Just weeks ago, pop star Taylor Swift and DJ Calvin Harris were posting pictures of gold-plated gifts they were giving each other and sunset smooches on sandy beaches. Now the couple is history. Lesson learned: Don't believe everything you read ... or see on Instagram.
The very public breakup of Swift and Harris, whose real name is Adam Wiles, highlights some of the complications with airing a relationship on social media and perhaps why you shouldn't put everything online. Fans were shocked to hear the news of the split since the couple had so recently posted pictures of happy outings together, but psychologists warn that oversharing can often be a sign of insecurity and that social media can reinforce unrealistic expectations of relationships.
Swift and Harris' social media followers had a near-constant feed of glimpses into what appeared to be the perfect relationship. After meeting at a BRIT Awards afterparty in London in 2015, Harris appeared to confirm the budding relationship when he posted an Instagram picture of Swift's cats. Then, as the relationship went on, the couple upped the frequency of their social media sharing. By early 2016, fans were routinely treated to pictures of them swimming, kissing, hanging out with friends and family, giving each other gifts.
But while social media tells a story, it is almost never the whole story. Swift has not referenced Harris on social media since the end of April and has not tweeted at all since May 13. The radio silence is a reminder that there is always another side to the carefully curated image on Instagram or Twitter, a side that was surely present long before the couple's split went public.
According to multiple studies, the perfect social media relationship does not always translate to happiness in real life. One study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that people often post more about their relationship when they are feeling insecure about their partner’s commitment or feelings.
"Romantic relationships do not exist in isolation; people experience them through the lens of their broader social environments, and in turn, they must decide whether to convey information about their relationships to others," said the study. "The desire and decision to make a relationship visible to others reflects people’s fears or aspirations for closeness with their romantic partners, with avoidant individuals eschewing relationship visibility and anxious individuals yearning for it."
This is not to say that Swift and Harris were necessarily unhappy in the midst of their flood of social media flirting. However, fans who were "shocked" that the supposedly happy couple is now broken up may not be giving a relationship enough credit for its complexity. Social media is an undeniably reductive lens into people's lives.
In fact, studies also show that social media users tend to feel insecure themselves when scrolling through other users' supposedly happy posts. People tend to post statuses and pictures pertaining to their most interesting and enviable moments, not their banal, day-to-day struggles. Celebrities like Swift and Harris who have a public relations and brand interest in looking fun, carefree and in love may be especially guilty of that trend.
The only truth here is that a relationship came to an end & what remains is a huge amount of love and respect
— Calvin Harris (@CalvinHarris) June 2, 2016
After Swift and Harris' split went public, the DJ tweeted, "The only truth here is that a relationship came to an end [and] what remains is a huge amount of love and respect," dispelling rumors of cheating or strife as factors in the decision to part ways. Swift has continued to remain silent on social media and has not spoken publicly yet about the breakup. Fans are free to speculate at their own risk or check out the couple's old Instragram posts to remember happier times.