I recently faced a crisis. It was my six-month anniversary, which seemed like an appropriate time to share one of my favourite wedding photos on Instagram: my husband and I laughing wildly as we tried to avoid stepping in piles of horse shit all over the ground. Is six months a good enough excuse? I thought. I've posted a few photos already; my Facebook profile photo is from my wedding. Will people think I'm sappy or self-involved or —
I posted the photo, but my agonizing belies a quiet truth of modern marriage: you don't want to be That Girl. Everyone knows That Girl — she relentlessly posts wedding photos on a regular basis, even years after her wedding, using every #tbt, holiday, and made-up-for-social-media-day, as an excuse to dig into her archives of perfect images.
People tend to get bad tastes from online oversharers who divulge recklessly rather than selectively choosing what goes up. There's a thread on WeddingWire, a forum for excited brides to talk about weddings, venting about women who post excessively in advance of their weddings. The forum largely came to a consensus: "attention seeking." Someone in the forum criticized post-wedding throwbacks: "We get it. You're married."
In a vacuum, this would be fine. But Instagram is not a vacuum, it is a visual megaphone, with each photo shared with followers (many of whom might not have been invited to your wedding). When you look back on a gorgeous (expensive), romantic, life-defining day, your syrupy sweet nostalgia graces other people's feeds. Your friends will inevitably like these photos because your friends love you, and humans are prone to tapping twice on something they find visually appealing and heartstring-tugging.
Instagram has, without question, changed the way we operate, acting as a cheerleader for our most performative, self-indulgent behaviour. While shaking our heads at Photoshop, we willingly filter ourselves, posing only in our best angles, outfits, and alongside food we might not have finished. It's Pavlovian; getting likes — validation — feels good. So when you are suddenly gifted with ample photos of you at your best, you're guaranteed likes, and confirmation. Nostalgia can be a sentimental, powerful evocation of the past, but it's also a mechanism for digging in the knife of passing time. The strange thing about nostalgia on the Internet is that we get rewarded for living in the past.
There's no guide on the art of tactfully posting your wedding photos on Instagram. The how-tos end after thank you notes. I spoke with some friends, and we agreed there's an unspoken etiquette to navigating social media after your wedding. They are sympathetic individuals, as am I (I think), and pointed out that of course you'd want to share photos of the happiest day of your life, one in which you, your spouse, friends, and family look very good. Of course you'll post photos on various occasions commemorating a truly special day. But there's a point after the newlywed gloss fades (approximately a year), and a certain number of photos, when it feels...over-the-top.
Understandably, there can be echoes of sadness, maybe even grief, after the anticipation dissolves into routine. There are so few times in a woman's life when she receives universal, unbridled attention: when she gets married, when she has a child, and then what? When she dies? Society has (wrongfully) affirmed that women are most worth celebrating during these life-cycle moments, so for some, it's hard to let go — or lose the positive affirmations.
But beyond the cloying photo-inundation that suggests reliving one day, there's the troubling question of the absence of current photos celebrating present, married life — which are often more fun to see, because they're so human. What's better than your wedding day is what you actually signed up for when you hired that expensive photographer: a lifetime of memories. Are those memories worth less, because they might not garner as many likes? I'd argue they're worth more, and the people who follow you for the right reasons might agree.
When I want to crawl into a very existential hole, I wonder why I post on Instagram at all. I'm guilty of social media transgressions; who isn't? But years ago, all people had were their photo albums, only available to the people close enough to invite into their homes. And even then, you wouldn't force guests to look. If they did, the only validation you'd receive would be verbal and ephemeral — much like your wedding day, but ideally, unlike your actual marriage.
By Mallory Schlossberg
This article first appeared in Elle US.