Going ‘Facebook Official’

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‘Just Friends’? Licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Research suggests that those who share their romantic status online report being in more committed relationships.

Facebook has revolutionised the way we interact with others. It allows us to remain connected with people we haven’t seen in years and manipulate the way we are perceived socially using the information we choose to share. Today, when you meet a person and become friends with them offline, you affirm that friendship by immediately connecting with them online. From there, if you are so inclined, you can view everything they have ever posted and anything that has ever been posted about them, from declarations of love to old flames to what they ate for dinner in 2012. But in a world where every detail of our lives can be shared online, how have our romantic relationships been affected?

Traditionally, relationship goals consisted of meeting and hitting it off with someone, dating, becoming engaged and marrying. Increasingly however, some are adding going ‘Facebook official’ into the mix. (For the uninitiated, this involves announcing a relationship publicly on Facebook by changing one’s relationship status from “single” to “in a relationship with…”). Many might still shudder at the idea of exposing such an aspect of their private lives to online scrutiny. However according to a recent study couples who are ‘Facebook official’ report being in stronger and more committed relationships than those who have chosen not to disclose their relationship statuses on Facebook.

The study was led by Professor Brianna Lane of New Mexico State University in 2015. It conducted tests on 170 college students at Oklahoma University, all of whom reported being in romantic relationships at the time. All of these students maintained active Facebook accounts. The authors found that people are more likely to disclose their relationship status online if they use Facebook and social media in a prolific manner. They also found that those who had shared their relationship status online reported greater satisfaction, investment and commitment in their relationships, as well as lower interest in alternative partners than those who did not share their relationship status.

Are they 'Facebook official'? Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Are they ‘Facebook official’? Image licensed under CC BY 2.0

The study suggested that when an individual changes their relationship status on Facebook they have broadcast that information to their connections and as such have made a commitment to its authenticity. This is in turn a commitment to their relationship. It also suggests that people who proclaimed their relationships online were less interested in alternative partners because they had broadcast their romantic unavailability publicly. They proposed that most people wait until their relationship commitment levels surpass a certain level before they post about it on Facebook. This may even mean that if a couple has not yet gone ‘Facebook official’ there is something to be inferred about their relationship.

Admittedly, the study only surveyed college students with an average participant age of around 20. The average age of Facebook users is 38 and it is not difficult to imagine that the way college students use social media and conduct themselves in relationships may not be same as Facebook’s average 38-year-old user. Therefore more research is probably needed before the results can be applied more broadly.

Nevertheless this research certainly suggests that those who choose to share their relationship status on social media may be in stronger and more committed relationships than those who do not. This may be something to consider next time your news feed is flooded with pictures and statuses broadcasting your friends’ love for each other to anyone who cares – or cares not – to see.

Unfortunately, however, there is a downside to ‘Facebook official’ relationships in the form of public break-ups. Given the results of research published this year by Professor Robin Dunbar of the University of Oxford it may still pay to be careful what one shares. Dunbar and colleagues found that the majority of an individual’s Facebook ‘friends’ are far from ‘real’ friends in a sociological sense and are unlikely to sympathise even if something bad happens to them. Something to consider – unless we all become more choosy about who we ‘befriend’ online, perhaps such confidences are more suited to an offline audience.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

H.

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