Wednesday, September 21, 2011

If My Relationship Status Isn't Posted on Facebook, Does My Boyfriend Exist?

I have been toying with a post about this for a while now, but today's endless string of complaints over some changes on Facebook sealed the fate of this post and it's creation. People are up in arms over some layout changes and the way that the newsfeed works. But, like every other change Facebook has made, everyone will be over it by tomorrow, and continue to post their statuses, links, photos, and videos. Myself likely included.

But there is a larger question at work here. I am consistently baffled, and sometimes amused by the importance that we place on Facebook. It's as if it wields some almighty power in establishing the solidarity of our relationships, friendships, and overall existence as a society. But I can't figure out why.

People get upset if the person they are dating refuses to post their relationship status on Facebook, accusing that person of wanting to deny their status as a couple. In-depth discussions are had when a couple breaks up about when they will change their status and "go public" with this information. If friends go their separate ways, it's not "official" until they are "defriended" on Facebook. And we seek revenge by deleting each other as "friends" in our list. I parted ways with someone who was outright shocked at the fact that I deleted him from Facebook after we said our goodbyes. He kept saying, over and over again, "But I didn't think it was like that!" Like what? How many meanings does the word goodbye have? Why would I stay connected on Facebook with someone I am choosing to no longer have a relationship with? He seemed more hurt by the deletion than the actual life-extraction. And there are questions on what is an acceptable amount of time to let pass before you delete a person and untag them from your photos. I remain baffled by this.

At what point did Facebook become the final word on all things social? It's shocking to me that people are surprised by the fact that my boyfriend and I don't have our "status" on Facebook. My answer to that is: If you are important enough, you'll know about him, regardless of what Facebook does or doesn't say. There are many aspects of my life that I don't choose to share on Facebook. Yet, I am the exception, not the rule.

What did we do for recognition of these levels of intimacy beforehand? When we acquired a boyfriend or girlfriend, we told people. When people got engaged, they called people and told them. I have found out about several engagements via Facebook. Maybe because it's "easier" to do a blanket announcement. But then we panic when our lives shift, and we have to "change our status" on Facebook. *gasp*  Because everyone will know.

We seem to have created a disconnect between instant action/reaction and consequence. We no longer think about what we post as a reflection of ourselves down the road. You might not care today that you professed your undying love for your partner in a status update, but if you break up, and all your mutual friends see your former partner tagged in someone else's photos, kissing not you, you panic. You didn't think about down the road, about what it means to have all your business out there in the world. We may post scathing status updates that lash out at someone who is doing us wrong, but we fail to see the repercussion of appearing ridiculous. Frankly, people who air their serious business on Facebook make me not want to deal with them, period. I respect their choice to do so, but I find I most often don't respect them for making that choice.

I don't think I will ever understand the importance that people place on Facebook and its statuses, of being included or excluded from someone's "friends" list, or the impulsive need to tell the world about our most intimate life moments. It's like intentionally leaving the blinds open and then getting mad when someone looks in the windows.


  1. Your end metaphor is so perfect. "ZOMG, FB took all my info and made it public!" Um, because you made it public. I think there's been a large gap in internet use and education, namely in accountability. If you post something online, you are essentially risking that info.

    I swear, some days I just want the internet to break. lol

  2. I think my question is really two-fold: 1, why do we place such importance on Facebook, and 2, why are we so willing to just "let it all hang out"? But it's really the question of Facebook and it's "power" as the be-all, end-all of the solidarity of relationships that simply baffles me.

  3. Question #2 is easier and I think you can split it between generations. Some who grew up without internet aren't accustomed to it and treat it just like talking to close friends. They rant like they would at a diner. To paraphrase my brother today, they were complaining and over-sharing before FB - they were just doing it in smaller circles. Think about the girl in college who talked about her relationship EVERY time you saw her, with no regard for how bored everyone looked. She's now on FB. lol

    Those who did grow up w/internet (our students) weren't raised to value privacy. They simply do not see it as a point of interest or concern.

    Question #1... Not sure but it's a fascinating question (would make an amazing research project). Because, really, why is FB just SO important? (And kudos to FB for creating this thing people feel they can't live without and spend so much time worrying about.)

  4. I find question #1 far more fascinating as well, but I think it goes along with our immediate co-dependence on technology, which seems to have seeped into our generation also. My entire friends list, with the exception of one or two younger or older relatives, is comprised of people in our age group. Their level of activity, as well as the nature of their posts, indicates that they see it as this indicator of validation (or lack thereof) in relationships OR they, too, find it acceptable to air their private business. It's almost passive/aggressive if only certain people know the circumstances. Fascinating indeed, and yes, that Zuckerberg fellow is a genius... :-)

  5. I'm going to address two questions/points you raise:

    1)What did we do for recognition of these levels of intimacy beforehand?

    2) You didn't think about down the road, about what it means to have all your business out there in the world. We may post scathing status updates that lash out at someone who is doing us wrong, but we fail to see the repercussion of appearing ridiculous.

    I think that FB makes it easier for certain personality types to "broadcast" their needs/anger/accomplishments. Before FB these people were the ones who might have been accused of being "show offs". But now, with FB - these people can constantly show off, tell you about what's going on in their lives, etc. FB makes it easier for them to broadcast and get recognition.

    These people might lend more "legitimacy" to FB (referring to the person who was flabbergasted that you deleted them from FB) than what happens "in person" because they stand more to lose if something occurs on FB..and is made public. It cuts both ways - they want the instantaneous broadcasting and recognition that FB allows, but it can also work against them if "losing a friend" is made public via FB. Maybe they think they lose some status and validation.

    I think Bookish Penguin raises an interesting question about whether people still value privacy - or at least Penguin's generation. Totally off the cuff here - technology can influence social behavior. I'm just not sure if it *determines* or is the sole determinant for the behavior.

    And please keep in mind I'm operating on about 2 hours of sleep :-p

  6. So happy to come here and see not one, but TWO new posts to comment on :)

    This is something that baffles me as well. Call me a dinosaur, but I just don't place the importance on FB that the rest of the world seems to. I use it more as a networking tool for my own blog, but I have noticed more and more that it's becoming a virtual "keeping up with Joneses." LOOK HOW MUCH FUN I HAD ON SATURDAY! LOOK AT MY MANY TRAVELS! AND AREN'T YOU JEALOUS THAT I HAVE THE CUTEST BABY IN THE WORLD? NO? WELL THEN, HERE ARE 50 MORE PICTURES FOR THE ALBUM!

    I can't say I'm not guilty of some of these (well, minus the baby stuff obviously) but I think it's time we all take a collective step back from the 'book and think about the really important things in life.

    Great post, as always :)

  7. See, I really don't see those types of sharing as problematic. I think it's cool to share experiences of travel, and maybe even special family occasions. You would definitely show a new friend a photo album, and you would definitely be proud of your child's birth or a special milestone. I'm talking about the things you wouldn't ordinarily discuss or say or do in a public forum. I do thing ACM has a valid point about certain personality types needing to "show off" or "show 'em" so to speak by posting rants and raves directed at other people. It somehow makes it not only acceptable--but safe.

    I do agree, though, that stepping back and looking at our behavior in the social networking forum and WHY we view it as so critical to our daily lives is definitely in order.