A photo of two stick figures holding hands went viral on Twitter last year, with the caption reading: “The perfect couple.” The stick figure on the left was described as “extremely online,” while the figure on the right was described as “no social media, happy.” It’s evident that many people agree, since the post has over 89,000 likes.
It’s usually easy to spot the “no social media partner.” They haven’t updated their Instagram account since 2018. And when you try to explain what “goblin mode” means to them, their innocent eyes will not have a sense of recognition.
So what is it about offline partners that makes them so appealing?
For starters, there’s something essentially uncomfortable about being online. It’s viscerally icky to see your partner trying to film a TikTok, publishing a minute-long Instagram Story on a night out, or sincerely DMing a celebrity.
Second, in an age when social media has the power to destroy relationships, our desire to be surrounded by offline people is understandable. Consider West Elm Caleb, Couch Guy, or Kanye West, who practically live-tweeted his divorce from Kim Kardashian. And, as the majority of us get increasingly addicted to social media, seeing someone who isn’t is a breath of fresh air.
Offline relationships can sometimes assist chronically online people in returning to reality. We’re also drawn to what “being offline” entails: Refusing to seek acceptance from strangers on the internet emits a profoundly seductive and self-assured air. These are traits that most people find appealing — like a lack of vanity. It’s true that many of us who spend time online have a bad habit of succumbing to “main character syndrome,” or claiming to be empaths: At the very least, it’s inconvenient, at its worst, narcissistic.
Dr. Alex Jones is a senior lecturer in psychology at Swansea University and specializes in attraction psychology. We infer a lot from someone’s social media presence — or lack thereof — when dating. He says: “On the dating scene, there is usually some kind of signal or cue that grabs a possible partner’s attention, whether it’s appearance, dress sense, or conversation.” It’s plausible that not using social media is linked to a particular personality type — perhaps introversion, for example. But, depending on who is in question, this could be a desirable characteristic.
Of course, not everyone who is offline is innately empathic, and not everyone who is online is egotistical, but given the endless number of prospective partners shown to us on dating apps, it’s tempting to see being offline as shorthand for being kind.
Obviously, an offline partner is not a good fit for everyone. Some contend that no social media presence should be considered a red flag. It’s depicted as such in the film Fresh, in which Noa falls for Steve, who is clearly offline. To cut a long tale short, her best friend suspects he’s concealing something, but Noa keeps seeing him anyhow, and it turns out he’s a cannibal. Obviously, this is an extreme example, but many women do use social media to “screen” dating app matches before meeting them in person.
It goes without saying, but everyone on the planet will be seeking something different in a romantic partner. There is no one-size-fits-all solution; some people prefer an offline relationship, while others prefer an online partner. It depends a lot on the person and their personality, interests, and goals. But, in an increasingly surveilled world, I’d argue that it’s important to make a conscious effort to keep some things private, and your relationship might be a good place to start.