Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about how cute TikTok couples are. There are many relationship videos that feel real and many compilations of LGBTQ+ couples who are featured less in traditional media. A lot of clips are cute, heartwarming, or perfectly staged to be gorgeous snapshots of life and love.
But some of the most viral videos are just crazy. (Note: I am not linking to them because I think these challenges are inadvisable, private, and likely shouldn’t live online. But if you’re curious, there are many compilations on YouTube.)
There have been a string of recent TikToks popping up on the platform from testing your friend’s partner to see if they’d cheat to tricking your husband into thinking you’re mad at him. Some of the more shocking ones include lying about whether you want kids (such as by telling a partner “I want a baby now”) and pretending to hide someone in the bathroom to see their reaction to implied cheating. And then of course there are the ones that focus on crushes, like kissing your best friend when a song drops and seeing if they return it. Or “pranking” a friend by saying you have feelings for them when you don’t.
To many people, it seems like an easy outlet from the pandemic and a way to insert a bit of interesting drama into the mundane.
To me, perhaps an old Scrooge, what is seriously wrong with y’all?
These challenges are not healthy. Period. In no world is this healthy. And we shouldn’t be normalizing these toxic relationships for teenagers and young adults who struggle to keep up with the endless cycles of online popularity.
Just look at the results of many of these videos. Follow-up TikToks have talked about the dissolution of decades-long friendships over hurtful pranks, teary videos about the dark side of online fame, and comments about boundaries and consent. Kissing someone without asking first, especially when you think they don’t want it, is sexual assault. Literally.
I can’t believe I have to say this. I can’t believe there are people out there who think these challenges are good ideas. But if you still must tape private moments for entertainment, here are three questions you should always ask yourself before putting someone to the test:
- Am I lying to them in a way they need to be able to trust me in the future?
This one is to all of you who want to tell your husband “let’s make a baby now” and then back out. Or tell your best friend you secretly have feelings for them when you don’t. Yikes. Weakening your relationships by crying wolf is always a bad idea, but especially when you’re playing with people’s feelings about important romantic and life decisions. You don’t want them wondering if they can trust you in the future or carrying that resentment for years.
2. Is the point of this TikTok to humiliate them?
I have seen TikToks with the sole purpose of proving a boyfriend is a mess, a wife is a slut, or parents have favorites. Some of these videos are very cherry-picked to create idealized viral moments or perpetuate outdated standards about women’s bodies. While some might be staged, many involve mortified friends and family who grab phones out of hands, begging the videos not to be posted online. (Even if that is staged too, we don’t want to promote a culture where people think lack of consent is okay.) And when uncomfortable consent is given, the long-term effects of public humiliation are often felt months or years later, after it’s too late to take a viral video down.
3. Am I okay with this living forever online?
A lot of people post videos of their kids doing embarrassing things or stories about their spouse they probably will regret later when their kids are older or if they get a divorce. Plan for every contingency. Even if you’ve deleted the video, they can always live on YouTube compilations or spread from someone else’s account. The internet is a wild place and there’s little privacy once something is out there.
Basically, if a TikTok challenge requires you to lie to someone, humiliate them, or post something online you don’t want everyone to see in five years, then don’t do it. And before you post, if you take one thing away from this article, take this: ask for their permission. The early rules of the internet age still apply. Consent and decency are everything. Don’t pressure people to post something they’re not comfortable with, especially if they’re under eighteen.
Although I don’t post on TikTok, partly for these reasons but mostly because social media tires me, many of my friends do. When I shared my observations on toxic relationship challenges, some of them responded that while they’d never post the results online, they were inspired and curious to test their partners behind the scenes.
I’m not. I am the queen of writing about communication and I have to point out that in any healthy relationship, you’d already know exactly how your significant other would react. If I told my husband we should make a baby now, he’d think I was certifiably insane and definitely not just do it. Why anyone is having a baby on a whim is beyond me. Why any couple hasn’t had a conversation on whether or not they want one is farther beyond me. (Also, there are TikToks where 16-year-olds are talking about having babies on a whim. Um.)
If I asked my husband for his phone, a popular TikTok challenge, he’d give it to me locked because I know the password. And people with joint bank accounts should always talk about major expenses before making them (cue several TikToks on pranking family with high bills and expensive purchases).
But it’s not all hell out there. Some videos are wonderful and sweet, like surprising your family with a day in which you do everything they love most. Go ahead and be inspired by those. And there are other good parts of TikTok too: the famous dance challenges, exercise tips, and precocious teenagers helping tutor others. But even then, I recommend not always posting everything online. You don’t want friends and family to think you spend time with them or do nice things only for the sake of a good clip. Virality should never be more important than the happiness of the real people in your lives.
And if your goal is to humiliate someone, test them, or record a screw-up, then think again. It can be the recipe for disaster.