Insta-prenups

It takes but a quick glance at the news to find more proof (as if we needed it) that our dependence on technology is overwhelming and our addiction to social media can be potentially toxic.

Prenuptial agreements with a social media clause are on the rise all over North America. Before the exchange of rings, before the public declaration of love, before the shoe game at the reception, couples are ensuring their future privacy, in writing. They’re drafting rules about what, when and how — sometimes even if — to post on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat. Whether or not we realize it, who we are and what we’re shown doing on social media has become a relevant social and legal issue. Celebrities learned that quickly enough over the years, but it has taken a bit longer for the ramifications of online fiascos to trickle down to us mere mortals.

Raised eyebrows and snide comments aside, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that savvy couples are seeking these agreements, and their existence shouldn’t be surprising, especially to those of us who visit these sites often enough to witness occasions that have no business becoming public. It may be preventing something as simple as a photo coming to light that captures someone in an unflattering pose. It could also be as serious as preventing someone from being seen in a very unfavorable light, doing something inappropriate that can negatively impact how others judge the person going forward.

Gone are the days when you could be carefree about snapping pictures in social situations. Potential employers regularly prowl the social media accounts of prospective candidates, and a glassy-eyed party picture can make the difference between getting a job or not. There is much at stake when it comes to reputation and public perception, so it’s no wonder that people are choosing to safeguard control over their own online footprint should a relationship go south.

A social media prenup tries to address what’s acceptable to share online about each other and about the relationship. If terms of the agreement are not met, then there are serious consequences; namely, a hefty fine and the potential for legal action. I imagine this provision comes in handy during a divorce, when one party may be tempted to post incriminating pictures or to divulge private information. Typing fingers can be hard to control, particularly when people are angry or have an axe to grind.

Nude photos are the most common example of a social media no-no, of course, as well as posts that may harm a significant other’s professional reputation. Those are the no-brainers. However, the situations that trip a couple up are the in-between posts, the ones that may be considered hilarious by one spouse but mortifying by the other. What might keep me up at night with paralyzing anxiety, might roll off someone else like water off a duck’s back, without another thought. After all, embarrassment is a personal thing, a matter of confidence and context and disposition.

I’ll give you an example. My friend has long been tempted to post a video of her husband fast asleep in his favorite chair, jaw hanging open, TV blaring, arm hanging limp by his side. She has told us about it with tears of laughter in her eyes and her description has elicited a few laughs from others. But if she shared it he’d have her head on a platter, as she’s quick to point out. He wouldn’t want everyone to laugh at his expense, and I can’t say I’d really blame him.

More important, though, is that sharing without permission or regard for another’s feelings is a violation of a relationship’s most important commodity: trust. We seem to have forgotten that basic concept. Under the guise of “connecting” and “sharing”, we’re quick to the keyboard, to rant, to opine, and to put our lives on display. These days an event is not real unless it’s shared, and then liked and commented on by our legion of friends and followers.

But not everything is intended to be shared, not every thought is meant to be made public. We’ve forgotten that. We’ve forgotten the boundaries, the importance of separating what is ours in a relationship and no one else’s, from the virtual world at large.

It may take a legal document to remind us, though.