I happened to meet my current partner on a dating app. We chatted for a few days and somehow we managed to click. As someone with a laundry list of what she wants and doesn’t want, this guy checked almost all the boxes, and I knew I wanted to meet him. To take things forward, we exchanged our Instagram IDs and moved our conversations there. It was only an hour before I was supposed to meet him that we exchanged phone numbers, to coordinate. We never felt the need before that. Fast forward to almost two years later, and we still laugh about this.
The older generation might find this to be strange. But with Gen Zs, exchanging Instagram IDs first is a real thing. It is only after we vet people through Instagram, that we decide if we want to take things forward or not. Modern-day dating has its perils, but at the same time, it gives people the time to think if they want to take things to the next level. It gives us the luxury of time and the ability to choose. The latest trend report by Instagram also attests to this fact. It said, “After meeting someone new, 28% of Gen Zs make the first move by exchanging Instagram handles as opposed to exchanging phone numbers.”
This reminded me of the numerous times my girlfriends told me that they got a potential love interest’s Instagram ID before they exchanged phone numbers. Simran, who met her partner in a class, tells me that she knew there was a mutual attraction. But she was shy and they had never talked much. It was only when they got together for a team project did they started talking and the first thing they did was exchange social media handles. She says, “He was cute but I wanted to see what his online persona is like. I wanted to know more about his life and see if our lifestyles match.”
Gen Z is chronically online. There is an unsaid need to document almost everything through reels and photo dumps. While our feeds may have the most well-curated photo grid, it is only on our stories that we put out the most unfiltered versions of ourselves. Add to this, Instagram has a free-flowing market of memes. When you have run out of conversation starters, memes act as fodder. It helps you continue the conversation even when the conversation feels drier than the Sahara.
Gen Z believes that what people share and engage with on social media is a fair marker of their likes and dislikes. This reminds me of the time when I liked a Himesh Reshammiya reel. Thanks to the Instagram algorithm, the reel popped up on my best friend’s Explore page. She asked me why I liked it because she felt that it was unlike me.
My incident wasn’t that serious but Radhika Sharma draws from it and states an important point. She says, “With socials, you have the added advantage of getting to form an image of them in your head based on how they present themselves to the world. So you get to know them from a safe distance. Equally, it’s easier to get rid of them if things don’t work out.”
Another friend of mine from whom I always take dating tips had similar things to say. Rujuta says, “I can see how they talk to other women. Do they make fun of them? Do they insult them? Or call ‘baby/darling’ to every single girl? This can give away a lot of their characteristics.” She says, “Through a phone call, we will have a one-to-one conversation and the other person will portray himself as someone that’d probably impress me or something but on IG, I can judge his activity and see for myself.”
Through social media, we can see how a person portrays himself to the world and we can judge if we want to be with them or not. Radhika says, “If they post very obvious garbage posts, you can tell they’re blatantly racist/sexist etc. You are certain it’s not just humour and you’re better off avoiding and going your way instead of indulging.” People love to share and overshare on social media. For a lot of people, social media acts like a public platform.
On the other hand, our phone numbers are sacred, personal spaces that is reserved only for a few. Radhika adds, “Imagine them calling and/or texting and popping up on your phone at random hours. For some reason, people have come to the understanding that direct phone calls and messages have a bit of an urgency to them.” Giving someone your phone number feels like you are giving them 24*7 access to your life. With social media, you can log out, enjoy your peace, and decide when you want to talk to someone. When someone has your phone number, there is an understanding that they can call or text you at any time and you are obligated to answer it. Even when you don’t want to.
Manya says, “I think phone numbers have always sounded very private to me, and that’s how communication or messaging really started. I also feel like we share part of our lives on Instagram so it’s already out there. With phone numbers, it gets a little too personal, like someone is entering a space that is mine.” Shivani echoes Manya’s sentiment and she says, “Phone number feels more personal and it feels like I’m giving them more access to myself which I don’t want to do till I know it’s going somewhere. Instagram feels more impersonal. And you can keep them at a distance.”
Women are fiercely protective of their personal spaces and this helps them assert it even more. The consensus is that sharing social media handles helps you make a judgement. Maybe it is time, people start watching what they consume on social media.