Sunday, January 31, 2010

Before you change that Relationship Status

Advances in social media have led to improved speed and efficiency in communication. But rapid change often outpaces society’s ability to create rules and social standards. Take for instance the wonderful world of dating. Forget using a phone these days. Now you can text, email, and tweet your way to someone’s heart. Add to the mix Facebook, MySpace, and other social media and you have a myriad of ways to communicate with your potential partner. Of course, instant and indirect communication courts the potential relationship killers of ambiguity and misunderstanding. Digital messages lack body language and tone of voice and are open to analysis. The early stage of a relationship is already uncertain enough. Add in the ever deciphering mind of one partner willing to review each message over and over again in order to determine the other’s intended (or gasp, hidden!) meaning and current level of interest. Cryptic tweets and status updates on Facebook further complicate the matter. It can get confusing. Perhaps there is no better example of this than the Facebook Relationship Status Change.

Changing Times

As this article at describes, Facebook users can define their relationship status in six ways: Single, Engaged, Married, In a Relationship, In an open Relationship, and It’s Complicated. Users can also avoid listing their status and leave it to the imagination of those who are unaware. Of course, any change by the user to his or her relationship status is broadcast to his or her entire list of friends (depending on specific settings). While it’s nice to be able to update friends and family of changes in your life at the click of a button, it can complicate matters and create hard feelings. Often, the past, present, and/or future significant other is already on the friends list and can be taken by surprise by the change. How would you feel about seeing a message that your long lost love had just moved from single to engaged? Do you really want to know?

Communication is essential in a growing relationship. Prior to the “exclusivity talk” the relationship remains undefined. So what happens when one overeager partner decides to change his or her status from single to “in a relationship?” prior to discussing it with the other partner? How should the one caught unaware interpret this action? What does one make of the partner who refuses to even list a status after the decision to be an exclusive couple is made? Their is great potential for misunderstanding.

Embracing Technology

Technology begins to creep in on what was before an intimate discussion between two people. Indeed, it’s becoming commonplace for tech saavy daters to include a discussion of the Facebook Status Relationship Change in their talk of where the relationship stands or is heading. Some even take it all the way to the altar as this article describes: “I like the story at the end of that article about the couple who changed their status from engaged to married mid-way during their wedding night using their iPhones."

It Gets Personal

An online story at Glamour reminds me of how tough it can be to let the world know that your heart has been broken. A friend of mine was dating a woman for several months when she had expressed that while she just wanted to see where things were going before getting more serious, she wasn’t dating anyone else and so they had time. A month later my friend noticed a sudden decrease in contact from her. Then out of the blue comes an email from her saying that she’s met “the one” and that she was sorry but she couldn’t let this opportunity pass her by. He was surprised and annoyed. He told me that he considered dropping her from his friend’s list but was still curious about how her life would turn out and so did nothing. The next day her “single” status was switched to blank (see here how to change without letting the news being broadcast to all your friends).

He called me several months later to tell me that she had changed her status back to “single” again, followed by a flurry of status replies from friends stating “Get well soon” and “I’ll call to check in on you soon, hang in there.” He told me that he felt a twinge of satisfaction before guilty set-in. At the click of a button, he had reacted to a distant event that was for him just words on the screen but for someone else it was no doubt a painful moment. It was a good reminder of how technology allows us to close the distance between each other and yet does so in a very impersonal manner. Social media’s impact on relationships is still yet to be fully determined but what is clear is that it leads to as much confusion and uncertainty as it does connection.


  1. I enjoyed this glimpse into modern dating. The last time I went out on a date, Richard Nixon was President. I wore plaid bell-bottom baggies, dingo boots, and a sweater vest. No shirt, mind. Just the vest. My hair was longer than hers was, but hers was neater. We rode around in my 1969 Pontiac GTO. It had a large hole in the floorboard which I had put there when I installed my new Hurst shifter. We spent the evening listening to the Doobie Brothers drag through song after song on my cheap eight-track tape player. Occasionally I'd hit her with one of my pickup lines, such as "Excuse me, but can you check under your seat? I've misplaced my Congressional Medal of Honor." Finally she agreed to just get married because she realized she couldn't stand dating me anymore.

    That's why online dating is so successful. There had to be a better way.

  2. This was a very thought provoking piece. The current atmosphere definitely opens up more channels for people to connect and communicate, but at the same time it puts a lot of information out there that some people would rather remain ignorant to. I once dated a girl for about a year; we still talked after we broke up but she removed me from her friends list because she didn't want me to know that she was seeing other people. Even though I couldn't see what was going on on her page, mutual friends of ours could
    and it got back to me anyway. Could this have happened pre-social media? Of course, but social media enhances the amount of information available to cyber-stalkers and busybodies.

  3. Reading this blog made me laugh and shake my head in wonder. I'm not on Facebook (yet) and have missed out on status updates to my friends' pages. I've been weeks late hearing about an engagement or new development in someone's life. I'll call a friend and say, "Hey, I just heard about.... Why didn't you tell me?" And her reply will be, "Oh, I forgot you weren't on Facebook. When are you getting on?"

    This open and rapid dissemination of personal information is part of my reluctance. Everyone keeps telling me I can control who gets on and who sees what, but can I really? Look at what Jason said before me. Even though he couldn't get on his ex-girlfriend's page, he still got updates from others. How much of my life do I want the masses to read?

    You might say that there is still the telephone, but the phone and other information networks do not move as swiftly or as widely as Facebook. I know it's just a matter of time before I join, and the time is counting down more and more quickly, but the idea makes me very nervous. Then again, one of my friends re-connected via Facebook with the man who is now her husband. Maybe Facebook is the way to change my status from "single" to "in a relationship"!

  4. I'm not really into the whole-who's single and who isn't game. Although I have befriended my ex-boyfriends from high school and feel happy to know that they are single. I guess it gives you a ray of hope that they might be your "soul mate." On the other hand, I do think that having a relationship is a private matter and should not necessarily be broadcasted on Facebook.