Suddenly there are two glasses of wine and a torso on the other side of the table. A backlit silhouette in a photo of a sunset. Another set of feet in that precious snapshot at the beach. And a stranger begins, little by little, to colonize the feed from one of our contacts on social networks. There is not a sufficiently explicit message and the photos do not portray them in an affectionate attitude. It can be a friend. A friend with whom you go out to dinner often, with whom you go on trips, with whom you attend parties, watch sunsets and take romantic walks hand in hand. This technique of timid presentation in the virtual world is what Americans call soft launch boyfriend.
The term went viral thanks to a monologue and a tweet from comedian Rachel Sennott in the summer of 2020 and, since then, it has not stopped gaining popularity. It is the transfer to the world of relations of a technique of marketing: he soft launch It is the presentation of a product in a limited and gradual way and can be translated into Spanish as a pilot or soft presentation. Soft presentation is a content strategy that makes sense, too, on social media. It gradually introduces followers to a new character in the narrative that users of these make of their lives. It does so by minimizing the risk of introducing a love that may not be definitive. In addition, it is a frivolous and entertaining strategy. A way of giving importance, of making people wonder: who is this new person?
“I think it is the most used way to introduce potential couples on social networks, while you are assessing whether the relationship will go forward or not,” explains couples psychologist Lorenlay Fraile. “I myself have done it in my last relationship without knowing that it had a name,” she admits. Perhaps that is why the term has been so well received, because it baptizes a trend that everyone has assumed naturally and subconsciously. “In the age of Instagram, the beginning of a new relationship implies the elaboration of a public relations strategy,” explained an article in the magazine wryly. The Atlantic last year.
Introducing a partner in society can be stressful. “It makes you look exposed, vulnerable and receive feedback about the person you are with”, says Fraile. It is a step that serves to strengthen a relationship, but also to put it to the test. And this process, which was previously done completely analogically, has also been transferred to the digital environment in recent years. That is why strategies have been developed to cushion the importance of that big step in any new couple.
One of the coups of Facebook in its first months of existence was to create a section in which the user had to specify whether or not he was in a relationship. This detail was decisive in the success of the social network, as well reflected in the film of the same name directed by David Fincher. Whether it was to flirt or just gossip, people turned out to be very interested in checking the sentimental status of their contacts. Facebook had —and has— different options to summarize something as complex as a relationship. “Single” or “as a couple” were the original two, although alternatives have been added over the years. This reductionist binary made the introduction of a couple something more definitive and official. Seeing on the wall that a contact had changed their status from “single” to “in a relationship” (let alone the opposite) triggered a string of reactions and comments. Continuing with the marketing simile, more than a soft or pilot presentation it seemed like the presentation event of the new iPhone.
Social networks have changed a lot since then and also the way of presenting themselves on them. Over the years, users have learned to tell themselves, to control the narrative of their love life. And those who have known best how to do it are the famous. Singer Jennifer Lopez, for example, revealed that she had resumed her relationship with actor Ben Affleck with a photo of the two kissing on a slideshow on Instagram. It’s an official introduction, more similar to how things were done 20 years ago, when they first started dating. The media Kourtney Kardashian, for her part, confirmed her romance with musician Travis Barker with a close-up of their intertwined hands, more like a soft (and cheesy) presentation.
The gentle introduction of the groom or his official launch are decisive in understanding the way a couple presents themselves in society and this, now that everyone has a small virtual speaker, is not limited to public figures. “Social networks can somewhat mark the identity of a relationship and are sometimes a source of conflict,” says psychologist Lorenlay Fraile. The amount of information that the couple wants to share, to what extent they value their privacy or if they even want to hide their relationship are determining aspects to gauge the content that is going to be shown.
28% of social network users share or discuss aspects of their life as a couple or their dates on them, according to an analysis by Pew Research. This percentage varies greatly according to age. The younger the user is, the more likely they are to show their partner or talk about it. Thus, 48% of young people between the ages of 18 and 29 will do so, a percentage that drops to 34% in the 30-49 age group and falls apart among adults between the ages of 50 and 64 (14%). Only 7% of those over 65 will.
“Having a partner and showing it in society is overrated and is unconsciously perceived as synonymous with success,” reflects Fraile. This explains the overabundance of sugar on Instagram, a place where, before applying a Valencia filter, the photos pass through a social and personal filter that further distorts reality. “What I publish on the Internet is the image that others will have of my life and that identity is where today many build their self-esteem,” says the psychologist.
In this context, the soft introduction of a couple on social networks may seem like a frivolous and absurd trend, something that only affects very young people or people who are highly addicted to mobile phones. But how couples are shown in public, also before the digital public, matters. The way we tell ourselves, of projecting ourselves, matters. And the way in which business language and techniques are infiltrating them as well.
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