My girlfriend and I dated for three months before we officially became a couple. When we did, I texted my little brother the good news:
“Btw, L is actually my gf now.”
All he wrote back was, “igo?”
Igo… igo… It took me a minute to realize he meant Instagram Official, but once I did, I froze. Facebook relationship statuses have long been things of the past, but my brother’s text reminded me that a new social media app had taken over as the ostensible metric of love.
“?” I finally replied, unsure of what to say to him about my and Lindsay’s designation.
Facebook made it easy. In its heyday, I could either be “In a relationship” on Facebook or not. Later on, that relationship could be presented as more nuanced with sub-designations like “It’s complicated” or “Married to.” No matter how granular, the premise was the same: What made a relationship Facebook Official (or FBO) was clearly defined by the platform itself. It was simply up to users whether to abide by that definition or not.
With Instagram, things aren’t so clear cut. And there was no way for me to know if Lindsay and I were IGO without knowing what the hell it meant in the first place.
I texted my brother again:
“How do you define igo?”
“I’d say it’s just posting stuff of you and your boo together without u trying to hide any signs of it being a romantic relationship, like just post how you’d post regularly but with your SO in the pics too. Maybe a dedication post if it’s serious. Lil anniversary joint.”
Then he added, “U should edit your profile, too. Add Lindsay’s initials with a heart and lock emoji. Maybe a gun too.”
“Yeah and the date.”
“The date u formally established your soul bond.”
Huh. I wasn’t sure Lindsay and I had formally established our soul bond, but instead of engaging another existential question, I took my original one straight to the source: Instagram. What did Man Repeller’s followers deem IGO?
“I feel that, as it’s not a status per se (a la Facebook), it’s an organic introduction,” said one person.
“It starts with casual Instagram Stories with my partner,” said another.
These align with the idea that Instagram has become a medium of subtle flexing. Whereas Facebook encouraged us to be more straightforward, Instagram has always been concerned with the art of storytelling — about signaling one’s virtue, fortune, or worldliness, without saying it outright. And what is an “organic introduction” if not thoughtful(ly curated) exposition in the (IG) story of one’s life?
These definitions also bolster Lindsay’s declaration from just the other night: She showed up at my apartment after work and proudly proclaimed, “I think we’re IGO — people have been DMing me saying, ‘You and bae are cute!’” She had posted some pics of us rollerskating in her Story. (Apparently IGO can be defined by people who don’t know you calling you “bae.”)
Many other respondents insist that being IGO is defined by a photo’s perceived permanence — it’s gotta be “in-feed.”
“I think being IG official is posting a REAL photo together,” explained another respondent. “Something that someone would look at and say, ‘Oh yeah, they’re a couple.’ Not just posting [your partner] on your story or tagging each other on your favorite memes.”
Many of the DMs I got essentially proved my original hypothesis — that there is no dogmatic definition of IGO. But my favorite messages were the ones that gave me fodder for thinking more critically about how to use Instagram now that I am in a relationship:
“I only post pictures of [my partner and I] when we are doing fun things!” said one person.
“I don’t post many pictures of my boyfriend and I because I don’t want people who are not in a relationship (but would like to be) to feel bad,” said another.
“I don’t mind when other people post couple stuff, but I can’t stand super heteronormative couple stuff. Relationships today come in so many forms!” said a third.
The response I think most about, though, came from someone who doesn’t post about their relationship at all:
“My partner and I don’t post about each other. We know we are official. Our friends and family knew we were official when we decided to share it with them. In general, do your followers need to know about your relationship for it to be qualified as official? Our answer is no.”
I like to imagine that this person is truly invested in thinking through the ways humans and technology interact. That they’ve read Audre Lorde, believe a relationship is sharing deeply any pursuit with another person, and have purposefully created a boundary between their Instagram persona and their personal life to uphold that definition. But who knows, because there’s a million ways to parse this IGO quandry out. Do you have any input? Meet me in the comments, let’s chat about the role Instagram plays in your relationship, or in the relationships of the people you follow. And anyone who’s formally established a soul bond with their SO, please send me an email immediately.
Collage by Madeline Montoya.