The other day, my friend and I got into a discussion about whether or not it was appropriate to use a picture of her and her boyfriend as the lock screen on her phone.
“It’s a cute picture, but I feel weird,” she told me. “I don’t know if I should keep it up.”
“Do whatever you want,” I said. “I personally have never done that, but hey, what do I know?”
She thought about it for a while, and then chatted me an hour later. “I took it down. It felt creepy.”
Naturally, I would’ve supported her decision, because really, this is a trivial manner, but I was secretly glad she decided against it. I like my friend, I care about her, and most importantly, I knew her before she started dating this dude. I know that she is more than just a goopy picture of the two of them gazing into distance. It seems silly, but something as little as changing your phone wallpaper to a picture of you and your beloved is the gateway drug to losing yourself completely in your relationship.
The sentiment behind the act is nice, because yes, of course, if you’re dating someone you want to announce it, to shout the love you have from the rooftops. That, for you, is great. Everyone is happy that you’re in a relationship, as long as it’s making you happy, so you do what feels right for you. This is not an uncommon thing. If you were to grab the cellphone of any happily coupled stranger, there’s a good chance you’d see a picture of their boo, grinning over a plate of eggs Benedict, or staring at you with bedroom eyes softened further by the Rise filter on Instagram.
This phenomenon is not new, nor is it confined to iPhones. A casual survey of my Facebook friends found almost 40 people who used a picture of themselves with their significant others as their profile picture. I have been in relationships, and I have had the impulse to make a particularly adorable photo of myself and my person the default picture, but something always stopped me. Even though at this point Facebook is primarily used for stalking high school crushes and casual strolls down memory lane, it’s still a curated experience, a profile crafted to reflect the way that you want yourself to be seen by the world. Placing a picture of you and your significant other invites commentary, and announces the fact that you are coupled up, but it might also serve as a digital shedding of your individual self.
Social media is generally the first stop when it comes to sussing someone up. A potential employer searches for you on Facebook. So does that person you met at that party after you drunkenly told them that you should be FB friends. So does really anyone who has heard your name once or twice and wants to learn more about you. So there is value in leaving some things as they are.
I’m not judging people who want to plaster their digital and physical presence with pictures of themselves snuggled up to their partner. I’m merely arguing against the impulse that it’s necessary to do so. It’s crucial to maintain a clear line where you end and the other person begins. Seeing their face every time you pick up your phone to check Instagram, or when you’re ready to plunge into a deep excavation of the depths of your personal Facebook timeline, or even at the office when you turn your computer on, feels like an easy way to lose a solid sense of self.
Your partnership with another person should not be an all-consuming thing, something that eats at every part of your life, chipping away at your sense of self until you have successfully merged into a unit, incapable of speaking about yourself in the singular anymore. I’ve lost track of all the times I’ve heard or seen coupled friends talking or writing about their life in the plural — WE. We-speak is only okay when you’re actually talking about something that the two of you did together, like going apple-picking, or wasting a day and a half putting together a dresser from Ikea. It is not okay for things like pregnancy — “We’re pregnant!”
We are conditioned to share intimate parts of our life — a new job, a drastic haircut, a vacation to Costa Rica — and relationships, especially ones that are serious and good, have a tendency to merge with the rest of it. As busy people, we’re not always capable of partitioning life in the way that we’d ideally like to. The inclination to start to merge your life with someone else’s is natural, because that’s what you do when you love somebody, but this can be stifling in its own right. If you’re already used to being an independent person, why let a relationship change that about yourself? Shared experiences strengthen your bond, but one of the best parts of being with someone else is celebrating their individuality. Right?