Social media has become the new mountain high from which people in relationships are supposed to yell their love for another. It’s a weird phenomenon, considering it means today’s form of P.D.A. is electronic and doesn’t actually include touching. P.D.A, is no longer shared with just your partner but with 700 of your closest online friends too, making it, arguably, not even monogamous. Is the seven-day #LoveYourSpouse challenge, which aims to “keep the celebration of love and promotion of marriage going,” the hashtag du jour that will keep two people’s embers burning both online and off?
I can’t ignore the seven days of sugarcoated (and somewhat narcissistic) photos of couples smiling ubiquitously as if they’re on a permanent honeymoon or as if their spouse’s farts smell like vanilla cupcakes. I actually don’t mind the oversharing, but I am perplexed by it. When did posting online shoutouts for one’s engagement, wedding, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day celebrations and National Spouse Day (January 26th) (not to mention the small publicized everyday acts made to keep a marriage operational) become not enough to prove to yourself and the interweb that you’re happy and committed to your marriage? I’m all for celebrating happy life events and other people’s precious moments, but I have to wonder if this overkill is at all honest?
The reality is that most people only ever post their happiest moments; it gives other people the faux impression that their daily life is regularly bathed in golden sunsets, winning moments and cute animal videos. Life online is heavily curated and not necessarily an accurate representation of life’s daily drudgeries. The #loveyourspouse challenge can aim to promote the sanctity of marriage, but marriage is never perfect, no matter what rose-colored filter you add to the posted promotional photo of it. This is why blogger Melissa Bowers went out of her way to post the imperfect and more brutally honest moments of what marriage (and marriage with kids) is really like. Without including the sour with the sweet, the #LoveYourSpouse challenge is just online marital propaganda.
I’m also concerned the hashtag challenge might pressure people to put up a façade of a happy, healthy marriage to hide the fact that, for them, it isn’t all bliss. One friend admitted she wouldn’t participate because her marriage wasn’t in the best place and she didn’t want to pretend as if it was. However, Kansas City Star writer Sherry Keuhl simply didn’t want to participate despite a happy marriage — and ended up on two Dallas Baptist Church prayer lists because people thought it meant her marriage was in trouble. It’s almost impossible to know someone’s relationship reality, but the #LoveYourSpouse challenge doesn’t create much room for true honesty.
Before you accuse me of being a romantic curmudgeon, I would feel differently about the benefits of this e-chain if it actually challenged couples to embrace the true nature of marriage — the good memories, but also the boring, rough and awkward ones too. However, there’s no depth to it aside from posting photos. Unlike listicle chain challenges, no one is required to share on Day 3, for example, an obstacle you overcame together; or on Day 5, a selfless gesture you both made to each other in kind. A picture online is not worth a thousand words, because by Day 7 I still wouldn’t necessarily know exactly why you love your spouse or what mutual chemistry you share that keeps your fire burning.
And like any typical chain challenge, it wants you to spread the relationship game by nominating a friend each day to participate too. Who can and cannot participate in the e-chain really speaks volumes to the up and downsides of the #LoveYourSpouse challenge. The downside of promoting the sanctity of marriage is that it effectively, if not at least indirectly, pushes alternate lifestyles as less desirable. It excludes the single, divorced, widowed or anyone currently Eat-Pray-Loving him or herself on a journey of self-discovery. Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City had this awesome revelation about milestone celebrations — engagement parties, wedding showers, weddings, baby showers—– they’re almost all for couples, non-married people are rarely celebrated. This hashtag challenge similarly perpetuates this bias.
Some people are fighting against the #LoveYourSpouse challenge by using the hashtag to post irreverent photos of themselves and inanimate objects, delicious foods or celebrity crushes to make a point that a person’s value needs to go beyond their relationship. As The Feminist Bride, I can’t tell you how many wedding traditions, like changing to the title Mrs., is about defining a women’s worth based on her relationship status and less on who she is as a person (men don’t make these value-based identity changes). If it’s mostly women participating in the hashtag challenge alone, I’m worried the test also perpetuates the idea that a women’s most valuable asset, worthy of “show and telling” online, is just her marriage. And I know all women have vastly more to offer.
However, its one huge benefit is actually marital inclusivity via the gender-neutral term spouse. Promotions of traditional marriage used to be limited to cis, hetero and demographically homogeneous couples, but LGBTQ couples are free to participate in this one. Sharing the intimacy and nature of their relationship online might actually encourage others to accept it more. It’s an important, potential influence considering that the Pew Research Center’s 2016 polling reveals 37% of Americans still oppose same-sex marriage.
I’d love to see a simultaneous counter hashtag challenge, like #LoveYourself, which would embrace diverse personal impressions as a way to promote more substantial ideas like body and sex positivity, regardless of one’s relationship status. If there’s a hashtag challenge worth doing, why not make sure it is more inclusive, well rounded and really promotes healthy living? Unlike the ALS #IceBucketChallenge, #LoveYourSpouse isn’t a social movement to raise health awareness towards a disease. It doesn’t even necessarily promote better intimacy between you and your spouse because of the impersonal online platform it uses.
I’ll admit marriage is not always easy, but I also don’t think it should ever be a challenge either — in real life, the one you’ve cultivated online, or via a hashtag. Using a hashtag to remind me to sentimentally savor or rekindle my marriage in front of hundreds of online friends is not my idea of romance (there’s a reason I didn’t invite all of them to my wedding!). Of course, if people enjoy sharing moments of their marital bliss online, they are more than welcome to post away. My only hope is that doing so creates more depth and meaning than the current structure of the #LoveYourSpouse challenge currently allows, and that it is not the only way a person gains a sense of value, belonging and acceptance. For me, the greatest test of the #LoveYourSpouse challenge is finding the willpower to actually put every device on airplane mode, close all screens, and go off the grid in order to focus my time, energy and emotion into the person I’ve chosen to share my life with — in person and not online.
Top image: The Simpsons
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Katrina Majkut (My’ kit), a visual artist and writer in NYC, founded the feminist wedding lifestyle website TheFeministBride.com (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter). Mic Media identified her as one of four international artists starting a new chapter in feminist art, so feel free to check out her artwork too!