Why Your Facebook Feed Is Lying When It Tells You Everyone’s Getting Engaged

It might feel like your Facebook feed is full of engagement posts but, actually, young people are getting married later than ever before. So why does it feel like that?And, why do we care? Illustration by Alex Coll

Not everyone is getting engaged

by Vicky Spratt |

I deleted two people I went to university with from my Facebook recently. It was lunchtime, I was eating a chicken salad in a café on my own, fork in left hand haphazardly poking around my plate while I scrolled mindlessly through my phone with my right, when up it popped… another engagement announcement.

This one, for some reason particularly irked me. They were a straight couple and the guy had taken a shot of his new wife-to-be, ring firmly on finger, looking like the cat who got the cream on a beach in Sri Lanka and captioned it: ‘I liked it, so I put a ring on it.’

I didn’t think about the decision to delete this couple in any particular detail. I haven’t seen either of them in years, we were never particularly close and there was something objectifying about the way he’d referred to his supposed one as ‘it’ in the post – trite in his decision to quote Beyoncé and, ultimately, clichéd about the whole thing. So, within two minutes of seeing the post, that was it. Both of them deleted. Gone forever from my newsfeed.

This incident got me thinking about the number (many) of engagement posts which crop up in my social media feeds these days. I’m 27, it started happening in the last year; it’s a recent phenomenon. There have been particularly noticeable spikes around Valentine’s Day, Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

But why do I, someone who has previously denounced the ‘patriarchal bullshit’ of marriage even care? Aside from the fact that I’m not personally an emotional social media sharer, why do I feel completely saturated by such announcements? Why does it feel like all of the heteronormative people I know are rushing to tie the knot and posting about how they won this race I didn’t realise I was even running?

Winning the engagement race

I’ve never been particularly enchanted by marriage. These days I’m open to it, but I’m certainly not in a rush. And yet, social media engagement announcements make me feel stressed, and I don’t think it’s just because they’re normally (always) clichéd. To me, it feels like these engagement announcements are turning life into an aspirational box-ticking exercise at which to succeed.

I’m not alone. Alex*, 24, tells me, ‘When I see someone has got engaged it makes me feel like I’m in the final 1% not to, that the pool of unmarried people is getting smaller and that I’m bound to be alone forever.’

Kate, 27, says she feels ‘sad and lonely’ when she sees an engagement post, ‘for about a minute’ – until she ‘scrolls down and see about ten more than it’s like, eugh, over it, where are the sweet dog pics at?!’

Emma, 28, says, ‘I think the best way to sum it up is an internal eye roll, like my whole body just rolls its eyes.’ Why is that? ‘I think the “she said yes!” photos are just nauseating, and it’s ONLY for the likes, because surely they’ll have already told the people they actually care about (I hope).’

She adds that it does make her feel a bit anxious for a second and then, ‘I check myself and I’m like no, I don’t want that. Remember, you don’t want that. I only think I do because I see it in front of me, but I don’t.’

I have 840 Facebook friends, I’d say probably not even 10% of them have got engaged or married in the last year, but, still, it feels like engagement announcements are all I see.

The reality is that not everyone is getting married, contrary to what your Facebook feed might make you feel. According to the Marriage Foundation, half of all milennials will never get married. Despite a spike in marriages after Wills and Kate tied the knot, giving us all a day off, the numbers of people getting hitched are still lower than ever.

The most recent statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that in 2012 just 14% of brides were under 25, compared with a peak of 76% in the late 1960s.

Our generation is getting married, when we do decide to do it, later and later. The last time the ONS collected data, the average age for men getting married was 36-and-a-half years old, while for women it was 34 years old.

Perhaps, that’s partly because financially speaking, we’re worse off on the whole than our parents’ generation was at our age, or perhaps it’s because adult life kicks off a bit later these days since more of us than ever before are living with our parents well into our 20s.

ONS data also shows a steady rise in the number of young people living with their parents between the ages of 20-24 since 2008, citing economic downturn as a possible reason.

And, perhaps, it’s also because attitudes to marriage, cohabitation and commitment have changed. According to the British Social Attitudes Survey, those born after the 1980s are less likely than their parents or grandparents to think that people who want to have children should get married.

Additionally, the heteronormative of boy meets girl, boy marries girl in big white dress is no longer the default narrative. According to the ONS, in 2014 more than a third of people (33.9%) were not or had never been married, that’s up 3% from 10 years ago. It also found that one in eight people were living together, in a couple, but had not, to quote my former Facebook friend, ‘put a ring on it’.

So, why do we even pay attention to those Facebook engagement posts when they do crop up? Why do they leave that Drake lyric ‘good ones go’ going round and round in my head on a loop.

So where do all those engagement posts come from?

The thing with social media is... shock... people only tend to post the good stuff. People share holidays and high points, like engagements, but few people post about breaking up (I’ll get back to you in 10 years when the divorce statuses start rolling in). When a relationship ends we don’t post about it, don’t have parties to celebrate it, don’t buy ourselves rings and post pictures of them. Coming together is done in public, breaking up is done in private.

Perhaps this can go some way to explaining why, even though you’re not alone, your social media feed feels like being stuck in a real life version of an absurdly dark comedy like The Lobster. It feels like there was a race that everyone was silently competing in and you only just got the memo about it. While everyone else is on a beach, in front of a sunset, declaring their love for someone while you’re riding the bus, at rush hour, alonem – which could be a metaphor for your experiences of going on Tinder dates: too hot, cramped and stressful on board but too cold, too far to walk, too depressing as soon as you get off.

And, just like ‘the singles’ in The Lobster, the message you receive while scrolling through your phone on the 55 is ‘couples are better’, ‘get engaged and you too could get 220 likes’, ‘this could be you wearing a tiny diamond on a white sandy beach package holiday’, ‘everyone else is in a two person team, your life will be hard and then you’re going to die alone’.

Bad is stronger than good

Professor Roy Baumeister, Francis Eppes Professor of Psychology, at Florida State University, has looked into this. In 2001 he published a journal article called ‘Bad Is Stronger Than Good’ in which he said, ‘Bad emotions, bad parents, bad feedback have more impact than good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones.’

His research shows that humans remember negative events more than positive ones. Losing money, being abandoned by friends or receiving criticism will have a greater impact on you than winning money, gaining friends or being praised.

He told us why this is — we’re more attuned to negative things because we have evolved to prioritise survival. Noticing bad things means you’re more likely to survive and overcome threats and win the Darwin-esque struggle that is life.

**

**I asked Professor Baumeister whether any of this could explain why seemingly inconsequential events, such as the engagement of a boy who tried to kiss you during the first year of university while you were in bed with gastric flu, could make us feel stressed, anxious, irked and inexplicably perturbed?

‘People who want to get married would have that reaction,’ he says. It’s about urgency – ‘so there might be a negative reaction. It’s basically more important to know bad things than good things, you make one mistake and it’s over. The need to be tuned into the threat of something negative happening has evolved through evolution.’

He also explained that there’s no objective basis for the way we perceive ourselves – it ‘exists in relation to others.’

So, on social media, what we’re seeing is ‘a positively skewed version of everyone else’, and that impacts on us.

So, there you have it. We’re programmed to survive. That’s why those posts can make you feel a bit anxious, like you’re being left behind, even if you’re not sure you want to get married or you’re not ready to. And, the hard evidence says not everyone is getting married, that’s a fact.

But, is it any wonder that in a world where we’re somehow still sold the idea that the only happy ending we should aspire to is a heteronormative one, involving a diamond ring and a white dress, where we’re encouraged to aspire to life milestones that nobody can afford any more – like buying a house and getting married – where we all use dating apps, which make us feel like dating is a game which you’ve got to win in order to survive, that even those of us who didn’t think we were particularly bothered about marriage feel like everyone apart from us is doing it?

Don’t worry, there’s no rush, real life isn’t like *The Lobster. *You won’t get turned into an animal and sent off to live out your days in the woods if you don’t announce your engagement on Facebook in the next 45 days, on a beach, with a pinky purple sunset behind you and get at least 150 likes...

*Names have been changed

Like this? You might also be interested in:

How Tinder’s Stopping Us Having Sex

What’s Wrong With Wanting To Get Married In Your Twenties?

Men Are Better Off Married Than Women So Why Are We Told To Settle Down?

Follow Vicky on Twitter @Victoria_Spratt

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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