Love and Death in the Time of Facebook — It’s Complicated

Mark Zuckerberg’s invention of the “relationship status” button was the work of the devil.  As portrayed in “The Social Network,” the idea to let Harvard classmates advertise their romantic availability on The Facebook just popped into head one day and he added it with minimal thought to its long-term implications.  Little did he know that in the years since it would be such a source of heartache.

The agony and glory of Facebook is that it lets you effortlessly share personal information with a wide circle of friends and acquaintances, but it’s all too easy to overshare (or brag), especially in affairs of the heart.  Given that social media barely existed a dozen years ago, there are still no firm guidelines about how to handle love on Facebook. As a close observer of Facebook customs, let me suggest a few:

1)      Avoid the aforementioned “relationship status.”  In the early throes of love, the urge to tell the world you’re in a relationship with a wonderful new main squeeze can be overwhelming. Flee from this impulse! Sometimes one partner (guess which gender?) will pressure the other one to make the public proclamation on Facebook.  It’s a big step, somewhat akin to getting your own drawer at another person’s apartment. Resist! Take the drawer but skip the publicity.  Consider what will happen if/when you break up.  There’s nothing sadder than seeing a relationship status go from “in a relationship with (Miss Perfect)” to “single.” The only exception to this ban on relationship statuses should be marriage. That’s a lifetime commitment and posting the news on Facebook is the equivalent of having your wedding in the paper or wearing a wedding ring. Plus it saves on the cost of engraved wedding announcements.

2)      Act like you’ve never been in love before, even if you never have been.  The rest of you who are not now in the thrall of a hot new thing know what I mean.  Too many gooey Facebook references to a new girlfriend/boyfriend can set our teeth on edge.  Don’t act like Facebook is your teenage diary.

3)      No kissing pictures!  Would you make out with your significant other at a dinner party?  Then don’t make out on Facebook. Also, no pictures of your beloved in a bathing suit or in any stage of undress. Gross!

4)      Don’t become “friends” with your significant other.  Even if you’re married.  Especially if you’re married. No real good can come of letting your girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse see your posts. Oh sure, in the early days, you’re both so smitten that you just LOVE each other’s posts. The “like” button is WHOLLY INADEQUATE for your feelings. But over time, your significant others will cool considerably to your Facebooking talents.  They won’t like what you say about them or won’t like the way they look in photos. Or they’ll think you’re mentioning them too much, or worse, too little.  Or they won’t like the comments your friends make on your posts.  And then, if God, forbid, you break up, you face the delicate question of whether to “unfriend” each other.  Facebook is for people who don’t see each other all the time. Presumably you don’t need social media to keep in touch with your beloved. (Btw, I know a few happy couples who get have navigated these treacherous waters without incident.  Still, unless you are Jim and Pam Halpert, I wouldn’t recommend this.)

5)      If you insist on becoming Facebook friends with the object of your desire, don’t post a lot of comments on each other’s page, even if you are as witty as Nick and Nora Charles.  The occasional self-deprecating response to a photo or an amusing self-defense regarding a mildly embarrassing escapade is OK every once in a while. But in general, keep the pillow talk private.

6)      Don’t brag about the beloved’s accomplishments. Facebook is not the annual Christmas letter. Some exceptions to the rule are if he/she: 1) wins a MacArthur “Genius” grant; 2) is elected to the U.S. Senate; 3) wins a Nobel Prize; 4) pitches a no-hitter in the major leagues; 5) is named a network news anchor.

7)      Limit yourself to one anniversary announcement per year. If you must mention an anniversary, stick to the actual date of your wedding, not the anniversary of the day you met, or the day you kissed or the day you realized you were in love (barf).  And if you must mention your anniversary, avoid over-the-top adjectives like “amazing,” “wonderful,” “fantastic,” or “sexy” unless you are describing the new car he/she got you as an anniversary gift.  In fact, the less said the better; you don’t have to convince us that you love your spouse.

8)      Show a little sensitivity after you break up. If you’re still FB friends with your ex or your ex’s friends, definitely don’t post pictures of your new conquest.  That will make their heads explode and earn you their undying enmity.

9)      If, after you break up, you remain Facebook friends, post the very occasional link to a shared interest, preferably something funny, on the ex’s Facebook page. This will show your mutual friends that you’re handling the break-up very maturely.  Don’t overdo this (more than once every three months) because it will seem creepy.

10)  Don’t stalk your exes. This advice is hard to take because, unless your ex is remarkably adept at privacy settings, Facebook makes it pretty easy to check in on those old girlfriends and boyfriends.   And who doesn’t wonder about a potential alternative reality in which you didn’t break up?  And who isn’t curious about how old or rich the exes have become? Bad, Bad, BAD idea.  Keep your eyes forward.  After all, look what happened to poor Jay Gatsby when he stalked Daisy “Voice Full of Money” Buchanan; they weren’t even Facebook friends and he ended up dead in a pool.

The bottom line? Love is complicated enough as it is.  Don’t compound the difficulty with social media.  Oh, and by the way, I just looked at Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook page and he does NOT list a relationship status.

  1. All so true. If I were still teaching college freshmen, I’d be handing this out with the syllabus.

    And you sure are savvy for an old dude.

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