Social Media and Relationships: Why Navigating Boundaries can be Challenging

My girlfriend and I have been together for over 3 years now, with 2.5 years of long distance under our belt. Ironically, while technology has been the saving grace in our intercontinental relationship, it has also been the surprising source of any arguments we have had.

“Can you not announce that on Facebook?”

“But…how will other people know what we are up to?”

You can tell them directly. Do we need to publicize our lives to people you haven’t spoken to in years?”

“…yes? I like seeing what’s going on in the lives of our acquaintances. Perhaps they do too!

Some variation of this exchange happens every few months. When we met last summer in Southeast Asia after not seeing each other for a whole year, we actually sat down and negotiated how many pictures would go up on Facebook from that lovely 3-week trip:

“1 picture.”

“1 a day? Okay, that might be difficult. But I will try.”

“1 picture total!”


As we navigate this tension between our polar opposite levels of introversion and extroversion, I have realized that digital identities and social media presence involve a kind of consent as well.

Unfortunately, I unilaterally violated this carefully deliberated negotiation at the time by not only making a big, gushy, cheesy, and public “REUNITED AT LASTstatus, but also posting an album afterward. I wrote off her aversion to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or any portal that puts more attention on her than absolutely necessary as a funny and silly quirk. It’s as if we had nothing else to argue about. What I failed to realize was how seriously she took her own privacy and exactly how much she disliked bringing attention to herself.

She has serious reservations about having a proper wedding, only because she does not want to be the center of attention even on a day that belongs entirely to her. And she happens to be dating somebody who stops one step shy of Instagramming his daily bathroom ritual in search of elusive likes.

Our arguments over technology and privacy always seemed hilarious to me (and others who knew us), but it wasn’t until recently that I realized I haven’t appropriately respected her right to privacy. These worries are not misplaced in today’s era where presumably harmless digital footprints can live forever and come back to haunt you at any time.