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?