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TikTok would like to formally welcome you to Soft Launch September.

No, this isn’t about soft launching your small business — the name refers to “soft-launching” your relationship on Instagram after you’ve been together for a couple months. It replaces the overt and possibly nerve-wracking “Relationship Status” on Facebook, or the cheesy if cute trend of putting your SO’s name or initials and anniversary in your bio. Instead, a relationship soft launch involves posting half-out-of-frame, untagged pics of your new SO on your story, or tagging them in pics on your feed that they’re not in to credit them as the photographer. It adds an element of both mystery and intimacy to your IG — who is this person? your followers will inevitably wonder. What do they mean to you?

“There is no greater rush I get than seeing a friend of a friend that I haven’t spoken to since 2017 post a new male elbow in her Instagram Story while she’s at a wine bar, okay?” TikTok user thefranchise_ said in her TikTok about “soft launch fall.” “You’re thinking to yourself, no one watches my Stories that deeply. I do. I live for this content. This is my favorite type of content. Keep it up.”

Though the earliest TikToks about this concept began popping up about a year ago in September 2020, it wasn’t until now — the nascent stages of fall cuffing season when in-person dating is finally a little bit more feasible — that the trend gained popularity and took over people’s For You pages. Not only have there been explanations of the trend, but some people are sharing their own experiences with relationship soft launches. There’s also been (semi-ironic) tutorials, in case you’re not exactly sure what a soft launch looks like in practice. (Hint: the handhold photo is key.)

The relationship soft launch is one of many new Instagram relationship trends that have popped up over the course of the pandemic, which seems to be changing the way we think about dating. The soft launch is the natural successor of the photo dump trend and the offline boyfriend, both of which are part of the unofficial “make Instagram casual again” movement, which seeks to push back against the carefully curated, aesthetic feeds of influencers and celebrities with authenticity. Of course, influencers and celebrities are also posting photo dumps and have even soft-launched their own relationships, so take that with the largest grain of salt.

Soft launch September itself straddles the line between authenticity and adhering to a very specific aesthetic (because which vague restaurant date night photo should you post to your story? Should you crop out most of their face to retain an air of mystery?). But the unique joy of a soft launch is not the sweetness of these unfiltered posts, or the secondhand happiness you may feel for that girl you had a class with two years ago and her apparent new boyfriend — it’s the nosiness. We’re all spending more time online because of the pandemic, meaning we have more time to look at and analyze the first signs of our old high school classmates debuting someone new on their feed (and to gossip with our friends, dissecting the clues of a new relationship). Basically, the relationship soft launch is a win-win, both for you and your SO, and for your nosy followers.

So, happy Soft Launch September to all the young couples out there. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for any new unidentified hands or elbows that make their way onto my feed.

Erica Kam

Columbia Barnard '21

Erica is the Contributing Editor at Her Campus. She was formerly the Wellness Editor (2019-20), the High School Editor (2018-19), and an Editorial Intern (2018). She graduated from Barnard College in 2021 with a degree in English and creative writing, and was the Senior Editor of Her Campus Columbia Barnard (2018-20). When she's not writing or editing (which is rare), she's probably looking at food pictures on Instagram.
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