#HoneymoonHell @NYTimes: Might there be a religion ghost somewhere in this story?

The New York Times ran a stunning feature the other day about how our digital age has turned honeymoons into a depressing exercise in using social media to impress friends, family, colleagues and, if possible, the entire world.

People are not taking ordinary honeymoons anymore, if would seem. They are engaging in online competitions to prove that their honeymoon travel was way more awesome than that of other folks. Here is the double-decker headline atop this piece:

Honeymoon Hashtag Hell

Social media pressure to take perfectly posed photographs may lead to the first argument as a married couple. Is it worth a fabulous Instagram shot if you are just having a horrible time?

As you would expect, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West make an appearance in this story.

Ignore them, if at all possible. That isn’t what this post is about. The question, here, is whether — in the eyes of Times journalists and, thus, elite America — honeymoons remain linked, in any way, with the subject of marriage, a topic that once had deep religious significance. Marriage and sex was once part of the discussion. You know, that whole “moral theology” thing.

So let’s ask: Is there a “religion ghost” in this post? That’s the term that your GetReligionistas have always defined as an important religious subject hiding inside a news story.

Here is the overture to “Honeymoon Hashtag Hell,” just to introduce the key players and their dilemma.

If you ask JP Smith what he remembers most about his 2014 honeymoon in Aruba, he’ll say the sunsets, but not because of their beauty.

“It was like a photo shoot for some magazine that would never exist,” said Mr. Smith, 38, a real estate agent in New York, and he didn’t mean that in a good way. He described the weeklong vacation with his new wife, Natasha Huang Smith, as a “sunset nightmare,” “stressful,” “cumbersome” and “torturous.”

Ms. Huang Smith, 34, who works in digital marketing, was attempting to showcase their honeymoon on Instagram. “I had to prove to the world that I was having a great time,” she said. And so half of her day was spent shooting, editing, or planning Instagram posts.

How common is this sad syndrome?

The Times team quickly notes that 70 percent of brides “post on social media throughout their honeymoon,’ according to the Knot Social Media Survey 2016. The key word there is “throughout.” And the husbands? Maybe they are not into competitive photography to the same degree, for some reason.

So what has changed? This brings us to the key passage in this news feature. This is long, but essential:

The posts can be a nice way to show off honeymoon highlights and keep in contact with family and friends, but they also have the potential to ruin what was supposed to be an intimate trip.

“History suggests the honeymoon began in England in the 19th century when couples would travel the country visiting family and friends who couldn’t make it to their ceremony,” said Kara Bebell, who owns and operates the Travel Siblings, with her brother, Harlan deBell. (The New York-based company specializes in romantic getaways.)

Then the honeymoon evolved into the first time a couple got any prolonged alone time or to consummate the marriage. The modern honeymoon became more of an opportunity for newlyweds to celebrate alone and reconnect after the stress of a wedding.

In recent years, honeymoons have regressed, Ms. Bebell said. “Couples want validation from followers and friends,” she said, and oftentimes they do that with photos and hashtags.social media throughout their honeymoon.

Maybe it’s because I am, well, old and also, you know, a religious person, but this passage left me with a question: Is this competitive, commercial and materialistic #HashtagHell syndrome more common between people who have been cohabiting for several weeks and months? In other words, there is no “marriage,” in the old sense of the word, to “consummate.” Each partner may have “consummated” a few or even many temporary relationships in the past.

This really hit me hard:

Ms. Huang Smith said she felt compelled to prove to the world that her honeymoon was as “epic” as her wedding.

The honeymoon, thus, needs to be a fabulous vacation, not an intimate and unique chapter in a lifelong relationship. After the competitive 5-star wedding, we have the competitive 5-star honeymoon. The audience for the fabulous sunset bikini shot is not the husband, but a star-turn moment to impress all of the bride’s friends. The wedding? That was more of the same.

So is there a substitute religion in this piece? It would appear that, as in so many modern romcoms, answering that question requires insights from a psychologist.

After Ms. Huang Smith’s trip, she started comparing her Aruba photos to those of other Instagrammers, and her feelings about her honeymoon worsened. “I was flipping through so many posts and thinking my photo wasn’t as good as that one, or oh my God, I missed this place,” she said.

These types of comparisons are common, according to Gwendolyn Seidman, a social psychologist studying relationships and online behavior and chairwoman of the psychology department at Albright College in Reading, Pa. 

“You see other people posting photos of their great vacations, romantic engagements, and exciting honeymoons, so you compare yourself to them and feel the need to do the same thing yourself,” Ms. Seidman said.

Ah, yes. Marriage and life is not a sacred journey with a partner that — sacramentally speaking — helps complete you. Life is a movie. Or a website.

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