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Sex + Relationships

The Importance of the Facebook Relationship Status: It’s, Well, Complicated.

Every relationship has its defining moments. There’s the first date, the first kiss, the first time you meet his parents…and, of course, there’s the all-important day when you click “accept” and broadcast your budding romance to the world: congratulations, your relationship is Facebook official!  

Maybe that’s a little melodramatic. But even in the hookup culture of college, where relationships have a tendency to disregard traditional road markers, this particular step has become an important one for many college women. And in a world where social media plays such a huge role, it’s often a point of contention.  

Her Campus polled more than a hundred college women across the country to find out what you really think about the Facebook relationship status. It seems like a non-issue on the surface: there are eleven options (the standard Single, In a Relationship, Engaged, Married, In an Open Relationship and It’s Complicated, Widowed, Separated or Divorced and recently added In a Civil Union and In a Domestic Partnership), or you can choose to remove it from your profile entirely. But for such a simple change that only takes a couple clicks of the mouse, there’s more nuance to the issue of the Facebook relationship status than you’d think. 
A new milestone for the new millennium 

There’s no denying the influence of social media today. Everyone and her mother have a Facebook page, and our online personas have become a legitimate facet of our social lives. For many people, that means that becoming Facebook official does represent a significant milestone in the progress of a serious relationship. “I think it’s kind of like saying you are committed to that person and you want everyone to know it,” says Ashley, a senior at the University of Missouri. “It’s become another test or step to the relationship.” 

The prevalence of social media in our lives, particularly Facebook, has made going public with a relationship as easy as the click of a mouse. “I think it’s more important for girls, because we want him to want to show us off, and making it ‘Facebook official’ is declaring to the world that he’s with you and only you,” says Meagan, a junior at Colorado State University.
For some people, like Sarah, a recent graduate of Simmons College, this step is crucial. “Relationships with real boyfriends are not real until put on Facebook,” she says. “I have broken it off for not wanting to be official. If you don’t want to share this info with friends, then why bother?” 

Some believe that if you’re not willing to go Facebook official, then you aren’t serious about the commitment. “I know from personal experience that if you are hiding your relationship status or won’t put who you are in a relationship with, you are usually talking to or looking for other people,” says Julianna, a sophomore at Simmons College.  
For others, it’s simpler than that. Rachel, a junior at James Madison University, sums up the sentiment of many with the straightforward remark: “If I’m proud to be with someone, why hide that from others?” 

An unnecessary evil

But that doesn’t mean that any clear rules exist for the Facebook relationship status. People disagree over almost every aspect, from when it’s appropriate to go “Facebook official” with your new beau to what exactly that means. As far as social norms go, this one is still in the developmental stages.  

In fact, many don’t  take it seriously at all. Eleven percent of people we polled said they are listed as married, engaged, or in an open relationship with one of their best friends as a joke.  

While some people call such fake relationships immature, many think it’s a harmless way to poke fun at the “importance” of Facebook relationship statuses while maintaining privacy with their love lives. “I think it’s cute when two girl friends are in a Facebook relationship together,” says Caitlin, a sophomore at the University of Maryland. “I feel like it’s a much closer bond than what I’ve had with some of the guys I’ve dated.”  

But with Facebook branching out to an older demographic, you might risk an awkward situation like the one Brittany, a senior at Boston College, experienced: “I was ‘in a relationship’ with my roommate after I broke up with my boyfriend, and my grandmother saw it and called thinking I was a lesbian,” she says.  

Brittany’s story isn’t too surprising. Changes in Facebook relationship statuses have a reputation for causing awkward situations and unnecessary drama – especially when that change is marked by a little broken heart. “Nothing adds insult to the injury of a breakup more than having to change your relationship status to ‘single’ and then getting endless wall posts, messages, etc. asking what happened,” says Anne, a senior at William and Mary. 

So for every person who preaches the importance of being Facebook official, there’s another who thinks it’s all a little overblown. “I just don’t think that relationship statuses should be such a big deal,” says Amanda, a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill. “Some people could be in a relationship on Facebook and still constantly cheat on their significant other. It doesn’t make your bond any stronger. If anything, it only proves you need validation from others about your relationship status.” 

The Privacy Issue

The topic of privacy is worth revisiting – it’s been a constant concern since the beginning of Facebook. Stories of students denied admission to college after posting party pictures on Facebook have led people to think carefully about the information they post online. More recently, there’s been a trend toward students opting to remove their relationship status from their page entirely. 

While the majority of people polled (57 percent) said they are single, only 25 percent listed themselves as “Single” on Facebook. The largest group, 38 percent, chose not to list their status at all. Whether it’s for professional or personal reasons, it mostly boils down to privacy: “I don’t want my love life published on Facebook for people to comment on,” says Ellie, a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill.  

The privacy issue seems to be even more important when it comes to relationships. Of all the personal information Facebook allows us to broadcast to the world, the ups and downs of your love life are among the most personal. Many just aren’t comfortable with sharing their relationships in such a public forum. “I don’t ever display my relationship status on Facebook partially because a lot of relationships aren’t easy to define in their terms, but mostly because I don’t like the idea of people being able to monitor the fluctuations and changes in my personal life,” says Abigail, a senior at Duke University. “The people that need to know – my good friends – will know; nobody else needs that much detail.” 

Others find fault with the idea of needing to go public to make a personal relationship legitimate. “I find it smothering when my boyfriend wants to put it up to show all his friends,” says Bethany, a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill. “I would rather a relationship be personal, between the two involved.” 

A Social Network World

A majority of people polled had a simple answer to explain why they chose to display their relationship status as it is: because it’s the truth. “Facebook is a major social portal today,” says Brittany, a senior at the University of St. Andrews. “When you meet someone, chances are they will look up your profile on Facebook. You want the information on your profile to be representative of who you are – otherwise, you may mislead someone.”  

Like it or not, we live in a social network world. But some feel that removing their relationship status from Facebook is one way to rebel against social media pervading every aspect of our lives. “The first time I chose to change my status and let everyone know who I was in a relationship with was also the last time,” says Shannon, a senior at Simmons College. “It’s superficial. The fact that it has become a status symbol in our society is laughable. Everyone should do it once to know how it feels when it ends and everyone and their mother (literally) questions you about it.”  

In this way, the growing presence of social media seems to have evoked a backlash: a trend toward separating your online life from your “real” life. “I feel like so many people believe your real life relationship isn’t official if it’s not ‘Facebook Official’,” says Daylina, a senior at the University of South Florida. “But I’d rather keep my personal life and online life as separate as possible. People who think it’s important to be ‘Facebook Official’ probably think that all 800-odd Facebook friends are actually their friends.” 

All in all, this developing social norm is no different from all the others related to the growth of a romantic relationship. People may have all kinds of strong opinions, but there is no “right” course of action. When it comes to a decision about the personal information that you post online, the best decision is the one you feel most comfortable with.  

But despite all the differing opinions, there was one thing that just about everyone seemed to agree on: If you’re in a definite, exclusive relationship, at least have the courtesy to take “Single” off of your page. Leaving your relationship status off of the Internet entirely for privacy reasons is one thing, but if your new boyfriend is hesitant to part with his single status online, he’s probably unwilling to part with it in real life. There are some things that aren’t okay in real life or cyberspace, and lying is one of them.  
College women across the country
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Laura is a senior (class of 2011) at UNC-Chapel Hill, majoring in Journalism and French. She spent two years writing for her campus newspaper and interned at USA Weekend Magazine in D.C. this summer. She is also a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and recently spent a semester studying abroad in the south of France. Besides reading and writing, she loves being outdoors (particularly hiking and backpacking, ideally in the N.C. mountains), traveling, coffee, and attempting to play the guitar and/or ukulele. Her major life goals include learning to salsa dance and swimming with manatees. Though the thought of entering the real world still terrifies her a little bit, she plans to pursue a career in the magazine or publishing industries.
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