• Cringe Facebook relationship status updates are a thing of the past
  • Nowadays, the coolest way to let people know you’re in a relationship is by ‘soft-launching’ your partner on Instagram
  • But what exactly does it mean to soft-launch a relationship?

What is soft-launching?

You might have heard the corporate term ‘soft-launch’ used to describe a product’s release to a limited audience. But what does it mean when people talk about soft-launching their partners?

Put simply, a relationship soft-launch is when someone posts an extremely low-key photo of their SO on social media. Their face will probably be obscured (or not in the photo at all) and it’s likely they won’t be tagged. It’s a far cry from the #couplegoals photoshoots of yore. Writing for MEL Magazine, journalist Madeleine Holden states that a soft-launch “involves posting just enough about your partner on Instagram to signal to your followers that you might be in some kind of romantic relationship, while also retaining plausible deniability of the relationship’s existence.”

And as memorably described by digital marketing specialist Jenna Fisher on TikTok: “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. For the guys: it will only be a photo of himself and he will tag her as the photographer either in the description or the photo.”

Why do people soft-launch their relationships?

When you start seeing someone new, it can feel sort of instinctive to shout about it from the rooftops – understandably so, if you’re excited to have met someone who makes you feel happy and fulfilled. So where has the much more subtle soft-launching trend come from?

Fisher explains to InsideHook: “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.”

“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 says.

Comedian Jared Freid, also speaking to InsideHook, adds: “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,” he continues. “It works as a message to the person you’re seeing that this is more serious to me, you’re on my story. And it works as a message to the people you’ve been casually hooking up with, that it’s just not as serious.”

Soft-launching is a great option for Gen-Zers and millennials who find themselves in months-long situationships. It makes sense to want to post about someone who you spend a lot of time with – but it’s equally natural to hold off presenting yourselves as a couple when you’re yet to put a label on your relationship.

Speaking to Refinery29, dating and relationship expert Sarah Louise Ryan agrees that soft-launching is “part of […] the exciting stages of something new when a couple haven’t quite committed to each other but are clearly connected romantically. It is the social media soft launch of a ‘situationship’ more often than not.”

It’s also only fair to upload photos that both you and your partner are happy with, so soft-launching seems a reasonable compromise if one of you is big on social media and the other would rather not post as much. It’s a bit of a stereotype, but straight guys have a bit of a rep for being averse to posting couple pics – so perhaps soft-launching is the answer for any girlfriends who still do want to post about their love life, even if their boyfriends don’t.

Is it a good idea?

Some people might think that opting for a soft-launch over a hard-launch (ie a photo with your partner’s face clearly visible and their Instagram profile tagged for all to see) suggests that you and your partner are a pair of commitment-phobes, both afraid to publicly acknowledge their relationship with one another. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Ryan adds that “in this day and age, sharing about your romantic life on social media is a commitment.” Young people are keenly aware of this, and their preference for more low-key Instagram debuts demonstrates caution and level-headedness – not commitment-phobia.

Holden affirms this, writing in MEL that a hard-launch to your Instagram grid is “not to be taken lightly.”

Many of us have grown up witnessing first-hand the social media fallout from messy breakups, with relationship statuses publicly changed back to ‘single’ and couple photos scrubbed from profiles. Soft-launching, arguably, is a natural progression for people who’ve learnt the hard way that it’s generally not a good idea to plaster every aspect of your life online.

Ryan says that this more measured approach to posting about relationships on social media should be welcomed. “It is a good thing that relationships are kept private because then people can just focus their energy on what is going on between the two of them,” she continues. “It’s a healthy approach to forming something real and long-lasting.”