When we refer to someone who is “extremely online,” it’s pretty literal. This is someone who knows—and references—all the latest memes and never the outdated ones that peaked three weeks ago. They are always on Twitter and, if not participating in the daily discourse, at least observing it. They know all the news of the day and way too much about figures like Bari Weiss or Ben Shapiro. They can recite dril tweets, know what a milkshake duck is, and speak in TikTok audios. Many of the things they talk about are foreign to normies who have regular jobs during the day, aren’t on social media during work hours or that much in the evening, and get their news from the paper or television.
It’s fine to be extremely online. Many of us are. But when one not-online person is in a relationship with an extremely online one, there can be friction. Here’s how to deal.
Decide together whether you’ll participate in their online presence
If you’re dating a poster, decide early on if you want to be included in their content. It might seem frivolous or simple, but this can be a big deal in the long run. Someone with a hefty online presence has to commodify a lot of the parts of their life. If you become a character in their web-based storyline, their followers can come to expect to see you often and the relationship can start to feel like it has an element of work to it. If you don’t want to turn bits of your partnership into an actual job or performance, be upfront about it. If you do, set some boundaries about how, when, and where you’re willing to be filmed or discussed. We all follow influencers who are in relationships. Some of them keep those things private and stick to product reviews or tutorials while others have their significant other featured prominently in everything they upload. Consider your perspective as a consumer. What do you expect from those who post their relationships? Whether you realize it or not, you probably expect a lot of personal details and updates. Being invested in the lives of a couple isn’t uncommon, but it certainly takes parasocial relationships to a unique new level.
The downside to this is evident. TikTok stars, for instance, have had to make big public announcements when they break up. Imagine having to script, film, and edit something like that. It sounds terrible. When your relationship is part of one or both of your online outputs, you get into a situation where you have to share everything—even the sad stuff. If you’re not down to commodify your personal connection like that, don’t do it.
Ashley Gross, a 27-year-old content creator with 40,000 Instagram followers and 125,000 Twitter followers, was already big online when she got with her current boyfriend, who maintains a private Instagram account but regularly appears in her posts. She said she and her boyfriend never had a “formal” conversation about how her job requires her to be online, but “he knew when we started dating that my online identity is pretty much my job.” She said he will ask her not to post certain things about him and she always respects his wishes.
She found, too, that once she was boo’d up, her content itself changed. Where once she posted “sexual and in-your-face jokes,” she noticed that felt disrespectful to her boyfriend when they started dating, stopped posting stuff like that, and instantly lost 5,000 followers. For people like Gross, for whom posting is a literal job, that can be a significant factor to consider. Had she chosen to maintain her brasher brand, that would have required—you guessed it—a long conversation about online personas, real-life personalities, and any issues the overlap in the two could cause in the relationship.
Basically, navigating this unique situation requires a lot of communication.
R.C. Maxwell, a conservative influencer and reporter with 22,000 Instagram followers and a fiancée who keeps a private account, said open communication is “essential.”
“You can’t pretend that one partner having a public-facing online identity won’t pose its issues, but discussing these things early and often will minimize privacy, jealousy or trust issues that may arise,” he said. “Chance are that you’ve already discussed how your lives are different, but I think discussing how you lives are different online is key to intimacy.”
If you have a lot of followers, set boundaries with them, too. Be clear with your following that your partner isn’t an influencer or content creator, they didn’t sign up to be bombarded with questions or comments, and followers are not entitled to personal details about them or your relationship.
Set times for phone-free togetherness
Endless scrolling is real. For people who work in media, marketing, digital spaces, tech, or any job where they get easily distracted, the scroll can happen all day and transition into the night, blurring the lines between being off and on. It’s such a notable phenomenon in the modern age that apps even warn against it. You can set timers on Instagram to prevent yourself from spending too much time on there. TikTok regularly interrupts scrolls with a gentle suggestion to put your phone down. Co-Star, one of the numerous astrology apps I use, told me this morning that endless scrolling is on my list of “don’ts” for the day. (I’m also supposed to avoid “posturing” and embrace “the ocean” and “used bookstores,” apparently.)
Just like the apps encourage you to have tech-free time, you should seek some out in your relationship, too. While it’s fun to date someone who is informed on up-to-the-minute news and happenings, it’s not that fun for them to be more consumed by that information deluge than the activities you’re doing in the moment. Set clear times for phone and computer use and then stick to them. For instance, make it a rule that no one checks their socials during dinner or uses their phone after 8 p.m.
Find offline hobbies you enjoy together. Watching a show can be fun and easy. You might run into some issues if you pick working out, hiking, or exploring the world of fine dining; those are activities the extremely online of the world love to photograph and share. That can be fine, though. Just talk out expectations beforehand.
Gross said her boyfriend has asked her for phone-free time when he can have her undivided attention and she obliges. “If someone isn’t willing to do that, that’s such a blatant sign of disrespect, like they don’t even deserve your full attention,” she said. “Reevaluate your priorities and ask if they align with the other person’s. If they don’t understand where you’re coming from and they can’t empathize with you, is that someone you actually want to be dating?”
Speak up if things go too far
You can find anything online. You already know this. Think back to middle or high school, when you first discovered Rule 34 (“If it exists, there is porn of it”) and saw all of your favorite fictional characters, mascots, household items, and public figures mocked up in NSFW scenarios. You can find the answer to any question on Google, get lost in Wikipedia rabbit holes, or make friends who share your hyper-niche interests. Largely, this abundance of information and resources is a good thing.
It can also lead to some less-than-good things. If your partner gets too sucked into minute discourses or even conspiracy theories, for instance, you can feel like you’re talking to someone from another planet.
You can and should speak up here. If one person’s digital behavior is impacting your relationship, it’s worth mentioning and working through. Be calm and direct, explain that you feel neglected or left out, and say you’d like to help your partner cut down on their screen time. If they aren’t interested, that could be a sign that they don’t feel the same way about the relationship that you do and it’s time to move on.
“Transparency is a key thing,” Gross said, pointing out that open conversations about social media and phone use are important in relationships, whether one person is paid to post or just obsessed with the scroll.