Not everything is what you see: Social media love isn’t always real

Published by Madison Shepherd on

Relationships on social media often come with unexpected consequences.
Photo provided by The Mainstream

Not all love messages circulating during Valentine’s month are helpful. The way relationships are often portrayed on social media can lead viewers to unrealistic expectations, resulting in pretense and despair as people show only their best side or pretend to be perfect on their social media accounts.

When opening up apps like Facebook, Instagram or TikTok, younger social media viewers likely first see videos and pictures of couples. Perfect partner, perfect house, perfect life. Many of these lives appear perfect on screen when only a few seconds of the lovers’ lives are posted. 

Associate professor of sociology Alex Jardon warns that the perfect social media photo isn’t always real. “The odds are if you’ve been through a tough relationship, other people probably have as well, and if nobody’s talking about this stuff, how do we help each other and support each other?” he says. “I think it’s important for people to be able to talk about this stuff.”

Wearing masks when presenting relationships isn’t a new thing. The media environment also doesn’t help. Movies like the James Bond franchise and “Transformers,” for example, unrealistically portray the guy always getting the girl. Other movies such as “About Time” and “Frozen” too often show unrealistic passion at first sight or the continual happy ending.

Alex Jardon, UCC psychology professor
Mason Ramirez / The Mainstream

With this kind of media environment, people presenting their own romance like a fairytale isn’t surprising. 

“I think people should be aware that I think relationships are hard, and I think it’s okay to show vulnerability sometimes because I think so often people don’t want to post some of the negative stuff,” Jardon says. “People should be able to reach out to others for help if they are experiencing challenges in their relationships, whether that should be done through social media probably not, but having people to talk to is important.”

A 2015 Pew Research study of teens using social media found that these unrealistic posts have an impact: “27% say social media makes them feel jealous or unsure about their relationship, with 7% feeling this way ‘a lot.’ Roughly two-thirds (68%) do not feel jealous or unsure of their relationship due to social media.”

Tyler Burdett, UCC student, clarifies that consent encompasses asking permission to post relationship status on social media.
The Mainstream

The University of North Carolina, on their website, describes a new study by their researchers which found “that when it comes to romance, the more adolescents communicate online with their boyfriends and girlfriends, the worse they manage conflict and asserting themselves in romantic relationships at a time when kids are developing complex interpersonal skills.”

UCC theater student Tyler Burdett reminds students that posting even about a new relationship should be done with consent. “It comes down to you both having to be at a point in your relationship where you are both willing to make it public,” he says. “Take it slow and both prepare each other.”

Fortunately, some corners of social media are opening up to more realistic discussions about relationships, including discussions of both healthy and unhealthy relationship habits. Searching for “licensed psychologists” on social media platforms can lead to some of these sites.

Erin Ritchie is UCC’s Peace at Home Care Advocate. She can help students with healthy relationship tips and domestic violence prevention. You can reach her at or or 541-440-7866.

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