Nothing gets the eyeballs rolling faster than when a 25-year-old proclaims she feels old, but a recent perusal of a 12-year-old family friend’s Instagram account made me feel — I am sorry to say it — old.
He’d posted a picture of himself with the caption “Like for a TBH.” And when I commented “What’s a TBH?!” as if I were my own dad, he quickly deleted it (because I’m now considered embarrassing) and texted me on the side to say that it meant “To Be Honest.”
Social Media Anthropologist that I am, I watched his photo accrue “likes” and found myself fascinated by the subsequent comments.
“TBH @angelspuppieslemons you seem cool and nice.”
“TBH @harrystylesgrl4evr you’re cute.”
“TBH @dinosaursrule2014 you’re in my math class and funny.”
They were honest, if not exactly earth-shatteringly revealing. Most involved innocent iterations of the word “hot”and there were more wink-y faced emojis than I felt comfortable with.
When I saw him later while visiting my family, I asked if this is how The Kids flirted today. He glared at me — because again, I’m embarrassing — but I took it to mean one very definite yes. It wasn’t until I shared my scientific findings with my friends, however, that I learned Instagram is how we all flirt now.
Everyone seemed to have a similar story: “I dated this guy and then things never really took off. Whenever I text him to hang out, he can’t, and yet he continues to ‘like’ and comment on my Instagrams.”
Gender-swap the pronouns or replace the word “date” with “bone,” but this anecdote was repeated and lamented so many times over that I realized it was simply a by-product of our over-digitalized age. Where middle school flirting used to advance no further than “Hey ugly!,” everyone knew the insult meant somebody had a little crush. Now that life lives on Instagram, the flirting is obvious. It’s visual. It’s a friggen’ button in the shape of a red heart.
I’m just not so sure it’s honest.
Similar to an idea Esther had last week wherein digital platforms play by their own set of rules, it made me wonder if Instagram, like the middle school playground, had its own rules too…meaning that a “like” on Instagram could very well mean, “You look hot in your pic,” but has no further intentions than going beyond your Insta-feed.
How many times have I double-tapped the photos of an unrequited pursuer, simply because I liked the strange animal he was holding or I don’t know, his filter choice was exceptional? Plenty. And does that mean I’d wink “come hither” should we find ourselves face to face at the bar? Uh, no, Instagram. No it does not.
But to that, how many times have I been annoyed that the-guy-from-the-beach just liked my exceptionally tan TBT and yet the number of times he’s said “hi” IRL has been zero?
Don’t answer that.
The moral of the story is we inhabit a world that revolves around both the web and a Valencia filtered sun, and unless we’d like to go insane or bald the only way to truly know what’s real is to double tap the human of our choice who is standing in front of us, in person, and say, “Hey. TBH: You’re cute.”
Illustration Courtesy of Heather Allen, Georgie Pearl Designs