For the last few years sites like Facebook and Twitter have become the main way of managing our complex array of true friends, colleagues, acquaintances, friends of friends, people we stalk and people we used to know but have lost contact with but stay Facebook friends to feel like we have more friends type people. With such reliance on these social networking tools to manage the people in our lives, it is no wonder that real life, meaningful relationships spill over into the virtual world. In this instance I’m not talking about the difficulty of separating true friends from Facebook friends but instead how the use of social media can make relationships between couples that bit more difficult.
Facebook is plagued with the ‘relationship status’ function. If we are to believe the film The Social Network then this function was created so college boys could see if the girl they fancied was in fact available. This use prevails quite prominently, even more so recently with the practice of ‘Facebook stalking’ becoming seemingly more socially acceptable, but is not just limited to people checking others out. The relationship status is there for all to see, everyone knows when someone is in a relationship, often sending them some form of congratulations despite not knowing them or their new partner. Often (positive) relationship changes are the most liked things I see on Facebook, even when most people don’t actually care… Conversely, however, everyone also knows when someone’s relationship status changes for the worse. All of this watching adds pressure to the relationship that is under scrutiny by people one half of the couple will definitely not even know.
Of course, couples could avoid putting this option in their profiles, but then people might assume that they aren’t serious, or are single and ripe for hitting on. If their real friends know they are together, they might question why they are not letting other people know. In fact, the relationship status, particularly for younger couples who have no real way of showing serious commitment, can act as a sign of the relationship’s integrity. Thus, now, the term Facebook official has become more and more widespread, a term used to define a relationship that wouldn’t have existed five years ago.
I am not going to dive into all the pitfalls of conducting the actual relationship over Facebook. This should stay fairly obvious- keep it private. Far too many couples overdo it on Facebook, you should actually see each other rather than posting things all the time for all the world to see.
Facebook is also there, as it always is, at the end of a relationship too. Once again, the relationship status strikes again as everyone knows you are single once more. This may encourage messages of sympathy or people you didn’t even really know acting differently around you. What was once a private matter between two people becomes very public very quickly. Sure, it is up to you when you change the status so that you can deal with the inevitable flood of people commenting, but it will still be news to the people who aren’t really close to you, and people you wouldn’t have told anyway. Once again, the watchful eye of your Facebook friends makes the whole process of breaking up that bit more difficult.
Also, breakups are made more difficult by social media’s focus on constantly updating. Whilst when in a couple this can be brilliant, with comments, chat and statuses allowing the couple to stay in constant contact, it can be particularly difficult to avoid this afterwards. No one wants to be the person who unfriended their ex first, so you just live, dealing with updates you don’t really want to see. Social networks also make this particularly difficult as no one (besides whiny attention seeking teenage girls) post how they really feel, they just post what they want others to see, the perfect them. Constantly seeing this perfect version of someone you broke up with is not particularly healthy or actually a true indication of anything, but yet social networks mess with you in this way.
So, in conclusion, social media has fundamentally altered the conduct of relationships between couples of the 21st century. It harries the relationship at every turn, right from the initial footsteps together, to how you communicate in a public forum, and to how you perceive each other after a breakup. Perhaps it’s just not worth it. It’s easy to say that we shouldn’t cave to peer pressure and feel obliged to carry out this new online relationship etiquette, but realistically who doesn’t? Somehow it has become tradition in a short couple of years, and will stay this way until Facebook loses its dominance.
What are your opinions? Has social media alerted your relationships? For better or worse?