Thanks to Facebook, All Relationships Can Be Labeled “It’s Complicated”

When watching Life 2.0 and thinking about how to respond to this prompt, I thought a lot about how offline relationships play out online and how we interact with our ‘real’ life relationships on the internet.

I found the article, “Is Facebook Bad for Relationships? How Online Jealousy Affects Dating,” very prevalent in our society today. Personally in a relationship, I know that subtle things on my boyfriend’s Facebook profile like ‘likes’ from ex-girlfriends on photos or wall posts get under my skin. Granted, I know this isn’t my boyfriend cheating on me or even meaning that he is talking to his ex-girlfriend, however Facebook has created an interface for things like this to occur. This article, from International Business Times,  speaks directly to this problem. I also find it very interesting that an article like this would appear in an outlet such as the International Business Times.

Facebook has become such a prominent aspect of our lives that of course it plays a role within relationships; however, I don’t think that when Mark Zuckerberg initially created Facebook that he thought that becoming ‘Facebook official’ meant you were in a serious relationship, or that that term would become so widespread even OFFline. The article talks about a study done that “found that there was a correlation between time spent on Facebook and jealousy-related feelings and behaviors experienced on the website. Part of the problem lies in the fact that content posted on the social site can be interpreted in a variety of ways given its lack of context.”

Other things on Facebook also, as foolish as they may be, have become issues within offline relationships and have been causes of ‘faithfulness’ speculation. In the viral video “S**t Girlfriends Say” the girl is talking to her boyfriend and makes two references to their relationship online via Facebook. The first reference is when she says “why did your ex-girlfriend add you on Facebook?” and the second is when she says “how come I am not in your profile picture? You’re in my profile picture.” In the first instance, becoming friends on Facebook with an ex girlfriend could insinuate a reconciliation, that they are talking again, or just merely that she wants to stalk him. In the second instance, in a ‘real life’ event the girlfriend is insinuating that her boyfriend is trying to hide their relationship from other girls that he is Facebook friends with online. The importance of these situations is that the girlfriend does not know what type of tie the ex-girlfriend has via Facebook with her boyfriend. Though this YouTube video is hilarious, it is important to take note that the references to Facebook are obviously a widespread issue within relationships.

In Public displays of connection, Donath and boyd explain that “the number of strong ties an individual can maintain may not be greatly increased by communication technology, but that the number of weak ties one can form and maintain may be able to increase substantially, because of the type of communication that can be done more cheaply and easily with new technology is well suited for these ties”(80). Essentially, this is playing to the favor of faithful relationships offline, and with my personal experience, I tend to agree. Facebook has not enhanced my relationship with my boyfriend, but it has caused for me to speculate things that I have, in the end, found out to be nothing but merely weak ties.

I think that the pressure Facebook has put on relationships is very important to take note of, and is a much bigger deal than it seems to be on the surface. The Guardian has an article that talks about a 2010 survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) “found that two-thirds of the lawyers surveyed said that Facebook was the “primary source” of evidence in divorce proceedings, while MySpace with 15% and Twitter with 5% lagged far behind.”

A spokesperson for Facebook said: “It’s ridiculous to suggest that Facebook leads to divorce. Whether you’re breaking up or just getting together, Facebook is just a way to communicate, like letters, phone calls and emails. Facebook doesn’t cause divorces, people do.” Essentially, this is very true. For a relationship to be healthy, both people involved will be true to one another no matter what access they have to social media online. However, Facebook has provided a platform to visually track and highlight minor, and most of the time insignificant, events that can cause trauma within a relationship that is completely healthy offline.

Another interesting aspect of interpersonal relationships online is the question of authenticity. I think it is interesting how people talk about their fears of social network sites, one of the top fears is knowing whether or not the person they are communicating with is ‘real’ or ‘authentic.’ However, after watching Life 2.0, in ‘real’ life how do we know if people are real or authentic if they also have a second life or ‘reality’ that they do not share with the ‘real’ world. Essentially, if you are hiding your playtime and virtual reality on the game from the ‘real world,’ wouldn’t that mean the people you interact with in flesh and bone would be experiencing an in-authentic you?

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  1. Karen Ho

     /  February 24, 2012

    Great post Sally! What a fascinating topic. Relationships are definitely complicated enough as they are. It’s funny how with Facebook, we’ve created so many more things to add to the endless list of unspoken rules of dealing with relationships. I feel like the most awkward and confusing part of a relationship is when it’s just starting out. You ask yourself, “Am I in a relationship now?” “Is it too soon?” “Does this person feel the same way?” Before Facebook, it seemed like people were able to evade having that awkward conversation of “What is this thing that we’re in right now?” until they reached a certain comfort level with each other. But now, with such an emphasis placed on the relationship status on Facebook, it kind of pushes people into a corner in which they HAVE to address what it is at a pretty early stage. Then there’s the issue of having documentation of your past relationships for everyone to see. I have friends who never delete their profile pictures, so when you go on their profile pictures page, you see photos of them with all their previous boyfriends in chronological order. It just seems really awkward to have those pictures displayed for everyone to see, especially when you’re currently in a relationship. At the same time, I understand the feeling of, “It might be awkward to untag myself from all the pictures with my ex, everyone’s going to know and I’m going to look bitter.” It’s a double-edge sword. If you keep the pictures, people will notice. If you untag yourself, people will notice. With Facebook, there’s social pressure to fill in the gray areas and put everything out in the open. When a relationship ends, everything from that relationship is up on public display.

  2. Ilana Dreiman

     /  February 25, 2012

    Great post! This is definitely something that has become a bigger issue as of late. I agree with the statement that its ridiculous to think that Facebook leads to relationship problems, but I definitely think that Facebook can alert people to pre-existing problems that they would not have been aware of otherwise. Things like communication issues most often are brought to light through social media, in my pinion.

    Then there’s the issue of relationship statuses…
    The fact that a relationship isn’t “valid” until it’s “Facebook Official” is hilarious to me. Personally, I don’t have any relationship status up and my boyfriend and I have been together for years. I felt weird about it at first, but in the end I think it’s saved way more drama than it has created. Every time one of my friends changes their relationship status, a bunch of people (not usually their strong ties) comment and like it. So weird.

    All in all, I think there are pros and cons of Facebook in regard to the health of relationships—it just depends on how you use it. And really, if Facebook breaks you up, clearly there were more problems than the couple was willing to admit.

    I also thought your question of authenticity in interpersonal relationships. Because you can create your character on Second Life, it’s much easier to trust that the presented persona is a false one. However, Facebook can also be just as crafted of a persona. The identity someone presents online can be constructed through untagging unattractive pictures, “liking” certain things, and speaking in a way that isn’t true to how you speak in ‘real’ life. Most of our Facebook friends are weak ties, so they trust that our presented personas on Facebook are for the most part accurate. I think this definitely contributes to the Facebook “stalking” that we’re all guilty of doing. It seems like everyone’s lives are much more interesting than our own, when they really aren’t.


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