One day you’re scrolling Instagram and you spot that friend of yours who you haven’t seen in the longest time, only now she’s got someone standing next to her in the photo: a whole husband.
Such is the shock and awe of the “husband reveal” – when someone you didn’t even realise was seeing anyone romantically suddenly confirms they aren’t just coupled up, but actually married.
Malala Yousafzai, who famously said she wasn’t sure why people decided to wed, surprised the world this month when she revealed she’d had her nikkah (Islamic marriage) with Asser, a man we all quickly scrambled to Google.
Of course, Malala isn’t the first famous face to partake in the trend. Earlier on in June, Insecure actress Issa Rae dropped stunning wedding pictures on the gram without any of us having even suspected she was tying the knot, let alone in a romantic relationship with businessman Louis Diame. Not to mention doing so, with the very coolest of captions.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Van Ness of Queer Eye fame, dropped their own low-key husband reveal of British spouse, Mark Peacock, as part of a “that was the year that was” photo dump in January. The photo of the pair was sandwiched between pictures from an Antipodean tour and a screenshot of a lockdown Zoom quiz.
“I got married to my best friend & have a loving partner to continue building my life with,” Van Ness told their followers amid the New Year’s update. No biggie.
Reveals don’t even need to be of a new spouse, as the queen that is Dolly Parton demonstrated earlier this month, finally showing off her husband of 55 years on Twitter, writing: “Find you a partner who will support you like my Carl Dean does!” (Even if she, cannily, followed it with a link to her online store).
Even for non-celebrities, there is a certain allure to doing the big launch online – with no explanation, no warning, one day you just surprise everyone.
The husband reveal, an antithesis to the soft launch boyfriend/girlfriend where you feed people little crumbs over weeks or even months to show that you are in fact seeing someone, is kind of badass. And coupled with perhaps the only professional photos you’ll ever get of yourself – with a killer dress and full hair and makeup as standard – it can really take everyone’s breath away.
There’s a cultural element to the trend too: Muslims and other groups often indulge in it as there are cultural barriers with what you can post online.
Soft launches aren’t always possible if you’re not supposed to be seeing or dating someone before marriage. But on the big day, when it’s all official, there are no limitations to what you can post.
Nishat*, a 27-year-old teacher who is also Muslim, did a husband reveal on Instagram back in 2020 in the middle of the pandemic (beating Malala, Dolly, Issa and other celebs only now taking part in the trend).
“I was nervous, happy and excited to share this next chapter of my life but apprehensive,” she tells HuffPost UK. “They say a private life is a better life, particularly for major milestones but I see Insta as an extension of friends and family so I wanted to share my joy with them particularly as I didn’t get the conventional wedding due to Covid.”
Dropping the pics on Instagram certainly gave her followers a pleasant surprise – her husband reveal (or rather, wedding reveal) actually became her most-liked post, as is the case with many other photos of the genre.
“I think many were shocked as some had no idea that I was seeing someone or was in the process of getting married,” she adds, “partly because I didn’t post my husband before getting married. Initially I wanted to do an engagement announcement but due to Covid, my engagement became my nikkah, so it just happened to be that way.”
Nishat explains that religion plays a major part in how young Muslims behave online, and there’s a certain etiquette you follow.
“The reason why I or many other Muslims don’t reveal before the wedding is because of faith and culture (you’re not supposed to have romantic relationships before marriage). I also believe it’s respectful not to post these things. But also, Islamically, we believe that towards the build up of getting married, many things can break the union, so it’s a case of not jinxing it.
“So, putting it on social media before it’s secure is like a big no and this applies to most things like pregnancies or job opportunities, you don’t want get ahead of yourself because you don’t know what could happen. Even now, I’m always conflicted because I’m such an over-sharer, but I also try and limit posting things of my marriage because of how much I value it and how sacred it is.”
While some choose to engage in the trend after the fact, some people – who are not currently in a relationship – are already planning to do a husband reveal.
For 22-year-old Kalya Chambers from south west London, keeping the mystery alive is on the cards for the future and she likes the way she’s seen certain celebrities do it. “I think a husband reveal is appealing just because I don’t want anyone to know my business,” she says. “And I’m not sure how I’d do a reveal but I’m sure it would be something big.”
So is doing a sudden reveal better than soft launching a partner on socials? Is any one way better than the other?
We spoke to James Thomas, a sex and relationships expert, who says there are pros and cons to being overly private or public with our romantic lives.
“The appeal of keeping things private is to close your relationship off from unnecessary criticism and the opinions of others,” he tells HuffPost UK.
“Whether this be due to your cultural, political, social differences or simply because you don’t want to feed into a false portrayal of your love online, keeping your relationship private until marriage can allow couples to ‘live in the moment’ without concern for what others think. Instead of documenting their moments together for social media, couples can spend real quality time together, too, without any pressure and complications.”
Keeping thing under wraps and off-grid almost means you don’t have to worry about doing a social media cleanse of all your images with a partner if the relationships ultimately doesn’t work out.
“In moderation, posting your happy moments online on social media should not harm your relationship,” adds Thomas. “Some couples may feel more reassured by the gesture, as displaying your relationship online can signal to other potential romantic rivals that you are taken. Others may use their Instagram feeds as a creative snapshot of their favourite moments in the relationship.”
People, including partners, can have very different views about social media usage so it’s worth sounding out your other half about their approach and how you both feel about sharing – or not sharing – images of each other.
“Some may feel as though being kept private is synonymous to being kept a secret,” points out Thomas. “To avoid miscommunication, it’s important for you and your partner to discuss privacy in your relationship, and what this might mean for both of you and your relationship.”
So, are you team reveal or team soft launch? You can only really do it once.
* Surname omitted to offer anonymity.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.