My girlfriend and I had been hooking up (but not technically dating) for about two months before I started following her on Twitter. I had read all of her tweets by then, of course, and was obsessively checking to see if she posted anything new. But I didn't dare follow her. Somehow, clicking the follow button or, even worse, friending her on Facebook, felt like it would give away how much I liked her. And that would be horrible.
It sounds silly now (why shouldn't she know that I like her?), but I'm not the only one who falls prey to these kinds of social media anxieties. When many of us first start dating someone, we stalk their socials in private. We don't make it known that we want to look through all of their awkward high school Facebook photos and dramatic status updates. But the hush-hush nature of stalking your potential love's socials makes it difficult to know when you can come out of the closet and follow them for real. So we asked an expert to make it a little more clear. The verdict? You'll want to wait at least a few dates, says dating strategist Natalia Juarez.
Her advice tracks with what most of us are doing, anyway. According to Match.com's Singles In America study, which surveys more than 5,000 single people (not just Match users) across the U.S., a majority of people (41%) will only hit "add friend" after they and their date have been out a few times. Only 18% wait until the relationship gets serious.
But why even wait until you've had three or four dates? Why not friend someone after the first date if you had a good time and want to see them again? Well, you risk looking needy, Juarez says. Especially if the person has their Instagram or other social media set to private. "They obviously like to keep a tighter circle, in which case prematurely requesting access might seem too aggressive," she says. Overall, she thinks that Instagram and Snapchat are more casual (as long as your date's account is public), so it's totally fine to follow someone on one of those sites after four to six dates. But, Facebook is a different story. "There may be more of a personal photo history and more family connections on Facebook," Juarez says. She suggests waiting about a month, or until you've defined the relationship, before friending someone on Facebook.
And, perhaps more important than coming on too strong, following someone too early could impact your own thoughts about your potential new partner before you've had time to get to know them. "If you see pictures of the person you’re dating with another person (perhaps an ex) this may impact your ability to let the relationship unfold naturally," she says. "Instead of getting to know the person for who they are, you may run the risk of making up stories based on content that may or may not mean anything."
Remember, what you see on social media is often just one side of who a person is. And usually, it's their most showy side. So the person sitting across from you at dinner might not live up to the person you've concocted in your head based on their perfect vacation selfies. "Instead of focusing on social media, focus on the connection you have," Juarez says. "How someone treats you, how excited they are to see you, and how responsive they are says so much more than an add." Your date deserves a chance to charm you without fighting with their Insta-self.
So it's worth it to wait a bit before hitting "like," "follow," or "friend." But maybe don't wait several months like I did. Because, just as I thought, friending someone on social media does let them know that you like them, Juarez says. And that's actually a good thing. (Trust me, you want the people you like to know you're interested.)