So many of the so-called universal guidelines we used to apply to dating have been thrown out the window. Sex on the first date? Giddyup, buttercup—no need to play by some ambiguous third date rule. Having multiple committed partners at once? Becoming more socially acceptable by the day. But as we mercifully bury the traditional rules of relationships, new questions inevitably surface. Chief among them: When is it cool to start posting a new partner on your Instagram, and how do you avoid looking shifty or extremely thirsty when you do it?
Uploading lasting photographic evidence of a blooming love is a pretty deliberate declaration, and should be approached delicately. Including a new sex friend in your feed is a hyper-modern public display of affection that conveys to anyone looking that you consider this person yours. Scientists call this behavior mate-guarding—IRL PDA counts too, but an Instagram post will last longer and is accessible to more people than just the folks in your immediate vicinity. And unlike going Facebook-official, which requires both of you to commit to it, Instagram only takes one to tag. The “IG Official” post draws a digital tether between the two of you—a link pretty much anyone can follow.
For clear guidelines on how to navigate this tricky situation, let’s look at the methods deployed by celebrity and noted relationship-haver, Selena Gomez. Although it’s not entirely clear when she and the Weeknd started dating (RIP, that relationship), paparazzi clues point to mid-January of this year. That means she waited until three whole months later to immortalize Abel Tesfaye on her account as her new boo. (Please note that while the two had posted Instagram Stories featuring each other sooner than this, those have a 24-hour shelf life and are therefore more casual.)
Of course, no two relationships are the same and it’s totally fine if you don’t want to emulate Selena Gomez all the time (serially dating Justin Bieber isn’t for everyone). But just as you probably wouldn’t take a new date to your go-to haunt and make out with them in front of people you’ll definitely see again, you shouldn’t post a new boo on IG too early. According to Dr. Justin D’Arienzo, a Jacksonville, Florida-based relationship psychologist, try to feel out when a “consistent pattern of togetherness” solidifies.
Anecdotal evidence (and an unofficial Twitter poll) reveals that some people wait until they’ve been seeing each other between one and three months, or when the relationship is considered “exclusive.”
“Most of my relationships end within a three- to four-month period. That’s how long it takes before realizing it’s going to work or not, so I wait until after that,” Miranda, who dates mostly women, says. “There was one exception where I posted a pic of us after, like, date one, but I asked and we were both on the same page. We had also been hanging out a couple weeks before that.” If you were friends before getting romantic, it’s reasonable to assume they appeared in your feed prior, making their first couple-y appearance less of A Big Deal.
But if talk of Instagram declarations is giving you anxiety, that’s OK too! “There’s a lot of people that, believe it or not, don’t put themselves out there and don’t want to be tagged and don’t want people to know where they are,” says Dr. D’Arienzo. Likewise, if your S.O. isn’t posting you, it’s possible they’re just anti-social media. “They may actually be honest people that are really into you. They just value privacy.” It might be a red flag, however, if your new partner regularly posts otherwise intimate details—including past S.O.s—while you have yet to make a debut. They could be hiding the developing relationship, and that signals trouble.
When you finally feel safe and inspired enough to post your new boo on the ‘Gram, it helps to start neutral. Include them in a group dinner shot, or in a public space like a museum. From there, you can naturally progress into more intimate territory. The hierarchy of romantic pics, for me, goes: Selfies together, followed by photographic evidence of a romantic getaway, and finally, the most aggressive photographic display of affection out there, the morning shot. (Seriously, is there more telling evidence of boning than the ruffled mop of a new lover hovering over an egg sandwich? There is not.)
Remember, though, just because celebrities premiere new baes through IG, and even though social media may have forever changed the dating game, one’s ‘Gram is not always an accurate gauge of a relationship’s health. Making it Insta Official may be a fun exercise in modernity, but don’t overthink it too much. “If that person is making plans with you on both Friday and Saturday night and also making plans with you for the next weekend, you know the relationship’s moving forward,” says Dr. D’Arienzo. “You can’t just rely on how and what people post.”