“Being in a relationship with someone on Facebook is basically like proposing marriage,” read a friend’s Facebook status, which had about twenty “likes” and a few affirmative comments. I scrolled down my wall and saw that a friend “is now listed as single.” I called my boyfriend. “What happened with them?” He was as shocked as I was, both of us having first heard through our News Feed.
After my first break up, I also had to “break up” with my ex on Facebook because we were one among many couples that chose to make our relationship “Facebook official.” We made sure that we told certain people by mouth first so that they didn’t discover it online. The two of us gave each other the nod, logged onto our accounts, and listed ourselves as single. I tried to hide it from my notifications, but people found out anyway. Comments and messages of regret and comfort trickled in even though no one knew what had happened or why we called it quits. Part of me felt bad that still so many people had to find out online, but, then again, I didn’t have the time or emotional stability to tell everyone who seemed to care. I hated the Facebook attention, but at the same time it was comforting to know that I had support.
Over a year later, I was watching television with my parents when I got a text message: “call me when u go on facebook.” I responded, “Okay,” figuring Matt just wanted to talk online, and then joked with my dad about the Cialis commercial and waited for the end of the “NCIS” episode. Little did I know, Matt and his best friend were freaking out, suspecting that I had already seen the Facebook relationship request he sent me and was rejecting it without physically clicking the “reject” button. One commercial break later, another text message: “Sup? Go on the computer yet?” I smiled. A week earlier during our “relationship talk,” we agreed that we didn’t have much of an opinion about our status on Facebook, but a decision had clearly been made.
I’ve always found the “Information” section of Facebook to be a strange concept, as if we define ourselves primarily by our name, hometown, gender, age, sexual orientation, and relationship status. It serves as our “Hi, my name is” sticker, and it is often one of the first things we look at when visiting someone’s profile.
The desire to “go public” with a relationship is definitely a matter of preference. I know some people who have been dating for years and still leave their statuses undefined. In fact, Facebook reported in 2010 that its majority of users, 37.62%, choose not to label their status at all.
I once had a weird, unlabeled relationship, the kind where you introduce your slightly-significant other to friends just by his name and laugh awkwardly when people make more defined assumptions. It was the kind of relationship that I wasn’t really sure how to label, but I didn’t mind; we decided to date exclusively but we weren’t yet committed, and I figured we would just see where time together took us.
Then he said he wanted to be more than whatever we were. I was hesitant but agreed to it if we would take it slow. He assumed since we were “officially together,” we would put it on Facebook. I silently freaked out but reluctantly accepted. Why should it matter? I asked myself. We’re not seeing other people, I’m now calling myself his girlfriend, so what’s the big deal? We have that picture online, some of my friends have met him, my mom knows about him….Besides, it’s just a thing on Facebook.
That night I had congratulations and “likes” on my new update from people who had never even heard of the guy I was dating and didn’t have any clue that I was the least bit apprehensive about being in a relationship. I felt incorrectly labeled, fresh produce in the frozen food section.
Twelve days later, I was searching the Facebook help pages to try to figure out how to guarantee my notifications were hidden from the world, asking friends to check their News Feed to make sure my update wasn’t there. The other end of the relationship didn’t seem to care as much about people knowing about our break up, implied by his spiteful and directed statuses which he updated every few minutes to get his point across, either to me or to everyone else.
After he de-friended me, it became clear whose attention he really wanted. What makes a relationship status a “big deal” is the fact that so many others see it. It’s like the virtual ring on your finger or locket around your neck, except it’s harder to wear it one day and not the other without people noticing. Therefore, it all comes down to the beginning: once you set a relationship status, you have to accept whatever buzz it creates as well as what might happen if it changes.
When you’re in a relationship with the right person (or married to, engaged to, in a complicated something-or-other with, etc.), you might just find that it feels right to let your Facebook friends know about him or her. Talk about it, think about it, and, if it’s what you want, break away from your “NCIS” episode, run to your laptop, and click “accept.”
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