Public Intimacy, Mediated Intimacies, and Cruel Optimism: Finding Love in a Hopeless Place

The intersection between human intimate practices and technology has been exemplified in numerous examples in the modern age. Education now takes place with the aid of digital media software while humans now seek romantic and sexual relations through dating applications. These are general markings of technological influences right at the sublevel of social relationships where technology becomes a major mediator in these relations. Fraying human fantasies such as job security, upward mobility, social and political equality as well as durable intimacies present dissolving assurance while also providing opportunities for individuals to create relations of reciprocity that to them would appear to be fair. Mankind carried an enormous fear of normalcy that results in superficial accounts of sexuality that overlap with other aspects of social life such as technology. This in turn ensures there is little attention presented to the dilemma that the average people face of romance and social media. There is an unclear alignment between sex and privacy that denies individuals the chance for normalization as well as social belonging. The modern man’s desire for romance cannot be satisfied within the current conditions of privacy hence technology comes in as a bridge linking social media to mankind’s desire. Social media does mediate the shift from private to the mass community which doesn’t entail a reduction in intimacy but rather the cementing of social relations. Right within the division of privacy and intimacy, there is a price that people pay for social membership that is attached to their identification with life’s heterosexual narratives. In essence, social media as a technological bridge does affect intimate relationships by taking advantage of the nature of cruel optimism that people have towards social belonging and private romance.

Social media (technology) does allow people to connect in ways that were initially never possible. This in turn means people now do have an expanded social circle that creates mediated relationships and intimacies. Rikke Andreassen et al (2018) notes that with the technological development of media comes new forms of human technological entanglement that do not change the nature of romance but rather how and where people are moved[1]. This underlines the use of technology within interpersonal relations especially in the construction of intimacy. Mediated intimacies in this instance become a form of intimacy that requires mediation through which intimate relations can be established between subjects. Bu these mediated intimacies become subject to cruel optimism in the fact that there is a resistance in the alignment between privacy and sex. Cruel optimism and romance creates a central problem where individuals have to pay for their social membership in their society while try and maintain their normative fantasy within the public sphere. According to Lauren Berlant (2006), cruel optimism exists when the object that one desired is an obstacle to flourishing[2]. These include the human fantasy of good life, habits of self-improvement which become cruel when they impede the aim that brought people to them initially.

The usage of a social media application in daily human communication does have an effect on our emotionality within romantic relationships as mediated intimacy provides an appropriate lens in gauging the issue. One of the major negative effects that social media plays in its role as a mediator of intimacy is that it does lead to the creation of unrealistic expectations. Numerous useful resources are shared via social media but what people get to see most times are the filtered and curated posts that present an unrealistic highlight of what relationships are. In this instance, the element of cruel optimism is presented in the fact that the promise of romance is not only tethered to private affairs, but to the public sphere that makes it seem difficult to achieve. Romance thanks to social media is limited to sex while issues related to sexual object choice contributed to the creation of unusual ideas of what romance is all about. Lauren Berlant (2006) presents an argument along the lines that social media as institutional support of attachment or fantasy breaks down the ideas of romance as the current culture tries to make sense of its presence[3]. With the creation of unrealistic expectations, cruel optimism checks in as individuals tend to attempt to measure up to these expectations. The result of this is that individual’s end up being distracted in their search for partners considering that reality does not take the form of highlight reels that are present on social media. The form of romance that is present in social media would lead to disappointment in both one’s self as well as their partners which leads to heartbreak and division.

As a mediatory institution, social media presents one with images of lifestyles rather than natural relations. It is through this that one would feel jealous of how much others post about their partners while also feel resentment towards their partners for not doing something similar. The cruel optimism in this instance is presented in the fact that social media does contribute to the dissatisfaction that one has in their relationship as what one sees is taken to be better than what they have. Rosalind Gill (2009) notes that the construction and maintenance of social order do entail the construction of certain pleasures that would secure consent as well as participation[4]. The use of technology and social media in the modern age has become a cultural form that is both ideological and pleasurable. Ideology on the other hand is built from the themes of taking control concerning sex. A poll conducted in 2018 featuring 2000 British adults revealed that 50% of single Britons have never asked anyone on a date in person while 25 to 30-year-olds are like to meet their partners on dating apps[5]. This highlights the idea that affective atmospheres are shared and bodies do find themselves judging their environments and also responding to the atmosphere they find themselves in. Social media as a mediator of intimacies extends the parameters of what individuals believe to be true romance far from the realities.

Social media affects intimate relationships by bringing about the problem of jealousy as well as increased relationship dissatisfaction. Romance presented on social media acts pedagogically as a happy object that contributes to the orientation of happiness in people towards the acquisition of similar romance. The romantic ideas derived from social media are a form of what Berlant describes as cruel optimism where people are attached to fantasies of fulfilment and happiness that are detrimental and unsustainable. Cruel optimism manifests itself through the mediated intimacy of social media that acts as an incitement for one to pursue an impossible ideal of romantic love or romantic fiction that in turn leads to jealousy. According to Elphinston & Noller (2011), young people’s exposure to social networking sites such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook is increasing along with their potential for use to complicate their romantic relationships[6]. Facebook intrusion is linked to relationship dissatisfaction through the creation of surveillance behaviours as well as jealous cognitions. The result of this is that there is a high possibility where Facebook intrusions spill over to romantic relationships with the result being dissatisfaction and jealousy. Mediated intimacies in this instance create a situation of insecure attachment style that manifests itself in relations. Individuals who have fear of abandonment tend to approach relationships in a way that is characterized by uncertainty or fear amounting to what one sees on social media. It is this that makes it difficult for an individual to make a deeply intimate and emotional connection with a partner.

Mediated intimacies are drawn in through what one would see on social media but it is further noted that even when relations are brewed on social media, individuals do feel anxious about their relations and if or no their desires can be met by the other. The element of jealousy is created where one has an anxious and also a fearful-avoidant attachment. The main characteristics of this include insecurities, anxieties along with volatile and unpredictable behaviours. People may get upset seeing their partners commenting or liking other people’s posts which would stoke concerns that their partners were interested in others. The mediated intimacy presented through social media does increase the feelings of suspicion in romantic relations. The result of this would be a feedback loop where ambiguous information would be exposed concerning romantic relations. Baker, Gill, and Harvey (2018) note that the media does play an important role in shaping people’s knowledge, practices, desires as well as expectations about intimate relations[7]. This influence does stem from the wider cultural habits of ideas, images as well as discourses that people would come across about intimacy that would circulate on social media. For example, ideas surrounding desirable bodies, celebrity gossip as well as happy endings in movies all constitute the understanding of intimacy that people have. These ideas come as an opposite to the object of desire that is the promises that people want others to make to them. The attachment to these ideas, the development of the feelings of jealousy owing to social media posts constitute the cruel optimism.


The excessive use of social media is linked to cases of domestic violence. In a survey conducted of 200 Facebook users between the ages of 18 and 82 suing a 16 question survey demonstrated more negative relational outcomes as compared to those with lower use. The study did reveal that the relationships were mediated through Facebook-related conflict meaning their Facebook usage is associated with negative relational outcomes. According to Clayton, Ngurney, and Smith (2012), there is a strong relation between internet use as well as relational outcomes as Facebook was attributed to the increasing emotional cheating, divorce rate as well as physical cheating[8]. The study further revealed that couples who had been together for less than three years and spend more time on Facebook were linked to more negative relational outcomes. Lee, Giliath, and Miller (2019) note that with the ubiquity of the internet, many social interactions, as well as relationships, do take place online. In addition to these relational processes includes that of self-disclosure[9]. Social media does provide grounds for online disclosure, this is a reflection of the amount of time, information as well as topics presented on social media that are more personal than others. The process of disclosure does play a major role in the building of relationships. The nature of mediated intimacy follows the person-situation interaction model that focuses on the high-depth intimacy and disclosure in offline relationships. Technology creates a situation where the discussion of contextual factors in relationships is limited and disclosure becomes a problem.

It is within this context that the question of public and private intimacy comes to the front as the person-situation interactional model seeks the effect of disclosure on the intimacy of the relationship. When disclosure is made, the recipient of this disclosure does engage in the interpretation of the intended meaning of the message. The problem comes in the fact that many people on social media overshare their relational issues which in turn contributes to lower relationship satisfaction. The process does contribute to the creation of cruel optimism as individuals in such relations tend to lose their object of desire. The online disclosure of individuals does tend to threaten the wellbeing of their partners since they are noted to be revealing the content of their attachment. The content of their attachment is the details of feelings as well as their relations, while people are engaged on social media, they tend to forget the thin line between what should remain private and what can be presented in public. Technology does inflate the existing human behaviour as it does not play the role of a causal agent. Social media does act as an apparatus through which human behaviours are revealed rather than a catalyst that further leads to cruel optimism. The usage of social media in our intimate relationships does bring more harm than good considering the element of privacy and confidentiality is breached. Since each relationship has its subjective form, when practicing disclosure on social media, one may subject their partners to toxic situations that would lead to a break-up.

Social media does affect intimate relationships by making daily life activities seem less interesting while also distracting one from spending quality time with their partner. For example, a drool-worthy image of couples on vacation can as well trigger feelings of envy that might prevent one from having an appreciation of where they are at the moment. Social media does have the power to make someone ignore the gritty parts of their relationship as one would forget that it is the everyday moments that would lead to ultimate satisfaction. The images of couples on vacation would create cruel optimism in the fact that it creates a false image of what relationships are all about. Eva Illouz (2012) writes that lovers are not literary blind but do not mind the imperfections of their partners[10]. The problem is presented in mediated intimacy where technology allows one to take a glimpse into the idea of the good life that in most cases is yet to come. This creates a situation of instant desire for this good life thereby leading to the destruction of the current relationship. Berlant (2006) notes that what is at stake at the moment is that pedagogy of feeling where technology does not teach people to accept their precarious positions but to be optimistic of something better that is beyond their reach[11]. The sense of optimism that one gain when engaging in social media for mediated intimacy do develop into cruel optimism. Furthermore, the addiction to social media does more harm not only to the quality of life that one lives but also to the quality of relationships that one offers. With each partner focused on their phones, there is no awareness of the importance of their face-to-face connection which would increase emotional intimacy.

Social media does affect our intimate relationships as one develops ideas about the reality of relations and what they have at the moment. While sex and relationship advice in magazines can be connected to the patterns of domination and oppression, then the same images on social media can be connected to the increasing disconnect between individuals and couples who spend time on social media. Social media provides numerous assumptions of heterosexual true romance that create the idea that for every woman out there, there has to be a perfect match that is cited as “Mr. Right.” Such ideas are referred to as cruel optimism as one’s dreams would not appear in their living room. Social media ensures that relationships become something that can be broken down into various quantifiable features where its presence and absence can be ticked off following various encounters with the different partners. Social media does enable the creation of urgency for individuals to be affectless where they set themselves up for disaster. Social media does create mediated intimacy where there is the weight of the expected that turns into cruel optimism. Not everyone will realize their dream, but the problem is people getting caught up in their recreated fantasies and ruining their realities with false hopes.