Right after I meet a new person – whether it’s my friend’s new boyfriend or the woman who served me behind the bar at Wetherspoons and held eye contact for a moment too long – I go and snoop on their Instagram.
Mostly, because I’m nosy. I’m a typical people watcher and eavesdropper – I like looking at people’s lives. But this habit has developed way beyond that. Somewhere along the line, it became an anxiety deterrent. A routine of checking up on people, especially when it concerns my love life or that of my friends. It’s a way of making sure potential partners are my kind of people before I invest further time with them.
Perhaps that comes from having one too many terrible first dates, but I’m not alone. According to a study by Elite singles, 75% of women and 59% of men check out their date's social media before going out with them.
Nothing says “my new boyfriend is made up” more than not being able to produce a photo of him.
But despite my consistency, I’ve been wholly unsuccessful in obtaining information about partners during this “research stage” because I only seem to attract people without an online presence. Perhaps the universe is punishing me for being so nosy.
At first, I found this annoying. Nothing says “my new partner is made up” more than not being able to produce a photo of them on a night out.
But now I find people without social media to be practical. I don’t have to worry about finding anything weird or looking at their embarrassing family holiday pictures from 2007. There are also way less rumours and gossip about unplugged people, and we all know how much hearsay can ruin the beginnings of a situationship.
Let’s face it, I am someone that the internet has dubbed “chronically online”, so the idea of someone being able to live without social media is impressive, intriguing, and extremely attractive.
I thought that maybe I was one of a few people who found this attractive, but just search “no social media boyfriend” on Twitter or TikTok and you’ll find endless examples of people having the hots for those without a social media presence.
The internet is replete with a shared horn for people with no online presence. As this tweet illustrates, it seems “extremely online gfs” are well paired with “no social media bfs”.
A few years ago, most people would have agreed that having no social media presence may seem like a red-flag scenario. Especially as we are online dating more than ever, and researching matches before meeting them in real life is all too tempting.
Scepticism around people with no social media has been rife for years, and that kind of makes sense. What are they hiding? Who are they hiding? While disengaging from social media is an innocent personal preference for many, it does also offer leeway for unfaithful partners to ensure that there's no social media trail leading to their secrets.
Now, there's apparently nothing hotter than a person who can't be Facebook-searched.
A quick scroll through Reddit relationship threads shows men feeling anxious that women won’t date them because they have no social media. For many women and non-binary people who date men, this pre-research is practically a safety precaution - a necessary quality assessment step before trusting this person to keep you company IRL. But it seems things have changed. Now, there's apparently nothing hotter than a person who can't be Facebook-searched.
There are many benefits to the unplugged partner, the allure of mystery aside. For Becky, it means disengaging from complicated online dating culture – something she’s “basically wanted to do since the first time she dated anybody.” From benching to ghosting and being ‘left on read’, starting a relationship with someone while you’re both active on social media is unnecessarily complex.
The 26-year-old says “I feel like everyone my age has done this thing where they’re seeing someone but it’s not exclusive, and you start to shape your entire internet presence around them and what you want them to know about you. It’s like I’m a social media manager, but I’m just after an engagement from one person. So a bad social media manager,” she laughs.
Sian, 25, wholeheartedly recommends getting a boyfriend with no social media if you’re not planning on settling down any time soon, but also if you’re not so great at moving on after a breakup. “I’ve just broken up with someone and I can’t tell you how helpful it’s been that he doesn’t have a social media presence. I’ve finally had a proper clean break.”
The breakup would have been much harder for the 25-year-old to get through if she was able to do the usual heartbroken social media snooping. “Him and I have mutual friends so I do occasionally see him around town and, every time, it floods me with anxiety. It really sets me back in my healing. It would have been so much worse if he had accounts for me to look at and this was also happening in the digital world,” she explains.
Sian hasn’t been able to engage in those classic behaviours of checking up follower lists and tags.
“I’ve been there with previous boyfriends, when you’re zooming in on their photos to work out if a new person you’ve spotted is more than a friend. Seeing if they’ve watched your story yet. All that obsessive, unhelpful stuff.”
But with this breakup, Sian hasn’t been able to engage in those classic yet toxic behaviours of checking up follower lists, tags and locations. It might be a little on the pessimistic side to exclusively date no social media partners in case of a breakup, but whatever works, works!
For people who, like me, are “extremely online”, an unplugged partner can provide separation and an often much-needed offline perspective. Rose, 32, is always online due to her job in the media. Her daily routine involves a lot of social media - which, while fun, comes with its own issues. But her boyfriend doesn’t use social media at all.
Rose found this a little odd at first, but says “the mystery of no one being able to know who he is actually quite nice.”
"What we have is private and it means I can keep it safe.”
“When you spend as much time as I do working online, you start craving little ‘pockets of offline.’ Him having no social media means our life and the home we share is offline –aside from a nice photo every now and then. What we have is private and it means I can keep it safe.”
Rose says her boyfriend’s offline life means she can escape to him when social media becomes too much. “He’s very good at neutralising my fears of internet hate and reminding me that the online world isn’t always the same as the real one,” she says.
But it’s not for everyone. Molly, 24, is “driven mad” by her boyfriend’s disdain for social media. “It’s not a deal-breaker or anything. I just get stressed when he cracks up over a joke someone has texted to him and it’s something that was circulating Twitter two years ago and we’re all bored of now.”
Molly says her boyfriend has zero awareness of online culture, so doesn’t know when items are referencing it. “We’ll go to TK Maxx and he’ll buy some T-shirt he thinks has a cool design and doesn’t know he's literally wearing a meme,” she laughs.
“He also broke his phone recently, so now he’s literally untraceable whenever he’s outside of the house. I think he likes that though, and I completely respect it.”
Ultimately, not everyone fancies people without social media, but for those that do, it’s not just my natural nosiness. At the beginning of a relationship, it feels more natural to learn about a person from them instead of from another source. After all, social media is only a carefully curated version of a person. And it seems, in some ways, it’s easier to strengthen, maintain and even break off a relationship if social media is less involved.
This is understandable. Social media causes speculation, which can be a real chemistry killer for people in the exciting beginnings of a relationship. At least one offline person in a relationship means you both can make the rules about who you are, what you mean to each other, and what friends, family and acquaintances understand about their connection without worrying about curating an image. So if you don’t have any social media platforms, don’t worry. Unplugged partners are not for everyone, but some people are looking for exactly that.