The old joke goes: What does a lesbian bring on a second date?
Answer: A U-haul.
I’ve heard this rattled off countless times – on television shows, by friends, or even by my wife when she thinks she’s being funny. The joke has been modified over the years (re: the trusty turkey baster), but there’s some truth to the lesbian U-haul mythology. When we love someone, we really love them, and we want everyone to know about it. There’s nothing wrong with that.
The advent of social media provides a sturdy platform for the births of these relationships. There are declarations of love that sprawl through the vast wasteland of Buzzfeed quizzes and Upworthy videos, and heartfelt expressions that often include the words “soul mate.” These women met two weeks ago and you’re here to witness their lovemaking.
They’ve made their relationship Facebook official.
Though it’s common practice to document every milestone of a relationship on social media, it’s a different experience entirely viewed through the lens of the lesbian urge-to-merge. It’s like screening a movie solely on fast-forward. It’s a love affair on speed. U-haul relationships thrive on sites like Instagram and Twitter, but the open venue of the Facebook thread is just too tempting for most lesbians to pass up. We’ve all done it. Finally, here’s your opportunity to shout to the world, “we’re a couple!” while simultaneously posting Instagram photos of your new girlfriend sleeping or the two of you eating a pancake brunch with emoticon hearts doodled over your heads.
It’s a race to see who can post about it first. It’s fun and it’s addictive. Other people are posting albums of their toddler shoving pureed carrots into his face? That’s fine, here’s my wife baking gluten-free muffins in my Sleater-Kinney t-shirt and our dog dressed up like the world’s most adorable Jack-O-Lantern. Sometimes, we go too far. I’m guilty of it. I love my friends, but they’ve been guilty of it, too.
Last fall, a friend was talking on Facebook about an upcoming cross-country trip. She was extremely excited to meet up with a “new friend,” which I took as code for “woman I met on the internet.” The first day of her trip, she posted four separate status updates indicating she’d just found the love of her life. The day after that, her relationship status changed. That status alone garnered fifty-five “likes,” and the two women took turns thanking all the people who’d congratulated them. The thread swelled to over eighty comments. When I congratulated them, the other woman went ahead and added me. My friend’s new girlfriend was now my Facebook friend, and I’d never even met her.
I loved it. Having access to both women’s Facebook pages was like watching an entire relationship unfold in the span of a few weeks. I watched their cross-country moving process, both of them posting updates every few hours about how much they missed each other. Because they both commented so often, their conversations remained at the top of the main page until it felt like they were the only two people on Facebook. They made a collective Instagram account, and then those pictures began to filter into the feed as well.
Though I was familiar with U-hauling (and had brought along my own hand-truck a time or two), it was a completely different experience watching it happen on social media. Suddenly I was part of their relationship. I was invited to their housewarming, and within the same week, sent an invitation to their wedding shower. Both e-vites sat in my Facebook queue and I wondered whether I’d have to get two separate gifts or if I could get away with just buying one. There was a picture of their Domestic Partnership registry certificate and one of their cats sleeping in a pile of dirty laundry. I understood they sometimes liked to leave love notes scribbled in lipstick on their bathroom mirror, because they both posted pictures about it on their Instagram accounts. There were pictures of their new backyard vegetable garden, updates on the shelter dog they’d adopted and given a hybrid of both their last names, and over thirty pictures documenting a work banquet where they’d both worn tuxedos. They posed in front of a fountain with their arms wrapped around each other’s waists. It was charming. It was over-the-top. I couldn’t stop watching.
We were given unlimited access to all of their social media and subsequently their intimate lives. Not just close friends and family, but the Facebook collective. By that I mean coworkers and acquaintances they’d met that one time and also people from high school that didn’t even know they were gay. “Friends” you don’t even like very much. Now when you U-haul, you’re not asking someone to help drag a futon from the fifth floor of your new girlfriend’s apartment building; you’re making everyone you’ve ever met help you move. We’ll watch you drift through the honeymoon of your love and sometimes slide into the pit of passive-aggressive status updates.
When that thing that was cute two months ago turns into an actual annoyance and you post about it on Facebook, we all witness it (and some asshole is going to inevitably comment on it, even though it’s really none of their business.) U-hauling becomes a collective identity in social media. It’s a family affair and the fallout can be brutal, dividing friends in a way that feels like children tugged around in a messy divorce. When my friend and her girlfriend got into a fight, they both turned to their separate Twitter accounts to vent – but my friend forgot to turn off the Facebook link. Her angry tweets cluttered the feed as their mutual friends and family watched in horror. When my friend realized what had happened, she deleted everything and posted a single status update as apology:
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for that to happen.”
With the advent of all your business (personal and otherwise) readily available on the internet, U-haul fallout becomes a social media minefield that everyone navigates along with you. After my friend and her girlfriend broke up, people weren’t sure who to support. We were all friends now, and it was disheartening to know what had started out with such promise could end so abruptly. Then my friend and her girlfriend got back together. Pictures of the two of them began filtering back into the Facebook feed, while the rest of us wondered what we were supposed to do now that we’d already electronically severed ties with half the relationship.
With U-hauling comes great social media responsibility. That’s right, I just compared lesbians to Spiderman. Whether you meant it or not, you’ve put all your laundry out there for everyone to comment on. For lesbians, the rush to authenticate the relationship is understandable. Most traditional outlets don’t afford you the rights that everyone else takes for granted – not marriage, not joint-filing taxes, not rights over your own children.
My own partner refused to link us on social media for several years. This aggravated me. I begged, I pleaded, I cajoled. I sent her relationship status requests that ultimately came back rejected. When I asked why she refused to publicly acknowledge me, she replied that she didn’t need affirmation from people on Facebook to know that she’d made the right choice. That made a lot of sense. Lesbians don’t need social media to validate our relationships – but when my wife and I got married last November and posted pictures of our ceremony, she had to admit she liked the overwhelmingly positive response. Posting your relationship highs don’t just allow you to feel validated, it allows others to celebrate with you. It’s your coming out party and everyone’s invited.
Facebook allows for a thrilling immediacy; authenticating what you have in front of everyone you know. A status update can become a defining personal statement:
I’m here, I’m queer, this is my girlfriend. We’re moving in together.
Kristen Arnett is a short fiction and essay writer. She lives in Orlando, FL, with her wife and son and their two dogs that she treats like spoiled, beautiful children.