Full disclosure, I recently got engaged. I knew I was going to say yes. My partner and I live together. We’ve discussed marriage for almost as long as we’ve been dating. I even designed my own engagement ring. What else did I know for certain? That I was going to post about our engagement on Instagram. I even had a caption—concise, borderline obvious—in mind.
When I tried to complain about the delicacies of the "reveal post" to my best friend, she replied in her signature deadpan, "Then just don’t post a photo." But I wanted to share the most exciting decision of my life thus far with the entire world, or at least the world of Instagram. Turns out, my squeamishness regarding The Engagement Post wasn’t uncommon. "You can’t share a milestone without it being mildly performative," explains Kristen Fox, a licensed mental health counselor based in Brooklyn. "Posting on social media will always have an element of 'look at this'—that’s a primary purpose of it in some ways. People want to post on these platforms for the excitement of it and that’s completely normal."
Despite my conflicting feelings around distilling my decision to buy into the institution of marriage with my partner into an Instagram square, I became obsessed with the psychology of the Instagram engagement announcement. I spoke with experts, like Fox, newly engaged folks, friends, and Instagram crushes, to get to the bottom of the social phenomenon that turns "I can’t wait to marry you" into "I can’t wait to post about it."
The way Shadeen Francis, a certified sex therapist and licensed marriage and family therapist sees it, the conversation around posting on Instagram should happen way before the ring. "I encourage couples to talk about their boundaries as they build their relationships, and that includes social media." I remember posting a photograph of my partner for the first time on Instagram. The man reveal as it's been cleverly coined. I was nervous for other people to see it, but more than that, for how he would react. A simple, “Ah, this is cute,” and we got back to dinner. "Social media posting doesn't actually say much about us—there aren't universal rules for how to properly share our relationships online. But we make meaning of one another's behavior and it is important for us to feel understood or accurately represented,” Shadeen explains.
When I saw my friend Sammy’s post announcing his engagement to his longtime partner, Harry, I cried. I haven’t seen Sammy since a birthday party a few years ago, but something about the post struck a chord. When I asked about how the proposal went down, he shared that, despite planning a romantic event in Central Park’s Conservatory Garden, Harry proposed in their living room. “I’m sad to say I hate being wet more than I love the Conservatory Garden. Harry knows me very well.” Unlike me, Sammy didn’t think at all about his post, considering the engagement was a total surprise. Whisked away to a musical immediately after the big question, Sammy checked in with Harry to see if posting would be "cute or annoying." His response was positive, so Sammy “"posted it and promptly turned on my Do Not Disturb."
As far as reaching out to friends and family before announcing to social media, Sammy credits his fiancé and future mother-in-law with the beautiful surprise dinner on the night of their engagement. All his friends and family were there. “It felt incredibly important to me to be present that weekend,” he shares.
For Jade Iovine, podcast host of Tell Me About It, thinking about how she would announce her engagement to her partner of seven years started with what she knew she was not into. "Can't wait to spend forever with my best friend" is not really my vibe. I knew I wanted it to be my genuine reaction.” Too many margaritas ended up being the confidence boost she needed to post without overthinking. “It was definitely the quickest thing I've ever posted, which is very sad but very true," she shares.
Calling friends and family before posting was a non-negotiable. Things got a little fuzzy when it came to the specific order. "I can still feel the migraine of choosing the order in which to call our people. I just keep lying and telling people we called them first."
As for the reaction online, Jade notes she "felt a lot of support and love." She says, "It was nice to be able to feel that virtually before I could see people in person." But it wasn’t all roses. Candidly and very much in the spirit of her podcast, Jade shares the influx of warmth was also extremely overwhelming. “I'm notoriously avoidant and bad at texting people back. I watched in panic as this pile of people I needed to respond to kept growing by the minute.” Not to worry. All it took was “about a week and a couple therapy sessions to get through."
Turns out, at least one person shared my premeditated tendencies. “I had a note on my phone with possible engagement caption ideas. It was one of my favorite things to keep me up at night!” Host of the popular podcast We Met At Acme and all-around dating guru, Lindsey Metselaar knew what she wanted to say. You might know her most identifiable piece of advice. “If you’re confused, they’re not interested.” As far as her caption strategy, Lindsey “never wanted to be that person who says 'we did a thing!' or 'he did well' or 'I can't wait to marry my best friend.'" And she made sure those close to her knew before she posted, "I don't love when people find things out via instagram." And she made sure to discuss her post with her partner before publishing.
At the end of the day, the reaction Lindsey received on Instagram felt like a microcosm of the joy she and her partner were sharing IRL. "I felt like people have been following my love journey for a while and were genuinely happy for me. When push came to shove, I was just happy for any type of message. I really was on Cloud Nine," she shares.
The more I searched, the more convinced I felt that an engagement is a joyful endeavor, independent of how it's presented to the world. Seema Bansal Chadha, co-founder of Venus Et Fleur, reflects on her engagement after three years of marriage. "I knew I wanted to speak to my family before it was shared with the world, but I didn’t really think about what I would post. I had always dreamed of what that day would look like, but it was even more perfect than I imagined...I just wanted to share the photo that best exuded the love and joy we felt on that day."
Seema and her then-fiancé, Sunny, aligned on an Instagram post, since it was important to share the news together. And in a story similar to Sammy’s “you know me well” moment, Seema recalls her gratitude for her husband telling her to get ready and change out of her airport attire.
True love really is in the details. It’s in the conversations around the engagement, or for some couples, keeping the big ask a total surprise. Love is about communication—with each other, with the outside world, and online—that comes from joy and feels authentic.