting to watch other people roll out their relationships online, too).

The meaning is different for everyone, though, and you should talk this over with your partner before either of you post. If you’re feeling secure and thinking about the future, make sure the other person feels the same way before you broadcast it. Similarly, if you’re not so sure about them but they keep trying to post you, have a conversation that manages expectations. No heartbreak is fun, but one that plays out online through a premature roll-out is especially mortifying.

Finally, if your partner doesn’t post you, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not committed to you, they’re being shady, or they’re entertaining other options on the side. It could really mean they just don’t post a lot, which is fine, but if it upsets you, let them know. Relationships in which one person is more “online” than the other are pretty common. You need to communicate why posting is or is not important to you and figure out what their posting style means about how they feel about you, if it even means anything about you at all.

When should you post your significant other?

There is no right or wrong time to post about your relationship, of course, but there are a few things to consider. Are you truly committed to them and willing to sever ties with anyone who might be waiting in the wings? Are you confident this relationship is going to last? Are you comfortable with other people being aware of and making assumptions about one of the most intimate parts of your life? Is there anything about this person that could negatively impact you professionally or socially?

“I tell my clients, ‘Listen, Honey, there’s no need for a press release unless you’re sure,’” Henriquez said. “Most of the women that I work with have a desire for long-term companionship or marriage, so to make a debut for every boo is just not it.”

During the interview Kardashian gave after posting Davidson, whom she’s been dating about half a year, she admitted she had been wanting to share photos of them for some time: “I have the cutest pictures of us and I want to be like, ‘Oh, my god, we’re so cute,’ but then I’m like, you know, ‘Don’t be so desperate.’”

This is a great study in social media relationship launches because Kardashian and Davidson were meeting each other’s families and building a foundation before they posted, which is key. They hit other relationship milestones, like taking joint vacations or, in Davidson’s case, getting commemorative tattoos, before going public. Ideally, that’s what you want to do before you post, too (minus the tattoos, probably). You should be established in the relationship, however long that takes for you, and that person should be a part of your offline life in a meaningful way. To be clear, Instagram isn’t a great way for your closest friends or family to discover you have a steady thing going on.

Henriquez cautions her clients against “dating in a silo,” or keeping a new partner from friends and family without giving them a chance to make an assessment and offer input. She recommends involving your loved ones “so that they know who you’re with before the world knows.” As important as social media has become, it’s vital we remember that it’s got a glossy sort of veneer and, by design, we hide imperfections there, presenting only the best versions of our lives. You need feedback from people who see the day-to-day relationship, too, not just likes from your followers.

Finally, don’t rush into posting just because you have something to prove. It doesn’t matter if all your friends are married and you’re the last singleton standing or if your family is on your arse about finding a partner. Those are not good reasons to hurry through the beginning stages of a relationship, and they don’t provide a solid foundation for the partnership. Remember everyone’s timing is different and what you see on other people’s Instagram accounts is highly selective, not the whole story. Fight the urge to keep up with the Joneses, or, literally in this case, the Kardashians.

What happens if you break up?

We would never want you to make your choices in a relationship based on a fear that you’ll eventually break up. That’s defeatist and robs you of the chance to fully embrace something that could be really joyful and impactful. A relationship can be great and valuable even if it does end. In a perfect world, old pictures of your partner would be a reminder of that — but we don’t live in a perfect world, so you’re forgiven if you want to nuke all the proof of their one-time existence in your life.

It’s embarrassing when your social media has become a shrine to someone and that person suddenly exits your world. You could just quietly delete and archive all the photos, which plenty of newly-single individuals do. Just know that leads to speculation in other people’s group chats. Depending on your tolerance for being gossiped about or scrutinised, that could be fine for you, but Henriquez said you should go out how you came in: With a post.

“I do think that announcement is necessary because people are thinking it anyway, so if you had a ring on your finger and now there’s no ring, people will notice that and then it’s just weird,” she said. “Just like the press release you did to say, ‘We’re together,’ I really believe your audience — whoever your audience is, from close friends to your social media, if that’s where you have them — should have that there, because people will ask.”

An announcement might seem mortifying, but you can soft launch that, too, if that makes it better. Post a Story asking for breakup song or dating app recommendations. Share a meme about being single and ready to mingle. The soft launch is a delicate art, but you’ve mastered it already. Besides, an announcement, no matter how small, can serve another purpose, too: Henriquez pointed out it could be just the signal a new potential partner was waiting for before they hit you up. Maybe they’re the one… and you’ll have to start strategising a whole new soft launch.

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