Caroline, 26, was on Instagram one day earlier this year when she noticed that someone unusual was watching her Stories consistently: the mother of the guy she was casually dating. While Caroline had been seeing this guy multiple times a week for a few months, they weren't an official couple yet. And critically, while he had invited her to meet his family, she wasn't able to make it — so she had never met his mom. If your boyfriend or girlfriend's parents watch your Instagram Stories (or accidentally liked your tweet from five months ago, or stalked you on LinkedIn, or sent you an unsolicited Facebook friend request without ever meeting you IRL), you're not alone. And according to experts, those oddly sweet social media interactions can mean something pretty significant: Your relationship has serious potential.
"It seemed pretty clear we were both into each other," Caroline tells Elite Daily. His mom's Insta-lurking only served to further prove her point.
"To me, it read that he had told his mom about me and she was curious to see more about this person in her son's life," she says. "[It was] a little weird to feel like she was 'watching me,' but overall, it was sort of sweet."
"If the person you're casually or newly dating has talked about you and shared your name with his or her family, it's generally a sign that he or she sees some future potential," says Andrea Syrtash, a dating and relationship expert and the author of He's Just Not Your Type (And That's a Good Thing). "People tend to talk about people they are interested in! In some ways, the person you're dating may want validation from family or be interested in their opinion, especially if they have a close relationship."
Iman, 23, says she was excited when her partner's mom followed her on Instagram. "I was flattered when she followed me, because I knew that meant that he had gone home and told his family about me!" she tells Elite Daily. "I thought that was really sweet, and showed a sign of emotional investment."
While it's true that parents can use social media for a variety of reasons ranging from pure curiosity to a desire to keep tabs on their children's love lives, social media expert Kris Ruby says the very act of stalking is meaningful. "It shows there may be relationship potential and the person is serious enough about you to tell their parents who you are," she explains.
In other words: How would Mom even know to look you up if her kid hadn't told her about you? Take it from me — I once made the mistake of telling my mom a little too much about a guy I had an amazing first date with. On our second date, he asked why my mom had been checking him out on LinkedIn. I was forced to reveal that I had gushed about our date to my mom because, well, I had really liked him. I'm lucky that my date felt more flattered than freaked out; we wound up dating on and off for a few years.
If you're getting creeped on by your potential future in-laws, take comfort in the fact that they might not even know that you can see them watching you. "Some parents even reply to Stories not realizing their reply is sent to the person directly," Ruby says.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some parents know exactly how to use social media — or even use it to send a pointed message.
"My ex boyfriend’s mom will like my frickin’ Venmo transactions if she sees they are with another guy," Gabby, 22, tells Elite Daily. "I’m assuming it’s her way of being petty about [me breaking up with her son], but it’s definitely over-the-top. Her son and I dated for two years, she definitely thought we were going to work out long-term."
Whether accidental or intentional, when someone engages with you on social media, that reveals something important about their feelings toward you. "People make the mistake of ignoring it or saying it’s 'just social media' but social media is a further extension of our lives," Ruby says.
So, the next time you see your Tinder date's mom's username popping up under your Instagram Story, just remember this: It might mean the date went so well, they just had to run and tell their mom about how fantastic you are.
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