In 2008, I spent the day with T.I., interviewing him for a cover story. We sat in a chauffeured car as he made his way to speak to a group of high school students at a New York City Boys and Girls Club.
He was forthright with all the questions I asked, even about the gun charges he was facing at the time and what led him to make the poor choices he did. Then it was time for me to slide in a question about his then-girlfriend Tameka “Tiny” Cottle.
Me: You don’t speak on your relationship with Tiny… Can you tell me the status?
[T.I. points to a plane overhead taking off from LaGuardia]
T.I.: Where do you think that plane out there is headed?
Me: Is that your way of saying you’re not going to talk about it?
TI: Lovely weather we’re having, isn’t it?
Me: I mean, you know, people are curious about—
T.I.: Everything in my life is going well.
At that point, he set his lips in a thin line and gave me a look—that line of questioning was over.
I respected his decision not to discuss his personal life. Even back then, before Instagram and Twitter, it was understood that the media could signal the death knell for a celebrity couple.
I could also relate on a personal level because I’ve been married for nine years and though my husband and I have over 300 mutual friends on Facebook, few of them know we’re married to each other. Because we work in the same industry, we keep our social media lives completely separate and our relationship exists solely in real life.
T.I. and Tiny married a few years later and as I expected, they did it without making any public announcements.
The following year, there was an announcement that they would be starring in their own reality series, The Family Hustle.
Call it the reality show couples curse but things haven’t been the same for the Harris family since their show began airing and the two of them collected over ten million social media followers between them.
Back in February, I was lurking on Instagram and saw a picture posted by Tiny. It was supposed to highlight her waist. But her backside was the actual star. T.I. commented on the photo:
“U have so much more going for u other than your as$. Although it is magnificent, I think u should spend just as much time showcasing those other things as u do ya booty…awesome pic luv.”
He couldn’t send her a text message? Give her a call? Maybe bring it up over Sunday brunch or at somebody’s Little League game? He really needed to share with millions that he didn’t approve of what his wife was posting on Instagram?
I whispered to myself when I saw the exchange: this isn’t going to end well.
Three short months later and it looks like I was right.
For the past several months, since the first cracks in the façade began to show, T.I. and Tiny have become a textbook case on how not to handle your relationship in the age of social media.
It all came to a head when Tiny recently posted a picture of herself with Floyd Mayweather on Instagram. T.I. allegedly got into an altercation with Floyd’s crew and on Sunday, after rumors that he was hiding because he was injured in the brawl, T.I. posted an Instavid updating his followers on his (bruise-free) status.
The public has been grabbing popcorn and refreshing Instagram to keep up with all the juicy drama, inevitably riling T.I. and Tiny up when they read (and sometimes respond to) the comments made on their private lives.
Would things be different if T.I. had maintained his policy to not discuss his relationship publicly? We’ll never know for sure. But it’s hard to imagine they’d have this kind of public drama if they weren’t courting it online.
It’s not just T.I. and Tiny who play out their relationships online—it’s now an accepted facet of the overall celebrity circus.
We judge the health of celebrity couplings based on if they Like their partner’s pics, whether or not they’re following each other on Twitter or what kinds of quotes and proclamations they choose to upload.
We watch couples begin relationships: Iggy Azalea reportedly began dating Nick Young after he name-checked her for #WomanCrushWednesday. In 2011, Kanye West famously began to follow one person on Twitter—his future wife Kim Kardashian.
Then, after these relationships solidify, we settle in and stay tuned for their day-to-day interaction, like Wiz and Amber Rose and Gabrielle and Dwyane, who often send each other online love notes.
And of course, we also watch them flame out spectacularly: the way it seems to be heading for T.I. and Tiny.
It’s easy to shake our heads at the public displays of ratchetness that offer us free 24-7 reality television. But answer this: have you ever posted anything about your relationship online? Have you ever checked out your partner’s profile or stalked the page of your new boo? Ever feel a tingle of jealousy when you see someone posting some social media PDA?
The truth is, celebrities are human. And humans want to share their brunch pics, selfies and relationship status with the world. Whether you’ve got three followers or three million followers, you press Publish because you want to be seen and heard.
It’s easy to get sucked in. I’m secure in my marriage but I’m not immune to the green-eyed monster popping up when I log onto Facebook and get bombarded with social media PDA. One guy is giving his wife a Happy Anniversary shout-out. This chick is posting a picture of the breakfast-in-bed her husband prepared for her. There’s the cheek-to-cheek date night photos; the no-reason flowers sent to the office and the congrats-on-the-new-gig announcements.
Do I wish my husband would post a Throwback Thursday picture of us on our wedding day? Yeah, I do.
Do I wish he’d make me his #WomanCrushWednesday? Sure. Why not?
Anyone who says that what they see on social media doesn’t make them occasionally reevaluate their real-life relationships is lying. None of us are immune.
Around Valentine’s Day, the online PDA reaches a fever pitch. This year, I said to my husband: “Sometimes I wish we were like the couples I see on Facebook and Instagram who are always posting pics and shouting each other out.”
My husband, a master at avoiding land mines like this one, was silent. I continued.
“I mean, I know just because they look happy on Facebook doesn’t mean they are. But sometimes I wonder if they really are that happy.”
My husband responded:
“Aren’t you glad that you have a real-life marriage where you don’t have to wonder if you’re happy?”
It’s like that old adage: "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"
If your spouse shows you that the love (or the drama) is there, but only you can see it, does it count? It should. And if it doesn’t, it might be time to unplug from the Matrix and spend some offline time with the ones who matter.
Aliya S. King's work has appeared in national publications since 1998. She is also the author of two novels and three non-fiction books, including the New York Times Bestseller, "Keep The Faith," with recording artist Faith Evans. Find her at aliyasking.com and @aliyasking.
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