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Here's Your Foolproof Guide To Soft-Launching Your New Relationship

Step 1: Find someone to date.

Originally Published: 
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Successfully soft-launching your relationship on Instagram is an art form. The careful angle of the photo, the positioning of the two dinner plates, the “date night” caption without any more details... it all adds up to a nearly perfect marketing strategy that provokes just the right amount of intrigue and suspense. But that’s only part of the soft launch’s appeal. It’s a form of preemptive damage control, a way of avoiding full vulnerability — with yourself, your partner, and your followers.

As with many aspects of romantic relationships, there can be serious feelings and insecurities behind the fun. First dates can be nerve-racking. First kisses can be stressful — even if they’re great. And first IG stories aren’t the exception to this rule. Dr. Daryl Johnson, Ph.D., psychologist and couples therapist, explains, “I think a big part of the reason couples soft-launch rather than sharing [their relationship] directly is the game of it all and to keep people guessing. But it could also feel like you're testing the waters with this person, and while you want the world to know, you aren't sure how far you guys will go.”

Whether it’s out of self-preservation, an aversion to social media, or concerns about the budding relationship, plenty of people are reluctant to share the details of their love life with the world. “There can be a lot of social embarrassment for bringing up someone all the time if it doesn't work out,” Jared Freid, co-host of Betches’ U Up? podcast, explains.

Soft launches are a way to avoid that hurt for as long as possible. Each phase of the soft launch is one step closer to that vulnerability — exposure therapy with a digital twist. Per Freid, even on IG stories, “It is vulnerable to put yourself out there.” So yes, the process has the potential to make even the calmest dater a little uneasy, but it’ll also help you get used to that feeling. That way, when the time comes for a feed post, it won’t feel quite so overwhelming.

You aren’t just testing yourself, however. According to Freid, soft launches are really are a three-pronged balancing act between yourself, your partner, and your followers. Every Instagram story is an opportunity to gauge reactions, both yours and theirs. “You're making sure to do this a little by little so there's less to clean up if things go bad,” he explains.

That cleanup can be surface-level. (Chances are, you won’t have to delete a post that disappears after 24 hours anyway.) But Freid says soft launches are often about “your emotional state that you're protecting because you don't want to get too far along.” In the wake of a breakup, you might feel particularly grateful that your former relationship’s digital footprint remained small.

Suffice to say, soft launches are complicated, and they can feel scary! But they don’t have to be a source of stress. Here’s a five-step guide to making your soft launch as easy as clicking “Post to Story.”

Post Your Date On IG Stories
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The soft launch usually takes place over Instagram stories, but it isn’t exclusively an IG phenomenon. And depending on the medium, the first step of the soft launch might vary. Freid explains, “I think IG stories is the best place for it to happen, but it's also happening on Snapchat stories as well. It happens on Twitter, too. Their tweets all of a sudden are not about the difficulties of dating. All of a sudden, they're about second dates.”

But since Instagram stories are generally the soft launch’s best friend, here’s how to frame one successfully. The next time you hang out with your new partner, snap a picture of your date night setup. Some examples: two glasses of wine with a big bowl of popcorn, two dinner plates, two show tickets. Really, two of anything will get the message across.

It may be tempting to include your SO in that first pic, but unless you want a hard launch, resist it. Freid explains, “It’s testing the person you're with. I think it's a lot about seeing how they react to it. You put the two plates on stories and you see, ‘OK, they're OK with that. Can I go a little further?’ It's a test of where you are as a couple.”

That simple test can reveal a lot. “I think it makes you more attracted to the person [if they’re] excited that you put their fingernail on your Instagram story. It’s kind of exciting,” Freid adds. Of course, the reverse could happen; they might feel uncomfortable being on your page, which is why it’s important to have a conversation before taking the soft launch further.

Check In With Your Partner And Yourself
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Before posting anything identifiable about your SO on Instagram — like more obvious than two wine glasses — you should talk about it. Johnson recommends “hav[ing] a conversation with your partner to get on the same page regarding social media behaviors.” This is particularly important if the soft launch feels one-sided, aka they’re not posting photos of you.

Johnson explains, “Some people have their reasons for not posting their partner so it's a good idea to come to an agreement on how you two will navigate this.” So before you start reading into their lack of social media attention, have that conversation. No matter what their explanation, it should give you some clarity.

The conversation doesn’t have to be a heavy heart-to-heart, either. You can easily bring up the subject while taking a picture. Freid suggests saying, "OK, we are going to put our hands on the table.” For your new boo, this moment lets them weigh in on how they feel about IG PDA; for you, it’s a chance to gauge their reaction.

Having that conversation means getting rid of some of the ambiguity that’s inherent in these early stages of a relationship. Freid adds, “Everything up until then, there's some bluffing, there's some eye contact, [there’s wondering,] ‘Are they where I am? Am I where they are?’"

Facing that vulnerability slightly more head-on can be scary. Freid explains, “In relationships, everyone seems to be communicating in a way that will be least disastrous to their mental health. That's what we're protecting. It's very human. On U Up?, we get a lot of questions, and they’re mostly asking for a way to have a relationship with someone without being vulnerable.”

Hence, the allure of the soft launch. It’s a more gradual introduction to a fully public relationship. Although it doesn’t completely save you from baring your soul, it does give a nice cushion of ambiguity and plenty of opportunities for you and your SO to talk through your feelings.

Share A Photo Of Their Hand Or Profile

If the first IG story goes well, you can move on to a slightly less ambiguous post. This time, your SO should be in it, but only vaguely: it’s their hand, their side profile, a shot from the back; the less identifiable, the better. And you definitely don’t need to tag them in the post (at least, not visibly).

According to Johnson, this is the most common — or, at least, the most recognizable — version of the soft launch. “The photo has just enough in it to make everyone else wonder, ‘Who is this person?’ and communicates, ‘I'm with someone.’”

And yes, this is why having a conversation is so important. Everyone has a right to be as active or nonactive on social media as they’d like, and some people might not want their face (yes, even if it’s in shadow!) on the ‘gram.

This phase of the soft launch might last for one day or several weeks (or more), depending on how your relationship develops. The most important thing is to keep an eye on how you feel. Does the thought of sharing this person with your followers make you happy or anxious? How do you feel when the DMs come in? Are you excited to answer them or dreading it?

If you (and your partner) are still comfortable with the soft launch, carry on.

Post A Not-So-Subtle Caption

After checking in with your partner, you can start hinting at your relationship in the captions of your feed posts, too (or your tweets, TikToks, and so on).

Something like, “The perfect date night,” or “A good time with a great person,” will work. Yes, these ambiguous captions are cheesy, but they get the message across. Keeping it cryptic — especially in the beginning of a relationship — can be enjoyable. Freid explains, “The ambiguity is what ends up being the most fun and the most exciting part.”

Just keep this phase limited to pictures without your partner. Don’t worry, that step’s coming!

The Feed Post, AKA The Hard Launch

According to Freid, soft launches are really like a “person dancing around like, ‘Hey, I really like you. I'm going to post a picture of us on our feed because I love this picture of us and I really like you.’”

The hard launch trades that dance for a new one. As Johnson explains, “It’s not official until its IG-Official.” And if your partner is playing a significant part in your day-to-day life, it only makes sense to share that on your socials. “Your feed is really [reflective of] where you are in life,” Freid explains.

For this final step, you can include your partner’s face (!!!) and tag them. A clever caption poking fun at the soft launch is also in order — something like, “Introducing [insert their name],” is always cute. (Plus, even though this feed post seems permanent, it can always be archived later if things go south.)

Bonus: Soft-Launching A Breakup

If your current SO doesn’t end up being your forever person, you can also soft-launch your breakup. Although admittedly less fun than soft-launching your relationship, revealing your breakup is small, subtle steps can make the painful process easier. (Plus, it can give your friends and followers a heads up to stop asking about your ex.)

Archiving your loved-up posts and editing your old captions might make you feel better, but unless you’re a celebrity, most people probably won’t notice. “It's way quieter to delete a post than to put one up. People do a little bit of a cleansing... but no one's watching. It's more human to go, ‘Who's the leg in your pic?’ than it is to go, ‘Some of your pictures are missing,’” Freid explains.

So if you want people to know about your breakup without having to actually tell them, it’s time to reverse the relationship soft launch. “Sentimental stuff, vague quotes... That's the soft launch of a breakup, especially if it doesn't end well,” Freid explains.

Sharing a couple of posts to your IG story about finding “true happiness” or “embracing your independence” should do the trick — and help you avoid a few uncomfortable conversations.

Whether you’re soft-launching the beginning of a relationship or the end of one, keep in mind that when it comes to your relationship status, the only people on a need-to-know basis are you and your partner. That doesn’t mean that these soft launches don’t matter: they definitely do.

Embracing vulnerability, whether online or off, is a big step, even when you’re limiting your posts to temporary IG stories. But just because it’s nerve-racking doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. Putting yourself out there, regardless of the outcome, is a good thing.

“These soft launches are tests [of] the person we're dating,” Freid explains, “They’re also a way of not getting ahead of ourselves, and not embarrassing ourselves on social media — which really, in the end, isn't that embarrassing at all.”

Take this as your official go-ahead to post that first story.


Jared Freid, co-host of Betches’ U Up? podcast

Dr. Daryl Johnson, Ph.D., psychologist and couples therapist

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