In our Love App-tually series, Mashable shines a light into the foggy world of online dating. It is cuffing season after all.
I will never again let someone I’m dating follow my finsta.
That’s a sentiment that countless finsta users have when establishing emotional boundaries. In relationships built on intertwined online and in-person interactions, it’s often a point of contention.
If you haven’t been initiated into the bizarre world of niche memes and astrology tag posts, a finsta is a secondary, private Instagram account used to keep snarky screenshots, rant about your personal life, and post (mostly) risqué selfies that would leave the family members who follow your main account absolutely appalled. Finsta followers are usually a highly curated selection of close friends who wouldn’t judge you for your bizarre one-night stands, validate you when you’re feeling yourself, and support you when your mental health dips.
If a single group text represented only one circle of friends, then a finsta would be the overlapping portion of a Venn diagram. Friend groups don’t always overlap, but on your finsta, you can access all of their unrelenting support on one platform.
Finsta really does teach you a lot. You find out who cheating, who hoeing, who got played and who depressed etc. Need help making a life decision? Ask your finsta, need help on an outfit?? FINSTA
— Tashie🌻 (@_NatashaMarie_) January 31, 2019
But when it comes to romance, deciding whose follow requests to approve can get hairy.
I personally have had a finsta for longer than any relationship I’ve been in and allowing a partner to follow it ended in disaster. In my case, I forgot to block the now ex from my finsta after we broke up. I posted a screenshot from a funny Tinder conversation with someone else weeks later. I woke up to a seething late night call from the ex, who was furious that I was on a dating app and even more enraged that I posted about it on the not quite public, but not quite private platform.
The whole debacle made me wonder if anyone should ever let their significant other follow their finstas. When I put out a call for thoughts on it, people were passionate about maintaining boundaries between the person they’re dating and the content they post in private.
Caroline Long, a college student in Boston, said she rejected her boyfriend’s follow request about a month into their relationship.
“If there’s life news or drama I’m posting about, he’s usually the first to hear about it anyway,” she said. “And I’ve had my finsta for a while so there’s some old, old posts about former boyfriends and issues that I’m sure wouldn’t be fun for him to peruse.”
my finsta b like
-here’s a picture of my ass
-let me expose my mental illness
-now ima broadcast my depression episode
-look @ my titties
-this meme was funny
— 𝓒rybaby 𝓛ynn ✧ (@xbasedxgoddess) February 6, 2019
Online dating expert Julie Spira says couples with finstas don’t necessarily need to share the accounts with each other for a healthy relationship. As long as you’re not going out of your way to hide anything, Spira believes having a private space to vent is fine.
“When you’re in a relationship, there are always things that you share with your close friends that you just might not share with your partner,” she said during a phone call.
Finstas are appealing because they allow for vulnerability when there’s an insurmountable pressure to be perfect on social media.
Finstas are appealing because they allow for vulnerability when there’s an insurmountable pressure to be perfect on social media. Sydney Smalls calls her finsta a “little safe space,” which is why she’s hesitant to approve her boyfriend’s follow request.
“It’s where I’m the most honest version of myself online so I only trust a few people with what I write about,” the New York-based production assistant explained. “Even though I trust my boyfriend it would just be an added level of pressure for some reason.”
Many share her view; although they feel supported by their partners, the finsta users who shared their stories with me said that they would censor their posts if their partners followed them.
When I was convinced someone was ghosting me, for example, I turned to my finsta to talk through it. An army of close friends analyzed screenshots down to the timestamp and deliberated in the comments, concluding that although ghosting was a possibility, I should suck up my pride and double text. In the end, I had nothing to worry about — the support network I had through my finsta convinced me not to sabotage a new relationship, and all I had to do was literally communicate. But if I had let that person follow me, would I have asked for advice in the first place, or would I still be wallowing in my own anxiety?
Overheard in bar last night:
Girl 1: I let him see my finsta so we’re basically never gonna date
Girl 2: oh ya that’s the kiss of death
— PAZ (@pazpaz) February 24, 2018
Finstas are like a semi-public diary for soliciting advice and rationalization and inviting someone you’re actively dating into it might make you less inclined to seek out that advice. The private accounts are a valuable space to talk out issues beforehand so you can approach your partner with a reasonable level-headedness.
“Having a space for myself ensures that I’m being honest about what’s upsetting me,” Long said, elaborating on why she doesn’t let her boyfriend follow her. “And how I’m getting from Point A to Point B. Not that I’m dishonest with my boyfriend, but I don’t feel as obliged to cater or censor finsta posts for a certain audience.”
For Danika Frank, a writer in Los Angeles, using a finsta to separate herself from the people she dates keeps her codependence in check.
“So it was good to have a space, a place where I could dissect my own thoughts away from them,” she said. “Even if I was stressed about something relationship-wise, I could break it down on there before bringing it up to them.”
Philadelphia college student Mal Sary, who went through a break up while she and her ex were still living together, said having a non-physical space to get away helped her through it until she could find somewhere else to live.
“Instead of yelling at my ex, I just used my finsta to channel a lot of my anger,” Sary said.
In addition to having a defined place to put their thoughts in order, the people who don’t let their significant other follow their finsta felt like they didn’t have to because their relationships were already healthy enough. Although Smalls’ boyfriend doesn’t follow her private account, she doesn’t turn to her finsta to complain about him when they have issues in their relationship.
“When I’d have problems with my ex, I’d just post about it and hide it from him and let it build,” she said. “This time, I just talk directly to [my boyfriend]. It kinda feels disrespectful now. I don’t want to talk about him behind his back [because] I know he wouldn’t do that to me.”
Jeung Bok Holmquist, an artist in Madison, Wisconsin, adds that their partner doesn’t follow their finsta, but that doesn’t give them a pass to complain about him.
“I guess I only wouldn’t [allow a finsta follow] if I was actively talking about my partner on there, but I also shouldn’t be talking shit about my partner in private,” they said. “So then that’s just a clear sign of a bad relationship!”
𝓷𝓮𝔀 rules of dating:
1st base: liking and unliking someone’s post
2nd base: “nah u don’t have to venmo me”
3rd: get called an asshole on their finsta
homerun: a retweet
— vinay (@mumblecomic) January 10, 2019
That doesn’t mean that not allowing a romantic interest to follow you ensures smooth sailing. Nothing you post on social media is truly private. Anything can be screenshot, passed through the screen grapevine, and end up hurting everyone involved. But do people have an obligation to break the trust of following a friend’s finsta to protect another friend’s feelings?
Evy Oliverio, who works at the United Nations in Beirut, was seeing someone who encouraged her to follow his finsta, until she DM’d him and realized she was blocked. Their mutual friends still followed him and could see that he wasn’t interested in her anymore, but didn’t tell her. She later found out that he had promptly started dating someone else “for real” after “months” of telling her he “wasn’t ready.”
“We had enough mutual friends who knew about him dragging me through metaphorical dirt,” Oliverio said. “And yet none of them would be like ‘Ev, this is happening.'”
Spiro, the relationship consultant, is cautious about breaking that trust. Even though it may be hurtful to mutual friends, if someone invites you to their finsta then you have a “digital moral obligation” not to share what they post.
“There needs to be spoken and unspoken rules of what you do and don’t share.”
“Either you’re in something that’s private or you’re not,” Spiro said. “I love the fact that this is small and intimate, but I think there needs to be spoken and unspoken rules of what you do and don’t share.”
Despite the moral obligations, Oliverio notes that finstas are still public, even if your account is set to private, and she’d rather step in than see a mutual friend be hurt.
“You allow who you want to see it but the fact that someone else besides you ‘sees’ your truth, it’s no longer private,” she noted, acknowledging that it doesn’t justify sharing secrets. “I do think that if you and I have a mutual friend and on their finsta, they start dragging you, I’d tell you. And secondly, hold them accountable.”
At the end of the day, finstas are yet another aspect of how the internet muddles dating. But that doesn’t mean that finsta users shut their partners out of their secret accounts entirely. For Valentine’s Day last year, Holmquist made their boyfriend a zine with drawings from their finsta posts when the couple first started seeing each other. As long as there’s open and honest communication between a couple, finstas shouldn’t be an issue, they said.
Spiro says it’s “almost distrusting” when someone insists on following their partner’s finsta.
“I think trust and communication is something couples engage in every day but that doesn’t mean that they’re on a third-party text or phone call every time they’re communicating with somebody else,” she said. “You need to have your personal life, and they have their personal life, and you need to have your communication together.”
I, for one, value the tightly knit support network in my finsta over any potential partner’s insecurities. If a partner asked me to give it up, I’d probably dump them and immediately post about it on my finsta.
Even if it makes dating more complicated, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.