Is a ‘Soft Launch’ Right for Your Relationship?

For the TikTok star Victoria Paris’s 1.5 million followers, her girlfriend is often a background feature in her videos, ever-present but never fully revealed. By intentionally choosing to conceal her, either by covering her face with objects, filming the back of her head, or posting only her hands, Ms. Paris has kept their relationship in the so-called soft launch stage on social media.

The relationship term, brought to life with the help of the actor and comedian Rachel Sennott’s viral Tweet, is exactly as it sounds: making it known that you’re dating without sharing details. Ms. Paris considers it keeping your relationship “private but not a secret.”

“Soft launching is everything but the person’s face and handle to me, limiting the exposure and liability of having to answer for a relationship,” Ms. Paris, 23, said. “I didn’t want to keep my partner a secret, but I wanted to be able to share in a more conservative way and learn from my past mistakes.”

Ms. Paris, who has experienced past relationships “falling apart” under the pressure and microscope of social media, said soft launching takes the pressure off the relationship and prevents the insecurities, complications and arguments that arise from social media.

“Taking someone who’s never been subjected to hundreds of thousands of eyes on a daily basis and thrusting them in front of the spotlight is a jarring experience and being perceived that much out of nowhere adds another layer to the relationship,” said Ms. Paris, who has no plans to share her current partner’s identity anytime soon.

Of course, corporations have been doing soft launches to promote products and services for years. By testing a new offering with only a select group of customers, brands are able to analyze and predict what the response would be with a hard launch on a larger scale. In a similar sense, soft launching a relationship has gained popularity online as a trial run for the early stages of dating.

Personal branding online has encouraged people on social media to slowly reveal other life events as well, like a new job, a new addition to your family or your next big move.

“People love to tease. We love to give hints — it builds anticipation. It’s a way of dipping your toe into the shallow end without jumping in,” said Rachel Wright, a psychotherapist in New York, who specializes in relationship and sex issues. “For some, this is super conscious and for others it’s unconscious. Soft launching is the most titillating and non-commital way to semi-announce there’s someone special or in some cases, a couple of special someones in your life.”

Ms. Wright, who has done a soft launch on Instagram, shared that a healthy dose of mystery could be a good thing.

“When I started dating my two partners with my then-husband, I posted a photo of four sets of feet — it was the first time I hinted I was polyamorous,” she said. “Now, would anyone know I was polyamorous from a photo of four sets of feet? No. But it felt exhilarating.”

While many couples have experienced the advantages of a soft launch, with the emergence of more casual social media apps like BeReal, some everyday users prefer a more carefree approach to posting about their relationships.

“Some people are tired of teasing and want to cut to the chase,” Ms. Wright said. “There isn’t as much shame anymore in relationships de-escalating or not working out the way that the people involved had hoped. So it’s OK to announce your happiness and then denounce it.”

Joy Ofodu, the integrated marketing manager at Instagram, shared her partner through an Instagram Reel trailer of her rom-com web series Hard Launch. Before that, she was publicly sharing her pursuit of love with her 114,000 followers.

“I wanted to shout the Black love I finally found after creating 250-plus videos about dating and swiping through over 2,000 profiles — and his name is Ivan Sakou,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to interpret that I’m anything less than extremely proud of the man that he is and I’m proud of being in a healthy romantic relationship with him.”

Ms. Ofodu, who has been dating Mr. Sakou since December 2021, understands the appeal of soft launching, noting that many of her followers have shared their fears that once they post their partner, their partner might “start acting up” or people will stalk them. But she thinks many people are growing tired of the bait frustration.

“We get it, there’s a foot in the foreground, you know?” she said. “If you don’t want prying eyes or are nervous about the reactions you’ll get, you can soft launch. If you don’t care about the public’s judgment of your romantic decisions and have nothing to hide, why not hard launch?”

Amrit Sidhu, a 34-year-old D.J. based in New York and Los Angeles, views hard launching as an acknowledgment and commitment to the relationship, recently posting her wedding photos on Instagram. “We eloped in Vegas so that was definitely a hard launch and reveal because no one knew that was coming,” she said. “We didn’t need the frills of a public ceremony. But we did want to share it with the people we love, so we chose to share some moments from our private day versus documenting the experience live or having a big guest list.”

Ms. Sidhu chooses to be open about many personal experiences in her relationship online, including her past two miscarriages. “There’s so much internalized shame that comes with not being able to talk about these things openly even though it’s such a common experience,” she said. “It’s not something that everyone feels comfortable sharing, which I completely understand, but for me, sharing was an extremely cathartic experience.”

Ms. Sidhu feels lucky to have a platform to share her experiences, because “information is power.” She’s has since shared her current pregnancy on Instagram.

Lexx Brown-James, a sex therapist based in Swarthmore, Pa., says deciding whether to soft or hard launch a relationship comes down to communicating boundaries and consent. “Social media can be a powerful tool of connection and modeling, but it can also be a point of contention,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many lovers are literally fighting over social media posts because they are embarrassed, hurt, feeling betrayed, or feeling unheard.”

These feelings, Dr. Brown-James said, are often internal relationship issues that need to be handled offline first.

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