Love in the time of Facebook

More than just a social networking site, Facebook is a cross-section of cultural issues grown out of the wave of communication technology that began in the 80’s with beepers, a relic only now seen in hospitals and Saved By The Bell reruns. The issues are vast and intertwined, involving elements of every cultural enclave from politics to feminism, romance to education, communication to the arts. It would be impossible to explore the myriad ways Facebook has revolutionized our lives in a single discussion, so let's focus on just one: love.

In a forum where so many issues intersect and everything is made public, how does love fare? I posted the following statement as my Facebook status update this morning, as well as directly onto a number of my friends’ “Walls” (a free-posting forum on each user’s page that acts as a sort of public messaging service):

“Q: What are your thoughts on Facebook and love?


-Relationship status updates

-Surveillance of your partner's online activity

-Surveillance of a romantic interest's Internet activity

-Facebook as a communication medium

-Picture tagging

What I got was a mixture of advice-column-type calls for communication, and outright apprehension over the

voyeuristic possibilities inherent in broadcasting one’s indoor life out-of-doors. Some had the feeling that Facebook may magnify a person’s tendencies to be…well…crazy:

“I think the availability of information about one's lover or love interest can cause people to be over-involved in the affairs of their partner and add unnecessary strain to relationships… Facebook just makes it easier for people to indulge their paranoid neuroses.”

“I think it's not the medium; it's the user. How does the user use FB? To spy or see what your partner is doing because you can't be there to share it? If you are spying, isn't it better to de-friend and take some space?”

Facebook amplifies individual tendencies. Pining romantics will pine harder as their unrequited lovers post picture after picture of fun exploits completed away from their side. If you're the jealous type, then every tag and wall comment [your partner makes] is a surreptitious (or overt) attempt at finding a new significant other.”

Another person suspected that Internet communication had the potential to jeopardize a relationship’s trust:

“The Internet/Facebook is a great way to make up lies about yourself... I think if you were to start a new relationship with someone on FB, you could probably fabricate a wonderful life about yourself. I watch people do it all the time.”

But my favorite answers were the diplomatic ones, the ones that recognized Facebook for what, I believe, it really is:

“Dysfunctional but not impossible.”

“Facebook's a tool. Tools can be used for harmful things, but in most cases, they're best used for constructive things.”

“It’s wonderful when you’re together and sucks after a breakup or after you stop dating someone.”

“It is a bit creepy...”

I recently found out that my boyfriend of a year and I aren't “official” because we're not “In a relationship” with each other on Facebook. In the same day, a friend went from being “In a relationship” to being “Single” after only a week of dating.

This is just one example of the countless social phenomena surrounding Facebook—-the now 350 million-strong social networking site  that's growing by 600,000 users a day worldwide.  Facebook is becoming the premier venue for promoting your birthday party, drudging up your elementary school crush, and “poking” your cousin in Tampa. Oh, and most importantly: validating your young relationship to an audience of 350 million.

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