With every Instagram update comes a digital behavior to decode. Does the order of Instagram viewers mean something? Why is it that it’s always the name of the person who ghosted you three months ago shown in the “Liked by [name here] and others” section of someone else’s grid post? It’s difficult not to ruminate on what you see and the interactions you have on Instagram — and ever since the app launched Story likes, there’s been an added layer to what counts as shooting your shot online. Now, some people think Story likes are the latest way to flirt and others think it’s a strictly friendly feature.
On Feb. 14, 2022, Instagram’s update included the ability to privately like Stories by clicking a little heart button in the bottom right corner of the screen. (Bold move, releasing this chaos-inducing feature on Valentine’s Day.) When you send a Story like, it’s only viewable to the person who posted the image. Users can see who liked their Story on their notifications screen or when checking the viewers of their Story, since those who liked it will be prioritized to the top of the list with a heart next to their usernames. The sneakiest part? Those likes aren’t visible to other users. A like could just mean someone was impressed by the composition of your sunset pic. Unless they’re sending hints that they’re single? Or maybe their finger just slipped?
This has caused many to overthink about what it does or doesn’t mean when someone throws a like to their Story. The debate has made its way to TikTok, and some users like @eviemommy have shared their strong opinions. In a video from November 2022, she posted a selfie video that simply stated “Liking someone’s Instagram Story is flirting.” Her video has over 472,000 likes and comments from every side of the argument. “That’s how I’ve pulled and have been pulled,” wrote one user. Meanwhile, another user said, “Noooo I just spam like to make everyone feel special.”
For context, according to data site YouGov, one in five people worldwide admitted to using social media for flirting and dating in 2022. How are you supposed to know if the person lighting up your notifications is one of those five? Lindsey Metselaar, the host of the hit dating podcast We Met At Acme, says it’s not always clear — but you shouldn’t jump to conclusions.
“The problem is that some people could think something is flirting when it's just responding to a story. It's hard to know the difference,” she tells Bustle. “[A Story like] means nothing unless there's an actual action from them. I would just assume it means nothing until it means something.”
TikTok users have shared this sense of confusion. @superextremely2cool4u posted a video in August 2022 that said, “WTF are u supposed to do when a guy likes ur Instagram story???? Like am I supposed to text them and be like ‘hey saw u liked my story.’” Her comments section was full of resounding advice: don’t do anything. Metselaar agrees.
“A like is lazy. It's like a like on a dating app,” Metselaar says. “Let's say I'm on a dating app and someone likes me, what am I going to do with that? I'd rather someone like me and say something, like ask a question or give me something to respond to.”
Still, there are people who swear Story likes have a deeper meaning. User @ethan.uncurated said in a September 2022 video: “I finally realized why this ‘Liked your Story’ feature feels so different from liking a regular post of someone’s… you are the only one who can see story likes which gives it this sense of intimacy that you don’t get from a regular post.”
His video, with 48,000 likes, seemed to resonate with many who came across it on their FYPs, and his comment section generally agreed with his take. “They like my story and I automatically believe they want to marry me,” one person wrote. Another expanded on why Story likes might feel different, saying: “Nah the intimacy is because something on your story is closer to your real personality [than a grid post], so when someone likes that, it’s more of a connection.”
Some even admitted that they use Story likes as a flirting method, either to hint that their DMs are open or to bring their name to the top of the person’s story views potentially as a subtle-not-so-subtle nudge. User @aylinmelisa posted a video about liking Stories with the caption “it works” and @tylerricketts captioned his similar video “Shooting from deep.”
It seems the days of “like for a truth is” and “like for a like” of Facebook’s yesteryear are long gone. Those likes actually meant something, right? Now, everyone is simply just liking for the sake of liking, and in some cases, with half-baked romantic motives. While the true meaning behind a Story like can only be known from the person doing the liking, it’s clear that the act itself has some people feeling some type of way. But perhaps Instagram users should give themselves a little bit more credit. If you post a cool photo, it deserves to be liked, whether that person wants to pursue domestic bliss with you or not.
As Metselaar puts it: “[Story liking] is not a bad thing, but it's not something to look into. It's the bare minimum that they like your photo.” Don’t you deserve more than that?
Lindsey Metselaar, host of dating podcast We Met At Acme