Another aspect that New Media took over is in our relationships’ status to the point that is not “official” until it is posted. Facebook for example offers several “relationship status” for us to choose from: Single, In a relationship, Engaged, Married, It’s complicated, In an open relationship, Widowed, Separated, Divorced, and In a civil partnership, that pretty much accomodate most common situations.
What is funny about is that many people take such status very seriously. No longer is enough to live through it, but now we must typecast ourselves in a set of categories predetermined by a technology tool to display–and validate any personal relationship. Author Ilana Gershon explains in her book “The Breakup 2.0, Disconnecting over New Media”, how human relations from conception to breaking up have been adapting to new media. In the adaptation process, Gershon discusses how from old way face-to-face discussions to new media and technology, the medium we choose to breakup a relationship becomes part of the breakup itself (Gershon, 2010).
In her book, Gershon mentions some examples where the “Facebook official” status overpasses any previous one-to-one discussion to either begin or end a relationship. One of her interviewees mentions how a phone discussion and a Skype conference to breakup with her boyfriend wasn’t enough until she changed her Facebook status to ‘single’ that he finally took it as ‘official’ that the relationship indeed had ended (Gershon, 2010, 72).
A Facebook relationship status is more complicated than the relationship itself. Whether we are married, single, in a troubled relationship, widow, or separated, we are getting to the point that we no longer decide in our relationship status but how social media technologies “presuppose certain kinds of social relationships” (Gershon, 2010, 60) like how we must ‘abide’ to the terms Facebook use as a ‘relationship’. Another factor is that we are not allowed to mix any of those relationship as a status. Could it be that I am separated, in an open relationship, and it’s complicated, all at the same time?
Facebook allows us only ten options to declare our relationship status from a drop-down menu and with no option to add a new one. What if out of those 10 options none of them accomodate a particular person’s relationship? After all everyone is different and no relationship is ever the same. Therefore we must choose ‘wisely’ what option we choose because apparently will affect not only our status, but how we will be perceived as well. “Making a relationship ‘Facebook official’ has certain social consequences” (Gershon, 2010, 64).
Those who know me know that I have been happily married for the last fifteen years. My husband does not have a Facebook account and I just never bothered to update my status as I considered unnecessary. I know what I know and those who know me know that too. For the sake for this argument, I decided to test what could possibly happen if I updated my Facebook status, would anyone care? Out the ten options I chose “It’s complicated” and wrote down my husband’s name and clicked save. After all, isn’t life sometimes complicated living with our spouses? Funny, I thought. Within two minutes I had two posts and three ‘Likes’. One post was from a close friend and the other one from a family member with a comment of dismay. By the following morning, more comments varied from worried family members and friends wanting to know if everything was OK with us.
It turns out that my husband’s name never showed up in the News feed because he does not have a Facebook account, so my status read as follows “Sylvia is in a relationship and it’s complicated.” Because there was no option for me to accomodate to my real status of being happily married although complicated at times–like every marriage out there, I had to select “It’s complicated” and Facebook added for me the phrase “in a relationship” prior to that. No wonder everyone freaked out, it literally reads that I am in a relationship with someone else and the term ‘complicated’ adds to the suspense, and the fact that I am married, this translates that I am in a relationship with other than my husband. Complicated that is.
The social consequence of this aside of friends thinking I am a femme fatale, now I have to explain with another status update that I meant to say I am married, complicated at times (like everybody else), but happily married with my husband. This is the same situation people have to face when they announce their engagement on Facebook and six months later they announce the break up. Besides of dealing with the ups and down of the relationship, now an explanation and justification must follow to all those reading our posts.
Below is a video I found in YouTube about a young couple getting married in 2009 and right after the Priest pronounced them “man and wife” both the bride and the groom took out their phones to update their relationship status to “Married” in both Facebook and Twitter. Indeed this is such a happy moment to celebrate and share with your loved ones and as the Priest in the video says, “is official on Facebook is official in my book and now you may kiss your bride” (Hanna, 2009), this video illustrates how critical such “official status” being updated in social media applications has become in our lives in order to ‘validate’ our relationships.
Gershon, I. (2010). The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Hanna, Dana [Locuester]. (2009, November 22). At My Wedding Twitterring and Facebooking at the Altar [Video file]. Retrieved from http://youtu.be/VSkT5XykJzo