The Agony of Dating an Instagram Obsessive
Outside's love guide answers your most pressing questions about dating, break-ups, and everything in between. Today, we discuss dating Instagram influencers and what to do when your significant other plans a great trip—but doesn't want you to come along.
Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+.
Welcome to Tough Love. Every other week, we’re answering your questions about dating, breakups, and everything in between. Our advice giver is Blair Braverman, dogsled racer and author of Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube. Have a question of your own? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: I will admit to following more than a few #vanlife celebrities on Instagram, but I never thought I’d be dating one. My boyfriend was a pretty lukewarm social media participant when we met, which is part of what I liked about him—he’d never ignore me for his phone, and it always felt like we were so present when we hiked together. Fast forward to a couple months ago, when he managed to get more than 30 likes on an landscape photo he posted and mysteriously caught the Instagram bug. Now he’s constantly stopping along the trail and asking me to shoot him scrambling around on cliffsides in order to get the perfect inspirational photo.
I can’t stand it. He seems like a different, more self-absorbed version of himself; he spends half an hour crafting the perfect caption, complete with a dozen hashtags. Once, he even referred to himself as an “influencer.” (Though he immediately apologized.) I poke fun at him, but I haven’t had a serious talk with him about it because he clearly enjoys it, and I’m not sure if I’m the one who's just being a curmudgeon. But if I have to see #thesweatlife or #liveyouradventure one more time…
Social media is a performance of authenticity, and it’s frustrating to see behind the curtain, especially when the golden hour for photos is also golden hour for get-off-the-trail-before-the-mosquitoes-come-out. But your problem seems less philosophical and more practical: you’re trying to spend time with your dude, and he’s distracted. You’re out exploring a great big world together, but he’s focused on the pixels in his hand. It may be helpful to think of Instagram as your guy’s new hobby, an exciting new way to engage with wilderness. He should get to practice his hobby—with your encouragement, because he enjoys it!—but you should also get to be present together. And right now, those two things aren’t happening at the same time.
You can handle this in a combination of two ways. One, be honest with him about feeling left out, and talk about basic boundaries. He has to be outside to take photos, of course, but there’s no reason why he can’t invent hashtags, play with filters, and read comments on his own time. He could even put his phone on airplane mode while you’re out together. That way he can still take snapshots, but has to save them for later; he’s not communicating with anyone but you. (Plus, it’ll save battery.)
And two, you should find a way to get involved. Just like any other (non-harmful) hobby your partner takes up, it’s important to celebrate his interest. If you know there’s an awesome waterfall halfway through a hike, you can mention it ahead of time as a photo op, then make a few suggestions for the shot itself. Scramble up a hillside to get a cool new angle, or surprise him with a pack of filters for his phone. Think of it as photography if that’s more appealing than social media, because at the very least you’ll end up with great photos. He’ll be psyched to get to do this with you, and then you can keep hiking for a while, until you see the next landmark. If you see something else that would make for an interesting picture along the way, be sure to point it out.
Here’s where you’re actually practicing a kind of positive reinforcement animal training. I live with a lot of dogs, so I can’t help but draw from Karen Pryor’s brilliant, if delightfully retro, Don’t Shoot the Dog! One of the eight ways she provides to extinguish an unwanted behavior—and perhaps the most powerful one—is to put the behavior on cue, then give the cue less and less often. In this case, your goal isn’t to stop your boy from Instagramming, but to make you both happy: help him have fun with social media, but limit it to a reasonable portion of your time together.
If all else fails, there are seven more techniques to try and curb that Instagram habit. And it’s only fair to share the book with your boyfriend, too, although be aware that he may aim some of the techniques your way. You can tell him I recommend the hashtags #positivereinforcement, #clickertraining, and #reallycutedogs.
Q: My girlfriend and I have been together for three years now. We’re most always on the same page and have never had any major issues, but she recently did something that completely threw me for a loop. She told me she’s planning a climbing trip to Joshua Tree with a few mutual friends of ours. I asked why she didn’t tell me—I would have been able to go, and I love climbing. She gave me some BS about “being able to do our own things” and made it clear that she didn’t want me to go. I dropped it, but I've been fuming and feeling suspicious ever since, and now the trip is happening in just a couple weeks (still without me). What on earth is going on?
—Ne Pas Avoir un Bon Voyage
If she wanted to climb with her own pals, that would be one thing, but keeping you away from mutual friends? Something’s up, and it doesn’t look good.
You’ve been together for three years, so unless this is part of a pattern, start by giving her the benefit of the doubt. You need to ask your girlfriend, flat out, why she doesn’t want you to come to Joshua Tree. And she needs to give you a real answer. Maybe she feels self-conscious around you, or she wants to talk to a friend in private, or you’ve just been spending a lot of time together lately. Maybe you’re moving toward a new level of commitment, and she needs to think it over. Whatever the reason, it’ll be hard for her to say it—so if you want that honesty, you need to approach the conversation gently. Don’t interrupt her. Don’t be defensive. Give her space to speak. Hopefully, if you model openness and maturity, she’ll rise to your level—and then, if you choose, you can address the problem together.
Of course, there’s also the chance that something worse is going on. If she’s distancing herself because your relationship isn’t working out, it’s better to hear it sooner rather than later. Then you have to decide if you really want to fight for a relationship where you’re not being fully respected. And if you don’t? Plan your own climbing trip. A weekend with friends will be the perfect first step to getting back on your feet.
Your turn—ask away at email@example.com.