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Cringe couples are everywhere — and they're just as insecure as the rest of us

Kim Schewitz   

Cringe couples are everywhere — and they're just as insecure as the rest of us
  • From Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce to Selena Gomez and Benny Blanco, being cringe is in.
  • On social media, regular folk are comparing their partners to fuzzy animals.

In 2024, cringe is in: people are in love, and they don't care who knows it.

It goes without saying that Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce are embracing cringe on an unparalleled scale. They're blowing kisses on the jumbotron and running into each other's arms in front of millions of Super Bowl spectators.

You may have also seen Selena Gomez calling her new boyfriend, Benny Blanco, her "bes fwend" on Instagram the day after Valentine's, alongside a photo of him grabbing her boob.

Or Travis Barker going full TMI commenting "We made baby Rocky " on his wife Kourtney Kardashian's Instagram post of a romantic getaway they'd gone on nine months before their son was born.

And who could forget Justin Bieber marking his fifth wedding anniversary by sharing on Instagram that he calls his wife Hailey Bieber "bum bum."

Meanwhile, us regular folk who can't turn the Super Bowl into our own personal romcom and don't have tens of millions of Instagram followers are indulging ourselves by sharing relationship memes. You can barely scroll through TikTok or Instagram for a few seconds without being asked which sloth most resembles your girlfriend (or maybe that's just me?). Relatable reels about partners hogging the duvet at night or feeling insecure at the slightest change in their energy pepper social media.

Whether you find this unashamedly cringe content gross or a welcome chance to think about your wiwwle wuv muffin, it's everywhere right now. Therapists who spoke to Business Insider said the rise of cringe reflects changes in the way people are expressing themselves online, as well as being a way to show the world you're worthy of being loved.

Younger generations are more comfortable being 'real' online

Israa Nasir, a psychotherapist based in New York, thinks the coupley content we're seeing reflects a shift in the way people are posting online.

When millennials dominated youth culture in years past, Instagram was all about presenting a curated image, but now Gen Z, in particular, wants an online presence that feels more real, honest, and messy. People are now posting the gentle playful behavior they have always done behind closed doors online, she told BI.

"Before, we had to really present this very tidy, clean, almost like aspirational type of portrayal of our lives," she said. "I think the rules of social media are changing. We want to show our whole humanness, all parts of ourselves, the messy parts of ourselves, the cringy parts of ourselves," Nasir said.

These changes could also be reflective of a general rejection of traditional values and gender roles offline, too, she said: "Especially men being more gentle and silly and goofy."

Dee Holmes, a relationship counselor and clinical services manager at Relate, a UK-based relationship support charity, has noticed the same trend. She told BI that younger generations are more comfortable being openly affectionate with each other even within friendships, than previous generations. Just think of Kelce being dubbed a Golden Retriever boyfriend. She sees this as a positive thing.

Showing the world that someone loves you can feel validating

But at the same time, traditional values persist, and most of us are still conditioned to believe that happiness and success lie in having two kids and a white picket fence.

"We live in a society where romantic love is kind of heralded as the most important thing about us, and being single is shameful," Annie Zimmerman, a psychotherapist based in London, who shares psychology and relationship advice online as Your Pocket Therapist, told BI.

Being public about your relationship could feel very validating for some people in this context. "It's evidence to the world that I'm loved and that I'm a lovable person," she said.

It can also be comforting to feel like you're following social norms and doing what society expects of you. "We're kind of told we have more value if we're in a relationship," she said.

As 2023 being the year of the celebrity break-ups showed, relationships are often complicated, difficult, and filled with uncertainty, so sharing highlights online could also be an unconscious attempt at controlling reality, Zimmerman said, and trying to make oneself feel better when things aren't going well or don't feel right.

"It's really curating your public image of someone who's really happy," she said.

Holmes agreed. In some cases, a person may be trying to believe that their relationship fits into the mold of the perfect love story, even when it doesn't, she said.

"It sort of feeds into your own belief that this is a wonderful relationship because you've got lots of evidence for it if you look at the pictures," she said.

But, all couples are different, and posting in-jokes online in the form of memes can also be a harmless way to connect with your partner, Zimmerman said.

Cringe content can misrepresent the reality of relationships

Still, cringe content can leave people feeling isolated or ashamed if their IRL relationship doesn't match-up to the cute, happy moments other couples are choosing to share, Zimmerman said.

It's important to remember that no relationship is perfect, she said, and that aiming for balance is more mature.

"If we are with someone, they're going to have flaws, they're going to annoy us. We are going to be triggered, even if it's a really healthy, beautiful relationship. But I think being realistic about that actually means that you are going to be able to withstand the difficult times and the ruptures," Zimmerman said.

Equally, everyone is different and if you're not goofy and cutesy, it doesn't mean there is something wrong with your relationship, Nasir said.

"As you navigate this as a consumer of social media, it's really important to always check in with yourself and ask yourself, what do I really want?" she said.

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