The first time someone told his boyfriend how big a fan of his they were, Nick Hurley admits he thought it was a little “weird.” The New Yorkers were vacationing in Sitges, the resort town just south of Barcelona, when a young Castilian started speaking to them in Spanish. “That was definitely the moment that I was like, well, obviously it’s taken off,” says Hurley, a 34-year-old merchandise manager for the footwear brand Camper. No, his boyfriend Erik Larson isn’t an actor or a musician or a reality television personality. He’s just addicted to Instagram. And Instagram, in turn, is addicted to him.
By the time Larson, 36, was approached by three different strangers in Miami last month, Hurley was no longer fazed. In the two years since Sitges, Larson—better known to his 7,220 ardent followers as eelarson — has been recognized by strangers wherever the couple goes. Minneapolis. Portland. Budapest. Larson’s fans love his carefully crafted landscapes, his optical illusion-like puddle shots, his daily elevator selfies, and his rotating cast of attractive friends. But, far and above, Larson’s fans love it when they get his a glimpse of his muscled torso. (On average, his shirtless pictures receive double the Likes and triple the comments.)
“I’ve been an avid photographer ever since I was 15 years old,” says Larson, a legal reporter for Bloomberg News. “It was rare to have complete strangers look at my work without any bias and say that they really liked it.” With Instagram, Larson admits he has found support in a way he never felt using MySpace, Picasa, or Facebook. As for the selfies? “I give him shit for his shirtless selfies but I don’t really care,” jokes Hurley. “But if you look through his old photos there’s selfies that he’s taken. A lot of the stuff he does on Instagram is stuff he did before cell phones.”
The truth is Hurley has been happy to see his boyfriend’s art flourish on the social network, even if it means sharing his relationship a little bit. “A year or so ago I think I was more frustrated with him being on it all the time. I’m like, OK, we need to go to bed. You’re still on Instagram. I feel like I’ve tried to be more supportive because it is something that validates all those years of photography when no one else would look at it. I think [time] is just an issue that all couples deal with, with all social media. We’ll watch a movie and he’ll complain about me being on my phone.”
And though the couple doesn’t have rules when it comes to Instagram, Hurley’s learned to set certain boundaries. “I try to save that card to pull out when I don’t want my photo taken. I don’t feel the need to have my photo taken when I’m going down to the gym in the elevator.”
Most girls would say that Montie Blackburn was lucky to date a male model. And while her daily life does features a lot of rippling abs, dating a model in the age of Instagram also comes with some unexpected responsibilities. Like blowing up balloons so her boyfriend can shoot an Easter-themed selfie in their small Hell’s Kitchen bathroom. Josh Owens, 27, has used his feed modeljoshowens to build a 1,676 follower-strong social presence to promote his modeling career. And he couldn’t do it without the help of his girlfriend of four years, even if she stays behind the scenes. “I always have an opinion about where it should be cropped,” she reveals. “Oh my god, you’re showing too much!” she’ll advise, but not for the reasons you think: “Push it up a little bit because it plays to the imagination more.”
It’s fine with Blackburn, a 28-year-old store manager, that she doesn’t appear in Owen’s feed (“I have to keep everybody interested,” he says). She’d rather keep her social media life personal, anyway. In fact, she says she’s never posted a selfie herself.
“When he told me he was going to use [Instagram] I thought that was fantastic,” Blackburn shares. “I definitely think it’s like a new, modern way of helping boost [a model’s] career.”
And even though that modern way attracts some salacious fans (and comments), she takes it in stride. “If anything it makes me chuckle if there is anything, you know, a little over the top,” she admits. “I’ll look at a photo [of Owens] and be like, that is not the Josh that I’m with all the time. It is a slightly different Josh. It is his MO. It is just like he is doing his PR thing all the time.”