How to know if you're more of a Harry and Olivia, or Ariana and Pete.

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What Your First Photo as a Couple Says About Your Relationship
Credit: Kelly Chiello/InStyle.com/Getty Images, Backgrid

Are you really a couple if you haven't posted a picture of you and your other half on Instagram?

For many, relationship status is sealed when they "go public" with their partnership via social media. But there's more to it than just signaling that you have a new boo — that first pic communicates more to your followers than you'd think.

It acts as a first impression of the type of couple people can expect you to be, allowing them to either pass judgment or root for your newfound love, whether they know you personally or not. Are you posed in a classic way — prom-style, all smiles — giving off a traditional vibe? Then maybe you'll be a more conservative couple. Are you giggling and being playful? Then the sex is probably great and you're having a lot of it.

When Pete Davidson and Ariana Grande went public on his Instagram, they were both donning Harry Potter garb (Pete has since deleted his account). I fell in love with them and their relationship immediately, just like the two of them did! It showed me that they clearly had a discussion, knowing the post and the news of their coupledom would go viral, and that they would be here for our entertainment. And boy, were they EVER.

The idea of "coming out" on social doesn't just set the tone of what type of couple you are — there's a two-birds-one-stone benefit, since it forces you to have The Talk with your partner about where you two stand. Those conversations are often awkward because being vulnerable, generally, is awkward. But they also allow you to be realistic. If you ask about going Insta-official and they aren't interested, that could potentially be quite telling. Nothing screams 'I'm still keeping my options open,' more than someone who won't let you post a picture of them online.

The social media debut is kind of a weird 21st century rite, and most of us participate because it gives us a sense of belonging. (At this point, not participating in social media says as much about a person as participating in it does, with its own, albeit, harder to keep in touch with, community.) Deep at the crux of it, the 'coming out' picture is saying: "Hey guys, I'm lovable too," and, equally, it's low-key bragging about who you managed to land. Half of the fun of the honeymoon phase is being dumbstruck about your luck. We put everything else up on social media, so why not include the person who has suddenly become the most important person in your life?

Back in September, my boyfriend — who's notoriously private and doesn't have social media (!) — and I decided to make our relationship Insta-official. Though he finds things like this self-indulgent and unnecessary, he knew it would make me happy, since I've made a career out of writing and sharing stories about dating and relationships. I also love love.

We had been pretty much inseparable since we met, and on our first vacation he gave me the go-ahead to shout my love from both the proverbial (and literal) mountaintop. We had taken our first selfie together in the Canadian Rockies with a picturesque backdrop. We felt secure with each other and where we stood romantically (things had gotten serious, and fast). The snap was a simple, caught-in-a-moment selfie, and felt "on brand," since it was authentic and unplanned.

To set the tone and let followers know that we weren't going to be that couple (you know the type), and to show that we don't take ourselves too seriously, my caption was: "I give it a year!" With his nod of approval, I pressed post.

To date, it's my most liked Instagram post, with the few others of us on the grid falling closely behind. I was overwhelmed with the positive reaction my relationship garnered, but when I analyze it, it makes sense. In the past — though I'd write about former flames without sharing their names — I didn't make them the focus of my feed, likely because those relationships were off-and-on, doomed from the start. And, to be honest, I wanted to keep my options open and not look like I was off the market. Oh to be young and immature, and hide instead of dealing directly with my problems. But that's another story altogether.

People who are doom-scrolling don't want to see endless posts and dedications to "your one true love," especially when you've had many one true loves which you have posted over the years on your feed. Also, when you start something fresh, you want to show that you are both on the same page through posting a "first pic" at the same time, should you both have social media, and through showing your connection or mutual love, whether it be a kissing pic, one where your hands are clasped together, or one where you're in each others arms. The message: We're a team. (Save the tongue slipping for your save drafts, please and thanks!)

In 2021 alone, we've seen Michael B. Jordan and Lori Harvey make their love "Instagram official", both coordinating their posts and using the subtle heart emoji as the caption. (Artsy and sexy.) Surprise couple Olivia Wilde and Harry Styles allowed themselves to "candidly'' get caught hand-in-hand, making their debut pic as strategic, down to matching couples' Gucci looks. (Low-key, but still quirky and cute.) And just before the year wrapped, Selling Sunset and Dancing With the Stars contestant Chrishell Stause made it IG offish with DWTS pro Keo Motsepe. Her caption: "The internet has absolutely zero chill. So I guess you saw this already, but I'm just gonna leave this here." (Tease-y and cheesy, but in a good way.)

Posts like these, especially during a pandemic, when people are scrolling more than normal, allow celebs and normies like you and I to share our love through our own narrative. Sure Jordan and Harvey were rumored to be dating, as were Stause and Motsepe. Hell – I even had to ask a friend to take down a telling Insta story of my boyfriend and I that we didn't even know was being recorded. Because when it comes down to it, becoming "IG official" with your partner is all about telling your own story, on your own time.

Sharing your love on Instagram can make you feel almost as vulnerable as having The Talk with your partner, especially if your relationship falls outside of the heteronormative binary. And that's partly why we, as the audience, want to see photos of you and your new love being your authentic selves — not attempting to make someone else jealous, or forcing someone to moving faster than they want to. You should be sharing it because you two are just so goddamn happy, and you want to let the world see.