A friend of mine recently started dating someone new and has kept the relationship relatively low-key. She and her boyfriend were “officially” dating a few months before their relationship showed up on Facebook. She was explaining to me her surprise and confusion when someone not only expressed irritation that she had not changed her relationship status immediately after they became official, but commented “You two don’t have ANY pictures together online… how can you be dating?”
I can understand why she may have taken offense to the comment – the idea that a relationship between two people needs to be quantified and documented through social media in order to be considered “real” is a bit ridiculous, but not at all uncommon.
For a generation so dependent on electronic communication, becoming “Facebook official” has become a natural step in a relationship. The tendency for young people to feel the need to share details of their lives and relationships – positive, negative, or even completely mundane (“Heading to the supermarket” status updaters, I’m looking at you) – is growing more common as social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others have surged in popularity.
There are varying degrees of how relationships are shared over social media. The most common include having a profile link a couple together as “In A Relationship”, “Engaged”, or “Married”, not to mention the option of “It’s complicated” – as if that’s anyone’s business, but more in-depth sharing – from public declarations of love to angry tweets about a fight – can sometimes teeter into the territory of over-sharing.
Where should the line between private and personal posts be drawn when it comes to relationships?
Kaitlynn Boot, a sophomore at MSU, is single and says she finds a majority of posts between couples to be awkward, particularly when they highlight rough patches in the relationship.
“A friend of mine and her boyfriend fought all the time in the comment sections of Facebook – calling each other names. I felt like I was a part of their drama and their relationship even though I didn’t want to be because it kept showing up on my newsfeed,” Boot said.
But she says that not all posts are bad. News of engagements, new relationships, and fun trips are welcome additions to her newsfeed.
“I don’t mind seeing important events, like wedding or engagement photos. Those are things you’d share with people outside of Facebook as well,” she said.
Erika Holmes, also a sophomore at MSU, has been in a relationship for a year and half and chooses not to share any details of her relationship at all.
“Couples who constantly post photo albums of them together and post on each other’s [Facebook] walls are a bit nauseating. I think it’s superficial that they have to affirm their relationship through social media,” Homes said.
Holmes says she and her boyfriend call and text each other regularly when they are not together, but do not see any need to make private conversations public.
Relationships are shaped by a variety of circumstances, from distance to the general personalities of the partners. Couples who are not able to see one another regularly may find that sharing things on social media accounts helps them feel more connected when they are apart.
“College-aged couples have different challenges than older couples, based in part on the fact that both partners are in a significant developmental transition between adolescence and adulthood,” said Scott H. Becker, Associate Director and licensed clinical psychologist at the MSU Counseling Center.
The center sees young couples, in addition to providing counseling for a variety of other needs. Becker says these challenges are heightened by fast-paced and constantly changing lives many college students and young adults lead.
He suggests that sometimes personal posts on social media can become detrimental to the relationship, particularly if the couple is not on the same page about what is and is not appropriate to share.
“The mere fact that private information is being made very public can be the source of hurt feelings or even a sense of betrayal by the other partner,” he said of sharing negative or personal details about a relationship online.
But he also said certain postings, like engagements or overcoming obstacles can become sources of strength for the relationship.
“On the positive side, sometimes couples can receive social support of good advice from concerned and supportive friends,” said Becker.
The key to maintaining a healthy relationship of any nature is communication and trust. In romantic instances, this can mean developing boundaries that both partners are comfortable with.
“Each couple will define their personal boundaries differently, both online and in the real world,” said Becker.
“The most important thing is for each partner to have a deliberate conversation about their individual expectations to avoid potential misunderstandings later on. They should also discuss what the boundary around them as a couple should be, both online and in the real world.”
Posts about relationships should adhere to the same rules as all other posts, particularly in terms of appropriateness. Does your entire online network needto see a collage of you and your significant other’s Valentine’s Day date? Or know all the things that annoy you about your girlfriend?
Everything posted on a social networking site is not only public, but permanent. The content and context of social media posts can impact your reputation both now and in the future.
Inappropriate posts – or even gag-inducing declarations of love – may cause your social media audience (friends, family, co-workers, etc.) to take you less seriously, feelings which may spill over into your life outside the confines of social media.
Sharing relationship details is not strictly good nor bad, but couples should be aware of the potential for miscommunication and misunderstandings that come with doing so on social media. Having a clear distinction between what is appropriate and what is too much information will not only clean up your profile, but allow others to see you and your partner in a more positive light.
Not all couples share the same boundaries when it comes to sharing details about their relationship – not everything needs to be “Facebook official”.
For some couples, love is all you need.