What Does It Mean to “Soft Launch” Your Relationship on Instagram?
The newly defined act says a lot about your relationship without showing much
Becoming “Instagram Official” is an important milestone in every relationship. Evolved from the once-powerful “Facebook Official,” the term implies a declaration of romantic exclusivity to friends, family and the rest of the online world all while, to your partner, reaffirming the solidity of your union.
But recently people on the internet have been calling out a different kind of relationship debut that’s been happening all over the social media app. A much more discreet statement that may not look like much but says an awful lot. It’s been dubbed the “soft launch” of a relationship.
After receiving questions about the term, Jess Fisher, a Digital Marketing Specialist, posted a TikTok defining what a “soft launch” is for heteronormative couples. The TikTok has now garnered about 1.8 million views and over 230K likes.
As Fisher’s TikTok and others like comedian Rachel Sennott have described, “soft launching” is a subtle act where both men and women will indicate to their followers that they’re seeing someone by posting an hint of an elbow or profile shot of their significant other to their Instagram story or through a low-key tag on an Instagram post.
“For the girls, she will post a picture of him at a restaurant, his face will not be in it, she will tag the restaurant but not tag him,” explains Fisher in the TikTok. “For the guys, it will only be a photo of himself and he will tag her as the photographer either in the description or in the photo.”
While she defines “soft launching” mainly in heterosexual terms, Fisher, who is queer herself, tells InsideHook she thinks same-sex relationships soft launch as well, just in a slightly different way, with the soft launch happening on their Finsta (fake Instagram) first.
“Queer couples are more likely to post about their significant other on Finsta first, and they won’t post anything on [their real Instagram] until they’re official. I think that’s more of the queer version of it,” she explained.
Fisher wasn’t the first to use the phrase “soft launching,” but after hearing the term used by online writers and participating in real “soft launches” for her job, she found the entire phenomenon funny. And then she saw her best friend involved in one: she posted a photo of the guy she was seeing at a restaurant, without capturing any real discernible features.
“His elbows were on the table and his hands were under his chin. You could see he was an attractive guy, but you couldn’t see over his chin,” explains Fisher.
“Then she texted me, ‘Do you think ____ saw that?’ Because one of the intentions of a soft launch, I think, is to let the universe know, ‘I’m involved in something.’ But another part of it is to let people you’ve been with in the past know, ‘I’m with someone new.”’
Soft launching has some roots in peacocking, another act not uncommon on the ‘gram.
Dropping a hot photo of yourself or posting with someone new and fantasizing about your ex scrolling upon it and seething with jealousy is an important moment in the post-breakup recovery. And “soft launching” has been happening since the beginning of social media, it just hasn’t had a great name, notes Jared Freid, comedian and co-host of the modern dating podcast “U UP?”
“Soft launching is a great name. It’s got great marketing the same way ghosting does, and if you think about what a ghost actually does, it doesn’t make sense that it’s called ghosting, but the name just works,” Freid tells InsideHook. “So while ‘soft launch’ is a new term to me, it’s been happening since you could post pictures on the internet.”
Even I’m guilty of soft launching. I’ve perfected the shot of my meal, a cocktail and the elbow of a mysterious man sitting across from me all in one Insta story frame. Imagine, even you may have been an unwitting participant in a soft launch of your own.
“With our generation — millennials and Gen-Zers — we’re a lot slower to define a relationship as ‘boyfriend and girlfriend.’ I’m not exactly sure why, and I don’t necessarily believe it’s a boy or girl thing, but it is true that we don’t define things until they’re way serious,” says Fisher.
“So maybe you do want to announce your involvement with somebody before you make it ‘boyfriend or girlfriend official,’ but you can’t post a full body picture of your significant other until you’ve got that title,” she adds.
So while the soft launch is good for defining that casual, in-between state of an early relationship, it still carries weight. Because regardless of where or how much of your partner you post, hoisting someone you’re involved with up on your Instagram is indicative that you feel somewhat serious about them.
“I think a lot of relationships exist in these unwritten contract agreements, and that’s what soft launching kind of does. It’s an agreement that we’re getting more serious, it’s an agreement between the couple, and it’s acknowledging where you are in the relationship,” says Freid.
It can also be a good way to signal to the other person that you’re looking to take things up a notch. “It works as a message to the person you’re seeing that this is more serious to me, you’re on my story,” Says Freid. “And it works as a message to the people you’ve been casually hooking up with, that it’s just not as serious.”
The soft launch has now joined the ranks of the ever-iconic couples picture that catapults your relationship into “Instagram Official” status, along with the equally iconic post-breakup act of deleting every single one of those “cute” couples photos. Luckily, the soft launch is a tad more forgiving, because if your soft launch fails to fully launch, at least it’ll disappear in 24 hours.
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