Ruining Your Partner’s Instagram Feed Is No Way to Deal With Jealousy

The Instagram logo is reflected in someone's eye.
Instagram isn’t the enemy. Christophe Simon/Getty Images

A recent Elle article has provided yet more evidence that we live in trying romantic times. In this case, however, it’s not Tinder’s fault. It’s Instagram.

“Anyone with a smartphone and a decent data package can have unparalleled access to images of sexy people,” intones writer and producer Chloe Hall. “We’re not talking about the sexy people of professional porn; we’re talking about the swell of modern day Instagram pinups whose primary occupation is posting a flattering bikini shot.” These Instagram models are apparently wreaking enough havoc on relationships that Hall took it upon herself to survey ten different women on how they’ve reacted to their partner’s double-tapping an internet-famous stranger’s bikini pic. And ohhhh, boy.

While there were at least a few measured responses, most of the Instagram jealousy strategies can be accurately described as nightmarish. There’s Vivian, who’s been in a relationship for five whole years and doesn’t let her boyfriend follow any Instagram models. “I have his passcode and search through his phone when he’s in the shower. I also mute stories of all pretty girls. #modernlove.” Modern love, indeed. One anonymous woman takes the passive-aggressive route now that her boyfriend re-followed an Instagram model that she forced him to unfollow: “Obviously I don’t like it! I try not to be too controlling but if I see it on his feed I’ll make a snide comment.” There’s also Chloe, who apparently only gets offended by her boyfriend following women who have nothing in common with her. She developed an “Umbrella Theory” of thirst-following for her partner and explained its rationale thusly (and without a hint of irony): “It’s easier to pass off attraction when I can feel like all roads lead back to me … the umbrella [of followable women] consists of a wide range of shades, interests and talents, but they all have to have some correlation back to moi.”

And then there’s Shelby, who forever hacked her husband’s Instagram experience to assuage her own jealousy:

I found that if you log onto his account and follow, say, 10-20 cat Instagram accounts, then Insta’s algorithms will take notice. Now when it recommends people for him to follow or suggests “accounts he might like,” no longer is he served up a bevy of beautiful women. Instead his feed is filled with felines. Voila . — problem solved. Bonus: the algorithm never forgets — even after he unfollowed the accounts. Six months later and his feed is still brimming with kitties. Any non-threatening topic will do — food, cats, engagement rings…

While these strategies are surely a testament to how far people will go to avoid confronting the fact that they fundamentally don’t trust their partner enough to look at attractive digital strangers, there is one piece of decent relationship wisdom in this overcontrolling mess: Set boundaries and set them early. Relationships—platonic, romantic, and everything in between—are all about setting and respecting them, and a lot of conflict can be quickly traced back to a transgression of someone’s boundary. The strategies most of these women have dreamed up are a direct result of their partner crossing some boundary around social media. The problem is, it’s one that’s either unspoken or just unreasonable.

And here’s where communication comes in. It is entirely unfair for you to expect your partner to either intuit your boundaries around Instagram models or to abide by them without discussion of whether or not they’re actually reasonable. It is also unfair to expect a total monopoly on your partner’s attraction and to devise methods to enforce that monopoly, like banning them from following randos on a social media app. It’s telling that rather than have a conversation around relationship social media practices, these women prefer to walk right over their partner’s digital privacy.

This isn’t to say that it’s not normal to feel jealous if your partner is liking booties on Instagram that look nothing like yours. It is! We all get jealous and most of us don’t look like Instagram models no matter how many squats we do. What’s not fair is unlocking your partner’s phone or messing with their algorithm rather than talking to your partner about the source, or logic, of your jealousy. As Steph, one of the only voices of reason in the entire Elle piece wrote, “Accepting my partner’s attraction to other human beings as a normal physical instinct and not a threat to our bond is an important part of our relationship. If I feel distant or jealous, which of course happens, my solution is to get off our phones and spend real time together.” Of course, Steph’s solution requires introspection and actual communication of boundaries. It’s a lot easier to just crib your partner’s pass code.