Tag Archives: social media

Social Media PDAs

‘Hubby made me breakfast in bed!’ (Accompanied by #marriedlife and a photo of said breakfast.)

We’ve all seen posts like this. Many of us have done the social media PDA thing and thought little of it. But what are we really trying to convey when we do and what effects does it have on those in our online vicinity?

Arguably, people who post things about their partners aren’t trying to convey a particular message at all.  Many of us are so accustomed to sharing bits and pieces of our lives online that it becomes an entrenched, unthinking habit. Graduate? Post a graduation shot and watch the likes roll in. Wearing a cute new outfit? Post a selfie. Sitting at home on the couch? Snapchat a story about it. Sharing things about our partner simply becomes part and parcel of this unselfconscious sharing process.

The phenomena of making ‘announcements’ about our personal lives covers anything from a new job to a new car to a new handbag, but it’s particularly interesting to see how Muslims announce their relationships online. Because so many relationships remain undercover until the engagement, it can come as a complete surprise to many when a friend (i.e. some person we met once at a party) updates their relationship status to ‘Engaged’. (It’s rare that Muslims will update their status to ‘In a relationship’, given the ambiguity this seems to carry, but I’ve often thought that if Facebook had a ‘in-a-secret-getting-to-know-thing’ option, we’d be all over it.) Many people post little hints before the actual exchange of rings, but we seem to be used to people announcing their engagements or even marriages with little to no preamble.

A person’s posts about their partner often reflect the stages of the relationship as it progresses. Initially, there’s a lot of wonder, gratitude and general all-around mushiness. Love hearts and emojis will be thrown around willy-nilly. ‘Alhamdulillahs’ and ‘MashaAllahs’ will abound. Photos will often be high in volume and may be sweet and cutesy to the point of tooth decay. Once the wedding is over, wedding shots will be circulated for months to come, often with neat little hashtags to remind everyone that it’s been #threemonths. But soon enough, these posts will decrease in their frequency and ones which are shared will begin to exhibit a quirkier, slightly irritating side to their partner, like them leaving their socks on the dining table or making a witty wisecrack at their other half’s expense.

And then there are those who remain completely undercover. No photos will be posted and no relationship statuses will be updated, leaving the general online populace slightly confused as to whether a wedding has actually taken place. For those who use their social media presence as a political/intellectual/da’wah tool, this lack of personal updates seems fairly standard. But their online silence regarding their partner arguably leaves room for potential misunderstandings and mishaps. Some would argue that we have a responsibility to ensure that people know we are well and truly ‘off the market’, and that if our social media presence is silent on this issue, people may get the wrong idea. Is this person engaged, married, divorced or a unicorn? No one really knows.

Another issue to consider is the effect posting lovey dovey things about a partner may have on those who are struggling to find one. Frequently, we think about this from the perspective of attracting envy and the evil eye, but it’s also important to consider that the negative aspects of relationships are very rarely displayed. It’s easy to forget this when our newsfeeds are groaning under the weight of cutesy couple photos, but all relationships have their hidden struggles and disappointments, ones which aren’t easily packaged for social consumption. The stories of sorrow behind the anniversary posts and the perfectly captured holiday shots are all too easy to miss, to the point where people even begin to compare their very real, flawed relationships to people’s heavily edited Facebook relationships.

How, when and why we share things about our relationships still seems to be somewhat unclear. As with any of the things we share, there’s no real ‘need’ to do so, but there’s also nothing inherently wrong with expressing joy and gratitude for our blessings. In fact, if we weren’t able to do so on social media, it’d be a pretty bleak, boring and meme-ridden space. Family and friends all over the world can be connected to celebrations and even people they’ve never physically met, and this can only be a beautiful thing.  But it’s also important to think carefully about the way in which we depict our relationships and how this may feed into a general culture of gratuitous, narcissistic oversharing. We don’t need to tell all 500 of our followers every time our partner buys us a chocolate muffin; we can just thank them personally and tuck right in.

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On Groups, Cliques and Approval Ticks

“As I ran, I thought how I hate any kind of mob- I hate mobs of sports fans, mobs of environmental demonstrators, I even hate mobs of supermodels, that’s how much I hate mobs. I tell you, mankind is bearable only when you get him on his own.”-Steve Toltz

The above is a quote from one of my favourite books, A Fraction of the Whole. (Read it. Now.) While every second line of the book is quote-worthy, this one in particular resonates with me because it aligns with exactly how I feel about the subject of group interaction. Ever since I can remember, I’ve found group interaction tedious and difficult to maintain. I dislike the competitive struggle as to who gets to talk and when. I’m just not good at groups. I’m awful at small-talk and ‘witty’ repartee, and I find that the potential for meaningful discussion  gets lost in a sea of performance and social niceties.

My dislike of group interaction extends to a dislike of groups generally. I know, I know, collective struggles, unity, etc. etc., but I also feel that in groups humans are capable of extreme inhumanity and cruelty due to our tendency to just do whatever the person next to us is doing. This simple, ostensibly harmless premise has resulted in some of the most awful atrocities in history. But for the most part, our tendency to behave like bleeting sheep manifests in less dramatic ways. The most obvious way is the sameness of people within any one group of friends, clique or subculture.

I have a little trick I like to play sometimes when I meet someone new. By picking one arbitrary fact about them, I then try to unravel their ideology and interests base accordingly and see if the picture ‘fits’. To my disappointment, it often does. This is particularly the case when it comes to different groups in the Muslim community. To pick a random example, if someone tells me some innocuous fact such as a penchant for art exhibitions, it often follows that they:

-may be Sufi-inclined

-have a ‘liberal’ attitude to gender interaction

-like socially conscious hip-hop/indie rock

-own a DSLR

These facts are seemingly unrelated, but they form an easily recognisable pattern of social behaviours if examined closely enough. I find it especially interesting how interests intersect with ideology. When did you last meet a ‘Salafi’ who admits to a passion for street art, or a ‘Sufi’ who isn’t into nature and photography? Why aren’t there many (if any) HT members doing their thang at poetry slams? There’s no official code against it, nor is one group of people inherently ‘better’ at a pursuit; again, it’s simply the group effect. Even if people do have an interest contrary to the norm of their group, they tend to keep it on the low-down.

Make no mistake, I’m not attacking anyone’s ideologies or interests. My problem is not with any group; the problem I have is the markers you need to display to be accepted into a group. At times it feels as though people run recruitment drives based on whatever is ‘cool’ in their group. It’s almost like a silent citizenship test. If you want to get into the ‘hipster Muslim’ group, you need to have read Malcolm X’s autobiography and it must have changed your life, dammit! If you want to get in with the MSA peeps, use as many words with the suffix Allah as possible (inshaAllah, mashAllah, subhanAllah) and post about sisterhood/brotherhood. If you want to get in with the ‘conservatives’, ditch the pants and delete all your photos from your profile.

Again, the problem I have with this are not any of these behaviours. I simply resent the idea that people often pick friends based not on character or intellect but on fairly superficial social markers. If we refuse to display these social markers, we may still have a chance of getting into the club, but there’s only so far we can go. We’ll remain forever on the hinterlands because our supply of social capital doesn’t buy us access to the member’s lounge. Of course, no one will admit to this kind of exclusivity, probably because most of the time people don’t even realise that they’re applying this filter to potential friends.

The part I find most fascinating of all (this being primarily a relationships blog, let’s not forget) is that many people try their utmost to choose partners from within whatever group they’re a part of. They confuse shared values and goals, most certainly an important ingredient in a relationship, with shared interests, a much more shallow and temporal measure of compatibility. This leads to people exaggerating or downplaying interests to impress someone they like e.g. if the guy they like is into socially conscious hip-hop, they downplay their secret penchant for trance and exaggerate an interest in Mos Def. It becomes difficult to find the point of intersection between genuine and performed interest, again partly due to the fact that people don’t even realise that they’re marketing themselves to impress a certain someone or even a certain group of people.

The truth is that as much as people profess to being open-minded, we really, really like to be agreed with.( I like it as much as the next person, believe me.) I also recognise the convenience of choosing friends  and partners with similar interests, because that way there’s always someone to go to that exhibition/lecture/concert with. But ultimately, I feel it’s more beneficial to have friends who don’t always agree with us or share our interests. It prevents intellectual and spiritual complacency and forces us to constantly re-examine your own values. It also introduces us to a range of interests outside of whatever is in vogue amongst the group we may be attached to.

Just try it next time. Question your intentions each and every time you post something on Facebook.  Admit to your ‘uncool’ interests alongside your more socially acceptable ones. (Just putting it out there: I like looking at genealogy charts of royal families. Gross, especially because I think royal families are completely useless and redundant, but there it is.) Attend a class by a Shaykh outside of your own circle, even if he seems a bit ‘Salafi’. Don’t assume that someone is deep just because they post some Rumi on Facebook.  Ask yourself,  do I really like spoken word poetry, or am I just playing up a mild interest to try to impress that poetry slam girl?

All this becomes easier as we get older, because with age tends to come a firmer sense of self. It’s also much easier to be the realest version of ourselves when we’re in a relationship, simply because we’re not trying to impress anyone of the opposite sex in the please-marry-me way. But it’s still an ongoing, lifelong process, and one that requires honesty and constant self-reflection.  It’s certainly tempting to edit and tweak yourself and display only your highlights reels (i.e. yourself at your wittiest/most deep and meaningful), but to do so would be to deny the complexity of your identity and experiences.

This post isn’t intended as an attack on anyone’s genuine enjoyment of their interests, nor do I intend to shame anyone for identifying with a group. It’s simply a reminder directed at myself first and foremost: be real. Be sincere. Be you. Step away from the physical and social media crowd and take time out to get to know yourself, because ultimately your worth isn’t derived from your taste in clothing or music, it’s derived from your service to Allah swt and the amazing gifts He has given to you and you alone.

Types of Muslim couples you’ll encounter

I’m fascinated by couples. Figuring out what draws people together, and more importantly, what makes them stay together, is an exercise I conduct whenever I hear of a new couple. Sometimes I’m genuinely surprised when I hear two people are a couple, but more often that not I can see what holds them together. Even more interesting to me is how couples present themselves in the public arena, which in this day and age translates to social media. Muslims tend to put a lot more thought into this than most people given that we know people will think better or worse of us based on the ‘appropriateness’ of our conduct. For some couples, this means consciously marketing themselves in a particular way, while for others it just so happens that they appear in a certain light.

From my observations, there are several types of Muslim couples:

1.) The Covert Couple

The most that these guys will do in the public sphere is update their relationship status when they get married. You won’t see any photos of them together nor will there be any cutesy posts to each other’s walls. Whatever their feelings towards each other, they’re keeping it under wraps. Their marketing message can be summed up as ‘yes, we’re married, but that’s all you’re going to get out of us’.

2.) The Low-Key Lovers

These guys might have a photo or two together with the obligatory ‘<3’, but there won’t be much more than that. The message they seem to send is ‘yes, we’re married and we love each other, but that’s all you’re going to get out of us’.

3.) The Brangelinas

These guys are a power couple. They may have different strengths and different perspectives, but together they’re a force to be reckoned with. They celebrate each other’s achievements in the public sphere and let it be known that their spouse is pretty much amazing.

4.) The Cutesy Pies

These guys get all the likes and the ‘awwwws’. They wear their hearts on their profiles, I mean, sleeves, and they don’t care who sees it. In fact, a cynical observer might say their marketing strategy is to be seen as the cutest darn couple there is, mashaAllah.

5.) The Witty Wedded Folks

These guys love to poke fun at each other and not-so-subtly publicise each other’s foibles. While they generally avoid the corny stuff in public, a cynical observer might think that their aim is secretly to appear as cute as pie in an aren’t-we-so-cool sort of way.

Couple_01

While the above is fairly tongue-in-cheek, it does get me thinking about the serious issue of how we present ourselves online. (In case you haven’t noticed, that’s a pretty big interest of mine.) In this day and age, even the most intimate relationships can be marketed to make the parties appear in a certain light. This isn’t even restricted to romantic relationships. How many of us are guilty of playing up the cutesiness of our relationship with our parents, or our siblings? I know I am. It makes me wonder how much sincere feeling is behind what we project and if it’s possible to lose the latter in a sea of likes and carefully captioned photos.

Projecting an image of ourselves is also worrying from the perspective of envy. I always worry for people who constantly post about their achievements or how cute their spouse is, simply because there could be hidden evils in the hearts of our online ‘friends’. Besides, my life isn’t perfect, nor are any of my personal relationships, so it’s simply false advertising to portray my life as a big cutesy whirl of family and friends. But saying this doesn’t make me any less immune to the trap of marketing myself and my life online. It’s so easy to do it, and the validation we get can make us feel more secure in situations and relationships that in reality are on shaky ground. Some of the most unstable relationships I’ve heard of have the cutesiest, shiniest public exteriors.

How public would you want to be in your interactions with your partner? Do you like being cutesy or do you like to keep it low-key?