The Controversial Art of Relationship Tagging

Happy couples say it's a nice way to praise their better halves. Others find the practice nauseating.

A couple embraces while using a cellphone.

An unspoken truth about the internet is that all social-media platforms eventually devolve into dating platforms, and Twitter is no different. This is the platform that invented the concept of sliding into someone’s DMs; lurking and flirting are common among singles. But despite the fact that so many users are looking for love, actually acknowledging that you’ve found it—by tagging your significant other in your Twitter bio—is a divisive move.

Relationship tagging is simply including your partner’s Twitter handle in your bio, often in a cheeky way. “Retail marketer, Eagles fan, and number one sidekick to @KatieGrey,” one might write. Those who hate relationship tagging hate it vehemently. “@-ing your spouse in your bio is thirstier than being single and ready to mingle,” says Alden Hawkins, a 32-year-old shoe designer in New York. “It screams codependency and seeking validation through broadcasting it.”

“I mostly just hate the kind of people who mention their spouse [in person and online],” a co-worker recently messaged me. “It’s like, attempting to make yourself into a power couple and then bragging that you’re in a power couple. Or like, implying that your Twitter followers would want to bang you BUT you’re married.”

Much of the hate boils down to the fact that as modern, empowered men and women, we’re supposed to define ourselves as more than just our marital status. More young people are realizing that marriage itself isn’t an accomplishment, so why treat it that way online by sandwiching it in between professional info? “I hate when people @ their partner because a relationship does not define you and is not an achievement,” said Ryan Houlihan of New York. “If you being a couple is significant to me, it’ll come up on its own.”

Perhaps relationship tagging feels so PDA-y because Twitter is less personal than other social networks, such as Facebook or Instagram, so injecting overly personal information can feel out of place.

“I love my husband, but we aren’t defined by each other,” says Stephanie Kaye Ramirez, an events marketer in Austin who told me she would never tag her husband in her bio. To her it seems redundant anyway; someone who’s really searching could easily find out that she’s in a relationship.

When I raised this issue myself on Twitter, many people who responded said that they noticed this behavior most among men in tech or those who had achieved a certain level of professional success. It can read as the digital equivalent of the “as a son of a mother and father of a daughter” trope, a statement whereby men justify usually sexist or inappropriate behavior by name-checking their personal relationships with women. “I guess what bothers me about it is the way the language around relation to women and children has been co-opted by some people to suggest men can’t be douchebags and how that is now reflected back on my reading of bios like this,” says Ryan Lawler, a technology marketer. He found himself getting so annoyed by the trend that he parodies it in his own bio, which declares, “Not a husband or a dad.”

For couples in love, however, seeing their partner’s handle every day in their bio can feel nice. It’s the digital equivalent of a wedding ring. For teenagers, who are never shy about declaring eternal love, tagging your significant other’s handle in your bio is standard practice, much the way Millennials mentioned their boyfriends or girlfriends in their AIM bios.

Plus, the couples I spoke with nearly all said that, above all else, they were happy. So happy that most of them were blissfully unaware of the hate the behavior elicited.

“I added my husband’s handle to my bio right around the time we got engaged three years ago. It kind of came along with that haze of OMG I’m engaged and so in love and everyone needs to know it! feeling,” said Natalie O’Grady of Portland, Oregon. “Now I feel like spouse is definitely part of my personal identity. I’m a lucky lady and while wife isn’t my entire world, I think I ended up with a pretty awesome partner, and I’m proud to be his partner, too.”

“As an intersectional feminist, I am much more than my marital status or the Fortune 500 companies that have employed me. But this is Twitter and both a professional and social venue for me,” said Michelle Jowitt of San Francisco.

Many said that while they weren’t completely defined by their significant others, their partners still play a major role in their lives. “If I’m going to say what my old jobs were, why not who my partner is? Who I married tells you more about me than anything,” said Jason Stanford of Austin. Jake Underwood of Indianapolis felt similarly. “I think the fundamental point of a bio is that it’s about me, and [my partner is] obviously a big part of my life,” he said.

Relationship tagging is also an effective way to ward off creeps. Alisa Richter of New York chose to add her husband’s handle to her bio after receiving repeated flirty DMs from several men. Making it clear that she was already taken was a passive way to stave off their messages. Once she made the change, the men backed off.

Richter said that she does understand how cringey it can seem to others. “Context and tone are key,” she said. “The way I’ve written it is really casual. To me it would be different if it was phrased like ‘I love my hubby!’ That is vomit-inducing.”

Some couples also said that the practice is the most effective way to promote their partners’ work to a broader audience. After Underwood got a higher-profile job that earned him more attention on Twitter, his wife noticed a bump in followers, too. Of course, directing a Twitter crowd to your spouse is not always a positive thing: It’s easy to imagine what could happen if you gave trolls direct access to someone who is incredibly important to you. Earlier this year, in the midst of a harassment campaign, trolls discovered the name of a previous partner of mine and attempted to doxx his entire family.

Still, over the past decade Twitter has made almost no updates to its bio section aside from adding the ability to note your birthday or location. While other social networks prompt users to declare their interests, schools, and relationship status, Twitter has simply provided an empty box with 160 characters. If Twitter really wants users to share more personal information, it will have to fix its harassment problem. But until the platform does build some relationship-status indicator, a bio mention seems like the most effective way to tell people on Twitter that you’re happily taken.

Bea Arthur, a licensed therapist and the founder of the Difference, said that while she wouldn’t advise her clients to tag a partner in their bio due to privacy and harassment concerns, she thinks hating on the trend says more about the haters than those in happy relationships.

“Part of our emotional psyche is self-preservation, and when things feel uncomfortable, we externalize the things that cause us pain,” Arthur said. “Rather than being like, Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve been in a relationship, or I regret my last relationship and things that remind me of it, we resent somebody showing off what we don’t have on social media.”

Still, others, even those in long-term happy relationships, remain unconvinced. “All bios should be funny,” Houlihan, who has been with his partner for 11 years, said. “This website is terrible enough without me needing to see your impersonal PDA.”