You’ve created a video tour of your home. You’ve shared your morning routine. Your evening routine. Documented what you eat in a day. The camera follows your day to day life for vlogs. Your family and friends are regular features.
After building a career on sharing your personal life with the world, what happens when a romantic partner enters – or leaves – your life?
We’ve seen the rise and fall of YouTube couples. We’ve watched how audiences respond to each new development. How do YouTubers navigate being in the public eye while having a healthy, stable relationship with their loved one and their audience?
Part 1: Breaking the News
To start at the beginning, how does one make the decision to introduce their partner to their audience? For Chloe her channel grew alongside her relationship with fellow YouTuber Adam Flanagan, having met him over two years ago when she had under a thousand subscribers. Even though both their audiences were small back then, they waited until they were sure they were in a committed relationship before going public with a collab video on each other’s channels.
She strongly feels that YouTubers shouldn’t rush to announce relationships too early. “There’s nothing more embarrassing than having to introduce and announce partners, break ups, new partners,” says Chloe. “I think it’s best to keep away from the internet until you know. Because, let’s face it – once something’s on the internet it’s there for good.”
Jessica was already engaged to her partner, Claudia, when she began YouTube and had been speaking about her since the beginning. “Since I was already in a committed long term relationship when I started YouTube, my audience has always know us as a couple.”
On the other hand, Melanie was also in a long term, committed relationship when she started her channel in 2013, but they have since broken up. While she had included him in her content, she didn’t share much about the relationship. “It wasn’t all unicorns and roses,” admits Melanie. “And I didn’t feel deep down that it would last forever, so I was cautious.” After the end of that relationship, she deliberately kept her dating life as private as possible.
“I’m so brutally open about my life it leaves no mysteries for people to try and uncover.”
“I’m so brutally open about my life it leaves no mysteries for people to try and uncover.”
It may seem like absolute secrecy is the wisest option to take when you’re a public figure. Never mention your relationship in your content, don’t post any selfies of you and your partner, never mention your romantic status – don’t even hint at it.
But it’s not always possible to keep it a secret. Friends could mention something without realising, you might get spotted in public with your significant other – or Jim Chapman could accidentally upload a vlog that has footage of your laptop background.
In Tom’s video Public Relationships (with Markiplier), Mark Fischbach shares how when he tried to keep his previous relationship private, people still found out. He discusses how this lead to conspiracy theories being created on why he was keeping his relationship private. Gossip forums used more and more invasive methods to find information, leading to an online witch-hunt for his now ex-partner.
For Tom, his tactic is to reveal everything. Speaking to TenEighty, Tom states: “I’m so brutally open about my life it leaves no mysteries for people to try and uncover. My audience don’t get creepy and toxic because they already have everything they want from me.”
With the potential for audiences to become invasive, how much responsibility should YouTubers shoulder when trying to protect their current – or previous – partner, particularly if they’re not a YouTuber? Jake reveals that he feels a very deep responsibility and is concerned about the potential repercussions for the other person. “If any negative attention rises, I feel like that’s my fault or that I’m the one who should try to fix it.”
“If they’re not familiar with YouTube culture you have to take them through all the likely scenarios – family and friends finding out and getting invasive questions from viewers,” Jake affirms. “I’m very open so for me it feels more strange not to share that kind of thing, but I always have to consider that they might not be ready for the types of attention you receive when you’re in a public queer relationship.”
On the other hand, Melanie states she doesn’t feel any responsibility at all. She feels that due to the nature of the internet, she was aware that there would always be some who will dislike and analyse her current partner, Thomas. Instead, she focuses on the positivity received and shares what she wishes, regardless of any potential comments.
“Most people love my boyfriend Thomas more than they love me and that’s brilliant!” she says. “But even if they all hated him and wanted us to break up, I’d just roll my eyes and keep sharing… I just wanna put something beautiful out there.”
Nonetheless, Melanie does try to seek a balance as, while she is very open to sharing on her channel and in her book, her partner is not. “I draw the line when it comes to his privacy, his life experiences, his past, his feelings… unless I get the go-ahead I would never even think of being careless with his privacy,” she explains.
Tom takes a more neutral stance. “The only responsibility I feel is to protect (or at least prepare) my partner from a level of public scrutiny that they’ve never been exposed to before.”
While he is used to receiving thousands of comments on his appearance and life choices, he is aware that most people aren’t used to regularly getting even just a couple of unkind words from strangers. “Keeping on top of my comments and carefully choosing which parts of our lives to share is the best I can do to keep them safe,” says Tom.
Part 2: Feeding the Fans
Now your relationship is out there, the questions from the audience begins. How did you meet? Can we see a photo of you two? That’s cute, what about a video? Can you do a My Boy/Girlfriend Does [insert challenge here] video? When’s the wedding? Are you pregnant?!
It can be tempting to keep sharing to get that sweet internet validation, but audiences can cross boundaries. For example, Zoe Sugg and Alfie Deyes often have their address leaked and have fans coming to their house.
With such a high potential for invasions of privacy, how do creators handle this attention? Is any part of it enjoyable or does it feel voyeuristic? Where do they draw the lines for sharing?
Chloe has always been very private and heavily restricts what to share. “We have over a thousand photos of us from every single trip together but we publicly share maybe four or five at most,” she says.
She also acknowledges the smaller size of her channel and having an understanding audience has made the process easier. “I’m lucky that I’m not huge like Zoella. I cannot imagine what it’s like having constant gossip and rumours and people trying to get between you and your partner.”
“Bedroom talk is one thing that is absolutely off the table.”
Melanie shares that she enjoys the engagement from viewers, especially hearing how some have learnt or felt inspired by her relationship. However, she feels uncomfortable about it being idolised, particularly with ‘couple goals’ comments. “That makes me feel like people have us on a pedestal we never agreed to be on,” she explains. “We’re two normal people sharing the surface level ups and downs.”
However, she acknowledges that she can’t change other people’s perceptions. “Not everyone has seen every video we’ve posted and not everyone has followed me long enough to understand my motives.”
Tom, in the past, has struggled to draw the line with what is and isn’t okay to share. “I went through a phase of extreme openness which really put a strain on one relationship when friends of theirs, who were fans of mine, suddenly knew more than my partner was comfortable with them knowing.”
“Bedroom talk is one thing that is absolutely off the table,” affirms Tom.
Jake, who has featured in videos discussing sex as a transgender person, has a similar view. “If I talk about sex online it’s always from an informational point of view rather than a personal one,” he explains. “Sometimes that leads people to think they can ask anything, but it’s quite the opposite.”
“I share things like that because I’m trans and unfortunately we live in a world where sex education for trans people is very little, so talking about my personal experiences can help normalise the conversation and aid people’s understanding of trans bodies,” continues Jake. “I don’t want to share intimate details of my sex life outside these videos – ever.”
Like Jake, Jessica is happy to share to improve LGBTQ+ representation. “It’s rare to see femme-lesbian couples, and especially couples with a disabled partner.”
Jessica is unfazed by the attention and pressure to share. “I think there is a degree of common sense in it? I wouldn’t share anything that I would be embarrassed to see someone else repeat online,” she affirms. “Also, I would never never show anything I’d be embarrassed about my parents knowing!”
Part 3: When Your Relationship Makes Money
When your career is based on making money from sharing your personal life online, there can be a sense that you’re commercialising your relationship. Videos about or including your significant other often receives more views (and therefore more AdSense) and can lead to comments and criticisms that creators are sharing their relationship for money.
Jessica states that the monetary side doesn’t cross her mind when sharing her relationship online. “As a couple we never do anything thinking about how it would be perceived and whether or not it would make us money,” she says.
“We share our lives in an honest way and only think about the happiness we could be spreading [rather than] the monetary value to be gained.”
“I’ve dated some big names and I never even wanted to share photos with them.”
Melanie agrees. “It feels like fun that I weirdly get paid to have. And he’s just along for the ride,” she says. “My monthly vlogs and videos in which he features don’t rake it in via Google AdSense… 50k or 100k views is only about £100!”
Melanie feels that if she was publicly dating YouTubers, she wouldn’t know where to draw the line between business transactions and romantic transactions. In the past, she’s been with other YouTubers but it was complicated. “I’ve dated some big names and I never even wanted to share photos with them for fear of that yucky ‘I’m gaining off of you’ feeling.”
Both Jake and Tom agree they feel commercialisation is inevitable when making a relationship public.
“You become more appealing to brands and audiences alike when you’re in a perpetual state of collaboration,” says Tom. “Intentionally or not, I’ve only gone public with the relationships for which increased exposure could benefit my partner’s career.”
Jake was aware of this issue and because of it was very wary of introducing his new partner Joe on his channel. “You have to ask yourself whether the content is entertaining and serves a purpose beyond just being two people displaying their relationship,” he says.
“My work life has always been a display of (most of) my personal life because I know it’s educational to just be a trans person in the public eye, so combining my love life with that feels almost inevitable.”
Part 4: The Breakup
Breakups are bad enough – but add however many thousands or millions of people who are watching, judging and investigating. Then, top it off with mainstream media reporting on your breakup.
Referring back to Tom’s video with Mark, Mark shared how people flooded his ex’s YouTube channel with dislikes and hate after their breakup. When Sean ‘Jacksepticeye’ McLoughlin went through his split, the news made BBC Online’s front page and a Twitter moment.
Tom discussed how he had to prepare a statement video in an effort to protect himself and his ex. “I had to release a [now unlisted] video, before either of us were ready, just to get ahead of the storm and prevent us both from being hounded indefinitely.”
Melanie didn’t make a breakup video, but now wishes she did. “Avoiding it was foolish but this was in 2015. I hadn’t seen any breakup videos, so I felt it wasn’t a good idea.”
However, she shares how not talking about it resulted in assumptions and rumours emerging, particularly of cheating. “To this day I receive ‘once a cheater, always a cheater’ comments from trolls even though I’ve always been loyal in relationships,” explains Melanie. “The internet is as mad as a bag of elbows.”
Jake admits telling the public was the most difficult part of the process. Managing personal heartbreak with so many other people who felt like they were part of that relationship in some way was a huge challenge.
“My last public break-up was a big deal – after being an online couple for almost 4 years,” he shares. “Honestly, it was the scariest and most emotional part of breaking up, since the reasons for separating were so amicable and drama-free.”
At least once the news is out, it’s all over – right? Unfortunately not. Even when the dust settles, occasionally it’ll be kicked up.
Tom acknowledges the problem is that everything on the internet remains forever. “People can discover and develop a connection with your relationships (platonic or otherwise) even years after they’ve ended. It hurts when you get a comment or a tweet from some well-meaning-but-extremely-dense kid tagging you and an ex friend/partner as if you’re still close.”
“I still get comments asking if we’re still together.”
Jake has had similar experiences. “I felt a lot of people took it really well, but I still get comments asking if we’re still together. I recently did a Q&A on Instagram and I received multiple questions asking if one of us cheated or if we still speak or asking if we hate each other.”
“There’s really no drama to it,” Jake affirms. “But there’s only so many times you can say ‘we’re still friends, nothing happened, we’re just not dating anymore’.”
After having seen so many examples and having learnt from the past, do our interviewees have a plan for if there is a breakup – a digital pre-nup of sorts?
“We haven’t simply because he’s proposed and wants my babies and I feel it might piss on the romance a little,” Melanie comically retorts. However, she shares how she’s learnt from her first breakup to not skim over it in order to avoid accusations. “I’d address it head on and take a break! The same thing if I had a death in the family.”
While Chloe also hasn’t had a conversation with her partner, she has given thought to her reaction and how she might deal with things from her side: “If, god forbid, something did happen between us I don’t think it’s even something I’d announce.”
“It’s very private and I’d be heartbroken so that would be the last thing on my mind. I’d maybe mention it a few months or weeks down the line but only as a means to explain why perhaps videos were a bit more sparse,” she continues.
“The problem with being a YouTuber is that your audience will be very in tune if you don’t seem very happy or your personality isn’t the same,” she adds.
Tom offers a more seasoned response. “Break-ups fucking suck no matter the circumstances but being in the public eye does make it significantly fiddly-er”.
“If either party reveals how they actually feel to the audience who, in this context, are comparable to kids stuck in the middle of a divorce, it can turn things nasty real quick,” Tom explains. “Sides are taken, pain is weaponised, and closure becomes impossible. No matter the reasoning behind the split, you both have to follow the ’we drifted apart’ line [otherwise] things get out of control.”
For Jessica, she has a much more matter-of-fact approach. “Since we are married, own a house together and share two dogs I feel like my online following’s reaction would be the least of my worries!”
Part 5: Happily Ever After?
From mercurial audiences to mainstream media occasionally joining in, albeit with confusion, the internet is a scary place when you’re in love and online.
While it’s terrifying not knowing what will happen and with the eternal question of ‘what if we break up?’ looming overhead, creators can still find a joy in sharing their relationships. It’s not all about the beginning or the end, but also the everyday things that they do have control over.
“When it comes to my love, I just wanna put something beautiful out there.”
“When it comes to my love, I just wanna put something beautiful out there.”
Melanie loves that she’s able to share and document the fun moments in her relationship. “We knew within the first year that we wanted to build a life together so it made total sense to include him in what I do.”
Also, the online world isn’t the whole world. Melanie is able to detach from the internet, something she’s grateful for. “There’s such a massive gap between real and virtual life. I’m glad Thomas and I feel that, and we [only] share for the sake of sharing rather than for validation.”
“I mean, I’ll share a hot selfie for a little validation but when it comes to my love, I just wanna put something beautiful out there,” she adds.
For Jessica and her wife Claudia, they have a wonderful fanbase who they appreciate. “I have the most supportive fans. They’re great because they don’t pick a favourite and they are very respectful of our marriage.”
Out of our interviewees, Jessica and Claudia are the only married couple (they’ve been happily wedded for over two years). We asked if they had any advice for couples online who might be struggling with the politics and issues of being public with their relationship.
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“Only share what you are comfortable sharing, we wouldn’t share anything that we’d be embarrassed for our parents to see! Value your relationship above everything else… don’t share your little disagreements with the world!”
“Value your other half as a person,” she continues. “You have to respect each other as people and not only as partners. Be obsessed with each other.”
There’s potential for so much drama. It can make a creator wish their audiences didn’t care less about their relationship status. Or make them want to stay single.
But, neither are possible. Everyone will become invested in someone else. It’s human, and it’s complex.
Love is inevitable. We can only hope to be careful, and to be kind.
Check out some of the following features by TenEighty:
- When Does Creator Merch Become Exploitative?
- Ready Player None: Is YouTube Losing Its Gaming Community?
- Is YouTube Doing Enough to Support LGBTQ+ Creators?
- 10 out of 10: A Decade of Summer in the City