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Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Topic of the Day: Have You Heard of a “Relationship Soft Launch”?

This was the very first photo I ever publicly shared – back on my old personal blog, “City Wendy in the Windy City – of Drew. It’s a pic of our feet, of course, on a subway in New York, and you can decipher no real details about him, which was kind of the point. We’d only met three months earlier – here’s that story – when I was visiting NYC on a long weekend, and this photo was taken during our third or maybe fourth weekend visit together. There wasn’t a name at the time for this kind of photo share but there is now:

“the relationship soft launch,” a sort of tease, usually on a social media platform like Instagram, of a new relationship. It’s a picture of a new love interest’s elbow, a hand holding a dog leash, or, as I did it 15 years ago, some feet. And, whaddaya know: It’s now officially Soft Launch September, which is the transition season between the flings of summer and cuffing season, which begins around the late fall/early winter holidays when people want to nail down a relationship during the cold winter months.

The origin story of the “soft launch” phrase stars comedian and Shiva Baby star Rachel Sennott. In July of last year, she tweeted “congrats on the instagram soft launch of ur boyfriend (pic on story, elbow and side profile only).” With that, people finally had a phrase for that thing where non-famous people are suddenly as coy about their love lives as, say, a super-famous supermodel.

“I was quarantining at home with my family and my sisters, and I noticed how on Instagram all the girls who had locked down with a quarantine boyfriend were starting to subtly post them,” Sennott told The Cut. “We were joking about how people were posting their boyfriends the same way companies tease a product, like a sneak peek but not the whole thing.”

For those of us who aren’t famous or semi-famous or even internet famous, what’s the appeal of the relationship soft launch? I can’t speak for everyone, but I remember when I posted the feet pic of me and Drew, I wanted people who read my blog, where I shared a lot of personal stuff about myself and my life, to know I was seeing someone, but I wasn’t ready to, like, make it official-official. I wanted to reference him, and reference our long-distance relationship and visits I was making to NYC, but I didn’t want any pressure around any of it (you know, beyond the pressure I was putting on myself to figure out what we were becoming, especially in the context of the physical distance between us).

I like how the soft launch is described on The Cut: “If the mother of all relationship posts is the often cringey couple photo with a “this one” caption, the soft launch is her more mysterious daughter. On the outside, she’s much cooler; but inside, your girl is riddled with insecurities. Which is why these photos actually aptly capture the essence of casual dating culture — undefined, blurry situationships with no commitment and very little clarity.”

Have you noticed relationship soft launches on your social media feeds? Have you ever posted one yourself?

8 comments… add one
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    Bittergaymark September 21, 2021, 9:33 am

    Frankly, forget social media posts — I think more relationships should “soft launch” in every way possible. Many people often rush so headlong into monotony that it makes my head spin…

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    • ktfran September 21, 2021, 3:15 pm

      My friend and I still joke about how it took me ages to admit to anyone, including myself, that I even had a boyfriend. “He’s not my boyfriend” was my constant reply. Six years later, going strong. Feels like decades.

      I guess I don’t really know what my “launch” was. I think maybe I finally posted a pic of us on NYE, six months after we started dating. It was several months after that before we were even social media compadres. And I’ve never updated any kind of status.

      It’s all documented on the dating thread though. I should go back and read it from the beginning. Maybe that was my launch.

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        Dear Wendy September 21, 2021, 4:18 pm

        I love that the dating thread was your launch!

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    Copa September 21, 2021, 3:45 pm

    Oh, I definitely notice stuff like this on social media. I’ll notice an Instagram story with just a photo of, say, two wine glasses or some vague “we” reference. I’ve never heard the term “soft launch,” though, and think it’s funny.

    I’m not a huge Facebook person, but I like Instagram and definitely posted stories featuring the boyfriend (or maybe sometimes just hinting that he existed) before actually including a picture of him/us on my grid. I think the first time he ever made it into a “real” post, it was a group picture about six months in and I remember feeling self conscious that someone at my gym asked if “that guy in the photo was my boyfriend.” Her comment made me realize that people who I didn’t even realize had any investment in my life noticed and were doing stuff like zooming in or noticing body language in a group pic. The first couples pic came a couple months later and I still remember asking him if he was okay with me posting it to social media.

    On the flip side, a friend of mine and her now-husband decided they were exclusive like 9 days after meeting and put it up on Facebook. I thought it was super weird they’d put that out there so soon since so many promising relationships fizzle out within a few months.

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  • Ange September 21, 2021, 4:39 pm

    I didn’t really mention anything about my relationship anywhere until we were engaged, I definitely don’t recommend that course of action. SO MANY people thought I was trolling…

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    Moneypenny September 21, 2021, 9:09 pm

    Oh yes, I’ve totally done this. A pic of two wine glasses, or of our hands on some bartop but no other features. 😛 My current bf of almost 5 years isn’t on social media at all and I don’t post a lot of the two of us. If anything, I’ll post some photos of the beach and the very last photo is of the two of us. So if you actually scrolled you’d see him!

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      Copa September 22, 2021, 11:38 am

      Sooo… pre-boyfriend, I didn’t share many pics of people on my social media. Sometimes, sure, but it just felt like sometimes it was kind of putting people out there when they didn’t ask to be. My feed was a lot of scenery, food, travel, and dog pics, basically. Boring stuff! Anyway, we’ve been together 3+ years now and he’s a big part of my life now. I do post some couples pics but I still have that same feeling of… is this putting us too much on blast? So I tend to do the same where I’ll include a couples pic in a series and the couples pic requires scrolling.

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  • allathian September 23, 2021, 12:19 am

    I’m not on any social media, but I really like the concept of a soft launch. I met my husband thanks to my best friend, whose husband worked at the same place as one of my husband’s friends. They basically set us up. We were also in an LDR for the first few years, although he visited me almost every weekend. His family and most of his friends lived in my hometown, and he lived elsewhere just for work. I don’t think he even knew anyone other than his coworkers in the other town and he definitely wasn’t interested in staying there long term.

    We’d been dating about 3 months when we started seeing each other’s friends together as a couple, and about a month later I met his mom, and her husband, and also his sister, and he met my parents and my sister. About 3 years later, he moved back to his hometown/my town, and we rented an apartment together. A few months after that, we started trying to get me pregnant, and I got pregnant almost immediately. When I was 8 months pregnant, we got married in city hall with just our immediate families as witnesses.

    Online dating is definitely not for me, because I’ve never been any good at casual dating. I’m always pretty much exclusive from the first date, assuming I want to see him again. I also require the same sort of commitment from him, which I realize is too much to ask of most people. My husband’s never been interested in casual dating either, so I guess I’m very, very lucky in that I found a guy who matches my kinks! I wouldn’t say I’m demisexual, because before I met my husband, I had a couple FWB relationships, but even those guys were people I knew well and trusted, even if there were no romantic feelings involved.

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