Facebook and romantic relationships

by Senwhaa Lim

In an article titled Reading romance: The impact Facebook rituals can have on a romantic relationship, Greg Bowe compares photographs, relationship status, and public displays of affection and the resulting themes by conducting interviews with college students.

For his research, Bowe conducted interviews with heterosexual, undergraduate students who were either in the third or fourth year of college. The interviews lasted from one and a half hours to two hours.  Interviewed students consisted of seven females and four males who were all involved in romantic relationships. The students answered questions about why they joined Facebook and their main reasons for using the social media site.  When answering questions about relationships on Facebook and how Facebook impacts them, they focused on relationship status, public displays of affection (PDA), and photographs.

Changing the relationship status on Facebook allows a couple to announce to the masses of their friends that they are officially a couple.  This is a considered a big step because it means that the couple had to discuss this topic with his or her partner before putting it on Facebook.  Not all interviewees changed their relationship status.  The ones who decided to change it did it because it brought certainty and assurance to the relationships.  One of the interviewees said, “When I first met him, he was a bit of a player…it was a little extra fix and a safety net. I was very happy with it.” The interviewees who decided not to change their relationship status on Facebook declared that was unnecessary and cite privacy being imperative.

Public displays of affection between romantic partners symbolize possession and sometimes represent superiority.  Examples of PDA include: making inside jokes on each other’s walls or putting up photographs with “I love you” and “I miss you” as captions.  Reasoning for PDA was to ensure a “presence was there” against old and new potential partners, portraying to others their “perfect relationship,” and self-promotion.  Interviewees admitted that they do this to invoke jealousy in others who aspire to be in a relationship.  One interviewee stated that he only did because his girlfriend pressured him to and he did not want to disappoint her.

Photographs are the primary cause of jealousy on Facebook, especially the ones that were taken from a previous relationship they had been in.  Partners pressure their significant others delete or “de-tag” themselves.  Some concede and some refuse, saying that someone would only see it if they were “stalking her profile,” which is looking way into the past on someone’s page. There was one interviewee whose boyfriend was not on Facebook, but still experienced jealousy when her boyfriend’s picture popped up on a mutual friend’s Facebook showing him getting cozy with other girls. Even though her boyfriend was not on Facebook, the social media site still managed to cause a rift in their relationship.

            The researched conducted by Bowe shows that depicting one’s relationship status online means that one is serious about the relationship.  Jealousy arises from photographs with ex-partners and comments by ex-partners.  When jealousy and angered feelings are evoked through Facebook, partners usually confront their partner offline instead of solving it on Facebook.   Relationship status shows possession and a more serious step in the romantic relationship.  The reasoning behind PDA is to claim possession, invoke jealousy in others, and to convey to others what a “perfect relationship” one has.  Even though people can be somewhat private on Facebook, jealousy can find a way to inhibit a relationship.  With his research, Bowe shows that the online relationship can impact the offline relationship of a couple.  

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