The first rule of the internet used to be “practice absolute anonymity.” The fear — and I assume this holds true for anyone with young kids to protect, plus my dad, who is convinced the Internet is just one big credit-card-stealing, identity-theft trap — was that an axe murderer would find and kill you.
The internet we know today, however, is but a balcony upon which to fan out intimate life details as though they were dollar bills and we were making it rain. We give out information on the web like that scene in 10 Things I Hate About You when Joseph Gordon-Levitt and David Krumholtz dump kegger flyers from the top of the rafters to the entire student body.
This holds especially true on dating apps, where the standard bio format is as follows: age, sex, location, Instagram.
Raya, a scene-y dating app filled with variations on that guy who brings his acoustic guitar to parties unsolicited, uses Instagram handles to vet applicants. Once accepted, your handle and those of your potential matches are baked into each profile by default, right under “name.” There is a section that shows your matches’ most recent Instagram posts, and they can see yours. It’s weirdly intimate. When I joined last year I assumed the point was to prompt conversation. Later, after partaking in significantly less conversations than I had on Tinder or its competitors, I was told that “no one really used Raya to date, but to get more Instagram followers.” In this context, where everyone’s profile was packed with a series of professional headshots, it made sense.
A few months later, while swiping through Bumble, there it was: an Instagram handle. Followed by another one, and then another. It soon became just as common to see as height or “that’s not my kid.” I found out many of my friends — guys and girls alike — also have theirs listed, which prompted an informal investigation.
Of people surveyed (and as always, I grill friends, casual drinking companions, randoms within close bar proximity, former hook ups and your mailman), their reasonings behind the Instagram-add fell into two camps: those who did it for the followers, and those who did it for transparency.
The crew who told me they did it for the followers said they noticed a modest jump. None seemed weirded out that listing their handles meant any random, terrifying human who came across their dating profiles, not just matches, could view their Instagrams. The general response was, “my Instagram is public anyway, so what’s the difference?” They don’t post anything endangering, job-threatening or otherwise incriminating. Those with private profiles granted requests for entry at their discretion. Though their intent was not to be famous or even recognized, they seemed to embrace the “discovery” aspect of the picture-heavy social-media platform. Besides, everyone wants more likes. That’s science.
Next we have the group who did it for transparency. Those in this category felt that their Instagrams offered a better overall picture of who they were than that of their dating profiles. “Everything is on there,” one woman said. “What I look like, who my friends are, what my interests are, my politics. It also lets everyone know that I’m weird.” This group — many of them seasoned dating-app users who were fatigued by the small talk and vetting process — had a take-it-or-leave-it attitude when it came to their true selves. They said this moved things along and, as I had assumed was the case with Raya, prompted better conversation. Also, because you put your handle out there for the taking, it welcomes creeping and eliminates that awkward in-person moment where you have to pretend you don’t know every single detail of your date’s Puerto Rican vacation.
I went into this story fairly cynical. “Let’s add one piece of evidence that suggests no one is actually looking for anyone, dating is outdated and all of us are narcissists.” Half-true, I guess? My outlook was restored by those taking new approaches to meet someone — or the one. We are not hopeless. I still regard all internet strangers as potential axe murderers, of course, but at least romance isn’t totally dead.
Illustration by Maria Jia Ling Pitt.