If you want to know if your love life is on track without having to explicitly ask your partner, apparently you can turn to Facebook. A new study uncovered a frighteningly accurate approach at using Facebook friendships to gauge how connected you and your significant other are.
Romantic Partnerships and the Dispersion of Social Ties: A Network Analysis of Relationship Status on Facebook is a paper authored by Jon Kleinberg, a computer scientist at Cornell University, and Lars Backstrom, a senior engineer at Facebook. It extensively explores the idea that friendships are a good indicator of a romantic relationship’s longevity and potential. They examined 1.3 million random Facebook users who are at least 20 years old, have between 50 to 2,000 Facebook friends, and have “in a relationship” or “married” as their relationship status on the social network. In total, they analyzed over 8.6 connections shared by these users, whom the researchers tracked every two months over the course of two years.
Here are the bullet points on the extensive research – prepare yourselves.
1. While sharing mutual Facebook friends with your partner may be a good thing, it’s not a solid indication of your love life’s success.
Through their research, Kleinberg and Backstrom have found that “embeddedness,” or the total number of mutual acquaintances couples share, is not as effective in characterizing a positive romantic relationships as “dispersion,” a method which not only analyzes the common friends of two people in love, but also the network structure these mutual acquaintances are a part of.
Relationships that have high dispersion rates are those that have friend clusters that are not well-connected, while couples with low dispersion rates are those that have been found to share the same tight-knit group of friends. You might think that low dispersion rates – the same group of tight-knit friends – means you and your partner are better off, but the paper’s authors argue otherwise. Having different clusters of friends (AKA a high dispersion rate) can actually be healthier for your romantic life.
So just to reiterate those terms, because we’ll reference them a lot:
- Low dispersion rates mean you and your partner share the same groups of tightly-knit friends
- High dispersion rates mean you and your partner have different clusters of friends that don’t overlap as much
After tracking users every two months for two whole years, based on the researcher’s findings, low dispersion relationships on Facebook are 50 percent more likely to break up over the next two months than a couple with high dispersion. Meaning, the more mutual friends you share with your boyfriend, the more likely you are to split up.
Dispersion is so effective in fact that when used to analyze Facebook accounts that have declared themselves to be “in a relationship” without mentioning the person they’re in a relationship with, the new measure was able to single out unidentified companions from a user’s full set of friends with twice the accuracy of the embeddedness method. Basically, you can tell more by how many friends you don’t have in common than how many you do.
2. Your S.O. is your most important link to the outside (online) world.
The study was able to pinpoint just how your partner affects your social network. The graphic below mapping out the links analyzed by the researchers illustrates a person’s typical social network. The cluster at the top represents the connections a person has made at his or her place of work, while the cluster at the right represents friendships made in college.
See that lone node at the bottom left part of the web, the one that is linked to two dense clusters (clue: the arrow is pointing straight at it)? That’s your significant other. “A spouse or romantic partner is a bridge between a person’s different social worlds,” Kleinberg told The New York Times in an interview. While the other clusters have lots of connecting nodes, this solitary node works to connect you to lots of different relationship clusters in your life.
3. The people you put on your Close Friends list are in a league of their own.
According to the research, the people that are closest to you cannot easily be filed under any other social group because of the special relationship you share with them that often transcend labels. “Certain important types of strong ties — including romantic and family relations — connect us to people who belong to multiple parts of our social neighborhood, producing a set of shared friends that is not simply large, but also diverse, spanning disparate portions of the network and, hence, correspondingly sparse in their internal connections,” according to the paper.
Basically, what this means is that it’s difficult to label people we’re this close to – we know that they’re special but that can mean a lot of different things. Also, while you might defer from adding family members to this group, for most of us they are involved in life milestones, meaning we will want to share content about these events and moments with them. So go ahead, add your dad to your Close Friends list … and maybe create a new one for any explicit sharing you want to do.
4. Analyzing your Facebook friends list can tell you when you and your significant other are about to call it quits.
In the TV show Friends, when Ross and Rachel were “on a break,” it caused serious issues within the group. The same is true for couples on Facebook – while the dispersion method allowed the researchers to pinpoint a loved one in a complicated network of online connections, sometimes the method failed – and when it did, it usually meant the relationship was on the rocks. Just to remind you of a research result we pointed out earlier, after tracking users every two months for two whole years, low dispersion relationships (those with the same tight-knit clusters of friends) on Facebook have been found 50 percent more likely to break up over the next two months than a couple with high dispersion (more spread out groups that aren’t connected). Again, this means that the more mutual friends you share with your boyfriend, the more likely you are to split up.
Which leads us to the most important lesson this Facebook study brings to the surface …
5. Having your own set of friends – on Facebook and in real life – is good for your relationship.
Think of it this way – if you’re the type of person who regularly opens up to your friends about your relationship problems, it would be a lot harder for them to show impartiality if they are close with both you and your partner. So even if the relationships you share with your other, non-partner-related social circles aren’t as deep and meaningful as the ones you have with your guys’ mutual friends and your best friends, it’s a lot better for you and your loved one that you maintain connections with various groups of people.