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Turns out Facebook is ruining our relationships as it brings the world together

Facebook-ruining-relationshipsFacebook is responsible for some great things. The world is closer and more connected due in no small part to the social network, and friends and family thousands of miles away are but a click away. Anyone with an email account and an Internet connection is able to turn Facebook into a soapbox. It’s highlighted global politics and made local communities tighter.

It’s also the great relationship ruiner of our time.

While many a romantic relationship can trace its way back to Facebook, so too can many trace their demise. The always-online-all-the-time mentality of the Internet-gen means that all of the old and familiar slings and arrows aimed at our attempts at coupledom are being upgraded, thanks to technology. The effect? A digital minefield that we not only have to navigate, but end up constantly booby trapping ourselves. 

Too much, too soon

What is the Facebook Message equivalent of waiting three days to call? It’s probably something like three hours. The ability to be constantly connected means that those fragile relationship beginnings can be fast-tracked: Sure, you’ve only hung out once, but you Facebook Chat multiple times all day and Like each others’ uploads at a maniacal pace. It’s too much, too soon, and it can be addictive.

“What hurts are pictures with his new friends and new experiences, because I can see him but cannot talk to him.”

While this ability to constantly chat means that you can get to know someone faster (and perhaps decide they aren’t for you faster … ), it also can spin wildly into that phase where you spend hours talking about your childhoods, families, and futures. And then, you’ve stuck yourself with a false intimacy problem.

As an oft-cited 2009 study about Facebook and relationships explains: “The open nature of Facebook gives people access to information about their partner [or potential partner] that would not otherwise be accessible. As one participant reported, ‘It turns people into nosey parkers … all of that personal information is totally unnecessary, but no one can help themselves.’”

Facebook eliminates the secrets – which leads to yet another consequence, and that’s the intentional (or unintentional) self-modeling users do for relationships.

If you’ve never found yourself in this scenario, you’re a much stronger person than most of us complete liar: A new relationship or romantic interest is on your horizon – but it’s early days. Much too early for hour-long talks about what his high school experience was like, how she gets along with her siblings, if he likes dogs or cats better, what type of music she likes best.

Early days, indeed. We’re talking about a crush you just met at someone’s house party last weekend that you talked to for less than five minutes early.

Well pre-Facebook, you’d be hard-pressed to find out anything else about this person without harassing someone for their phone number and basic stats (and risking sounding like a creep in the process). But then Facebook was invented and with it, crush-stalking.

Facebook Stalking
Image used with permission by copyright holder

It’s a subtle art, the crush-stalk. You silently accrue massive amounts of information about this person, quietly plotting how you will arrange to see them again and if you can “drop-in” on the events they said yes to, strengthen your real-life ties with your mutual Facebook friends to help, constantly ask yourself when it will be acceptable to send them a friend request.

And once phase one is complete, you then move onto obsessively cataloging the things they do and like – and then you pretend you do and like those things too. Leading us our next issue … 

Self-modeling for romantic reasons

It might not be intentional, but you convince yourself that something is true. A flurry of camping pictures go up on your target’s page? You might start posting status updates about a hike you may or may not actually go on. See that they listened to Taylor Swift on Spotify? Maybe you just happen to buy tickets and send an event invitation out to all your friends rallying them to go.

It might be more innocent than that; maybe someone posts a lot of Supernatural references and in the romanticism and flurry of your new-found Facebook flirtation, you think you also like the show. But then … it turns out you don’t. And your “lies” eventually come back to haunt you.

If your crush-stalking is successful and you indeed snag your intended target, what happens when the newness wears off and you’re left with the real thing?

This is something all couples go through; we all make small admissions in the beginning because we’re blinded by the glowing halo of new love. But then it fades, and you just can’t fake it through one more episode of Friends

“Our study found that excessive Facebook users are more likely to connect or reconnect with other Facebook users, including previous partners…”

A 2008 study researched how the formation of a “Facebook identity” impacted relationships in the real world. “Users can manipulate profile information to create an online identity different from their actual identity,” the study explains. “Characteristics and pictures may be exaggerated slightly or completely fabricated, with the intention of enhancing one’s identity for outside observers.”

The study goes on to talk about the difference between the “self” and the “social self;” if you took Psychology 101 in college you may remember this as id, ego, and superego: Basically, how we really are versus how we present ourselves to the world. While that concept isn’t new, what is new is the way Facebook has impacted the way we present ourselves; the approach and results are both more dramatic. Not only does constant connectivity do this, but the slight amount of “anonymity” does as well. (Sitting behind a keyboard and constructing your new “self” is easier to do, and easier to slip into unwittingly than in face to face interactions).   

There are too many more things to lie about, too much information to do it with. And there are too many more tools at your disposal to create these false intimacies: You can upload photo evidence of your love of the outdoors or dogs or cooking even if you hate all three. It’s a slippery slope, and one Facebook can make you go tumbling down at rapid speed.

You can’t escape your ex

It’s not only the intoxication of early relationships that Facebook can take to dangerous heights – it does the same thing to the ends of them. “Design for Forgetting: Disposing of Digital Possessions After a Breakup” examined the consequences of our memory collections moving from shoeboxes to Facebook albums, and how they’ve become hazardously accessible, visible, and unforgettable. You can’t bury the Internet in your closet to be ignored until your heart heals; you can’t burn it in a breakup-fueled backyard fire.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Those of us who’ve sustained a Facebook-era breakup have felt our heartstrings cruelly attacked by our ex’s status updates and photos, and even worse, by photos from our past with them – immortalized forever by the social network.

“Many participants reported severe problems in using common technologies such as Facebook during the breakup, such as [one participant’s] difficulties with an ex-partner who maintains ties with her family, hindering her efforts to move on,” the study says.

“’I miss him. His uploads on Facebook make me feel hurt,’” the participant explained of one ex whose profile she could view but not contact. “’What hurts are pictures with his new friends and new experiences, because I can see him but cannot talk to him. I have thousands of questions in my mind but I cannot ask him.’”

Other participants said the inability to delete old photos, only untag them, hurt the moving on process.

Of course, the temptation to keep tabs is perhaps the most damaging of all. The all-too relatable act of keeping the occasional tabs on your ex were documented with the participants.

“Breakup practices on Facebook are complex with reported difficulties in signaling changes in relationship status, removal of ex-partners from the friends list, and repeated surveillance (‘stalking’) visits to the ex-partner’s profile,” the study says. “Unfriending is difficult as its online conventions have yet to be agreed, and digital traces of the relationship are persistent on Facebook, suggesting exhaustive removal although this is not always under one’s control.”

Maybe someone posts a lot of Supernatural references and in the flurry of your new-found Facebook flirtation you think you also like the show.

In 2010, when Facebook introduced its Photo Memories feature, users revolted at seeing happier times with their exes, and former boyfriends and girlfriends were thankfully removed from the application. A flurry of services have also hit the market that digitally “remove” your ex from your social networks to try and ease the breakup pain – and this isn’t the type of silly exploiting of a trend; this wasn’t the first study that documented the damage Facebook can cause in the midst of a breakup. 

All of this backed-up, cloud-stored memory material – and the ability to willingly or unwillingly be briefed on the ex’s habits via Facebook, all keep you from moving onward and upward. Facebook is not a real-time network (even though it’s trying to be); it’s a slideshow of your best days. It’s a nostalgia machine – and not always a welcome one.

Giving into temptation

The temptation to stay up-to-date on your past paramour isn’t the only type of bait Facebook sets – there’s the cheating variety as well. According to a soon-to-be-released study, Facebook-induced jealousy and suspicion about your partners has become a problem for couples – which in part, actually relates back to the problems with moving on from exes.

“Our study found that excessive Facebook users are more likely to connect or reconnect with other Facebook users, including previous partners, which may lead to emotional and physical cheating,” the research says – noting these results were only true for couples who’d been dating for less than three years.

The ease – and speed – with which a Like can escalate to a poke-war and into a flurry of intimate Facebook Messages is proven, and it’s concerning. Couple that with the compulsion of reliving the past, and you have yourself a potent cocktail for unhappy endings. 

So given all of the elements Facebook can throw at a romance, is there any sense in logging on anymore? The unfortunately simple antidote is moderation: apply only minute amounts of Facebook to your relationship. Trim the tagging, calm the chatting, and stop the stalking, because it seems like that’s the only route to real life relationship happiness. 

Molly McHugh
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Before coming to Digital Trends, Molly worked as a freelance writer, occasional photographer, and general technical lackey…
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