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Sex + Relationships

Let’s Stop Focusing On What Our Friends’ Dates Look Like

Let me paint you a picture: You’re at Sunday brunch. Your friends are sipping mediocre mimosas and exchanging stories from the weekend. Last night, you went on a great date, and now you feel giddy. You can’t not tell your friends. So, you take a breath and dive in. But if you’re anything like me, you know what’s coming, and you dread it.

“OMG,” your friend says. “Can I see a picture?”

And there it is: an all too familiar question to see dating app pictures of your date. We’ve all asked it, we’ve all been asked it. But what if you didn’t want to show your friends a photo? Maybe you’re concerned the photo doesn’t actually reflect what your date really looks like, or you’re just not ready to share them with the world yet. You know that the second you pull up a photo, your friends might pass judgment, and while you’ve been told you shouldn’t care what other people think, doing so is easier said than done.

“No person is an island,” Dr. Nikki Press, a New York-based clinical psychologist, tells Her Campus. “We’re more likely to be influenced when we hear the opinions and beliefs of someone that we value.” Some people are more than happy to show off their dates, but if you caved to the pressure or pushed through your unease, you may feel like you’ve let yourself down when the phone comes back to your hand. Sure the feedback was positive, today at least, but you can’t ignore the feeling that you didn’t own your truth. It felt uncomfy, but you showed your friends the photo anyway because that’s just how it works. Right?

Well… what if things were different?

What if our society could step away from focusing on purely the image and dig further into the layer cake of the dating world, such as everything else that someone has to offer beyond their looks? There’s much more to the person on the other side of the app than their profile picture.

Focus on other qualities besides physical appearance

Sure, Gen Z is a photo-driven generation. From social media to dating apps, we’re accustomed to using photos to contextualize our lives. We look at photographs to explain the world, and if your average Instagram comment section is anything to go by, we like to have an input on what we see. “Especially now because of social media, everyone’s gonna weigh in,” The Dating Academy coach and expert Antonia Greco tells Her Campus. “Just look at the comment thread of any Instagram post or controversial story.” 

It’s no wonder that pictures have become an inherent part of dating culture, but photos are just one piece of the puzzle. In the grand scheme of things, photos don’t say much about a person besides how they look or what they like to do in their free time. The way they are, how they treat you, what they sound like, and even what they value aren’t displayed in the six images of a Tinder swipe. Those photos should be only one part of a person’s decision to go out with them. It’s how the date goes that counts.

Dr. Press says that while we learn about peer pressure in high school, it’s magnified in college and our early 20s. “Now that our friends can see photos of our blind dates before we’ve even met them, it’s setting the stage for that kind of influence to come so much earlier in the process,” she explains. But this early-on in your relationship, Press and Greco stress that any date you go on should be part of the learning process. Dating can help you realize what you want for yourself, and it doesn’t have to incorporate what your peers think. 

Your opinion and how you feel is really all that matters,” says Greco. “It should be more about the person, their attitude, and their emotions behind dating.” Talking about your first date at brunch might not be the best idea if your friends aren’t always the most supportive, or if you’re even unsure of what you thought of the date yourself. Instead, sit on your feelings for a bit first. (Important to note: For safety reasons or a necessary vibe check — did they really flirt with the bartender in front of me, or did I make that up? — you might need a second opinion.)

Sharing Dating App Pictures With Friends Isn’t Inherently Bad

Sharing a photo, especially with a good friend who has your best interests at heart, isn’t wrong. Sometimes, a picture can say a lot that isn’t about looks, like showing off someone’s favorite hobby or the travels they’ve taken. But asking for a picture doesn’t have to be the first question in a debriefing sesh. In fact, I’d argue it shouldn’t be the first question asked. “I hear folks talking to me in therapy about feeling stress and insecurities about comparing themselves with what they see on social media,” Dr. Press tells Her Campus. “I think that certainly comes up in the world of dating, wondering if their experiences are matching up to other people’s experiences, or if they’re going to be perceived as desirable. Those kinds of insecurities get magnified when friends are asking about photos first.”

Greco suggests approaching these conversations differently. “My advice is to protect your energy at all costs,” she says. “If I could go back, I would not have cared as much about things people had said to me, and I would have put more focus on myself.”

“I hear folks talking to me in therapy about feeling stress and insecurities about comparing themselves with what they see on social media,” says Dr. Press. “And I think that certainly comes up in the world of dating, wondering if their experiences are matching up to other people’s experiences, or if they’re going to be perceived as desirable. Those kinds of insecurities get magnified when friends are asking about photos first.”

We don’t Need to Ask For Dating App Pictures

There is a way to change this trajectory, whether it’s your date everyone’s talking about or you’re a friend in the conversation, and it begins with reworking the narrative around dating. Let’s think about the other things that are important about a potential partner. Instead of talking about how “hot” the person was, perhaps we could ask: What are your date’s academic interests or career goals? What are their hobbies? How did the date make you feel? Did they make you laugh? If things ~progressed~ maybe ask about kiss compatibility or how the hookup was. As a friend, it’s important to put emphasis on the myriad different layers of dating before asking for a photo. 

Greco suggests focusing on your intentions for a relationship when going into your first date with a new person. It might take a little soul-searching, but finding out why you’re going on dates and chronicling what you’re looking for can help when discussing your love life with friends. She also emphasizes how critical recognizing your self-worth is when figuring out the kind of person you want to be with. “People often can’t read the emotions of others because they don’t understand the emotions of themselves,” Greco says. 

When learning to unpack your emotions, Greco suggests activities like journaling (try simple list-making and manifesting), meditating, or even going to therapy. Each of these activities can help you slow down and re-evaluate your intentions, and figure out what you’re looking for in your dating life. That way, the next time you go on a date, you can keep your non-negotiables in mind. Then, when it comes time to dish with your friends, you have solid topics to redirect the conversation. 

Next time your friend says they went on a date, don’t ask to see a picture of their date. Wait until they offer to show you one. If they don’t offer, they probably don’t feel like sharing, and you shouldn’t make them feel obliged to. Instead, ask them how it went, what they discussed, and how heavy the flirtation was. 

You can also think of a new, different question to ask your friends each time they come back from a date with a new person — and it doesn’t have to be boring. Did their date smell good? Was their voice sexy? Did they have a good sense of humor? Was there a memorable moment of shared laughter? Not only does this show that you’re taking a real interest in your friends’ relationships, but it reframes the conversation and might even give your friend something unique to look out for on date two.

If You’re Not ready, Don’t Feel Pressured To Share A Dating App Picture

If you’re the friend who doesn’t want to share a photo of your date, know that you don’t have to. If being true to your feelings means you don’t want to pass your phone around the brunch table, but you’re not sure how to get out of it, try saying something like, “I don’t follow them on Instagram yet, so I don’t really have any pics — but I’ll let you know when I do,” or “Ha, yeah, we had a great time, but I don’t have a photo yet,” or “It’s too soon to show a photo, but I’ll keep you updated.”

You can also deflect the question and set boundaries instead. Greco suggests politely thanking your friend for caring and letting them know that you’re not ready to share a photo quite yet. Then change the subject — et voila, boundary set

Know that when your friend asks for a photo, it’s because they want to be involved in your life and are attempting to show up as an active listener. By reframing the conversation and setting boundaries, your friend will be happy to hear all the details that you’re willing to share. Plus, you know that by setting the boundary, you lived your truth. That’s a feat, in-and-of-itself.

Elizabeth Sander is a National Writer for Her Campus and a recent graduate from Tufts University, where she earned a BA in English and French. Elizabeth served as a Her Campus Editorial Intern for the Fall of 2020 and loved every minute. When not writing articles about all things culture and style (or the occasional personal essay), Elizabeth spends time creative writing, reading and working on flying crow pose. Next up on Elizabeth's agenda is Columbia J-School! Find her on insta @elizsander or for meals inspo @confinemnt_kitchn
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