Before Facebook, the world was a loving, transparent place where a guy could chat up a pretty girl at a coffee shop without her escaping into her smart phone, where all relationship statuses were 100% clear and followed predictable hierarchies of commitment, where people were always authentically themselves and no one had any trouble meeting someone new, where everyone destroyed all photos of their exes upon breakup.
But when the Great Winds of Zuckerfish blew through the lands, something mysterious happened. People simultaneously began communicating more, and yet, loving so much less. Where did the wrong turn come?
According to a debate over at the New York Times, which boldly asks, "Has Facebook Ruined Love?" there are a few possible explanations as to the how and why. In seven mini responses to the question, we learn a myriad of ways in which Facebook — which, P.S., is now a term that doubles for all online interaction, like the Kleenex of social media — has either cut the water supply on what used to be a free-flowing faucet of fancying, or acted as a veritable rain shower head on the tightly wound shoulders of love.
Argument #1: Facebook is a hot cock-blocker. OK, so the author uses the term "romance contraceptive," but contraceptives prevent disease, not sex. Either way, his take on Facebook's stop-gap power is that, basically, you could be talking to a cute girl at Starbucks but instead you're checking in on what your friends are doing. Sorry, dating coach, we've heard this solid advice before in the Young MC song "Bust A Move," which advised, "Don't just stand there/Bust a move."
But perhaps today's timidity is justified. What this author neglects to consider is that social media is a kind of first-round approval system for potential mates. Sure, people still like meeting in the old-fashioned way — shit-faced in bars with no prior knowledge — only now there's this super convenient, entire compendium of people in one online over-share-y place that you can browse in complete privacy. The person next to you in Starbucks could be a complete hosebeast who likes Dave Matthews and not reading books. I pity the poor fools (ahem, me) who once had to spend actual time talking to people to discover such atrocities.
Argument #2: Facebook actually clarifies commitment levels. This argument is perhaps the only interesting one in the bunch. Given the dearth of "widely accepted conventions of courtship" — class rings, letterman jackets, uniquely identifiable patterns of hickeys — people may actually take seriously the relationship status designations on Facebook, and furthermore, it may reveal something about the solidity of the commitment in question.
…my colleagues and I found that people who post a "Single" relationship status on Facebook have more sexual partners between relationships than those who opt out of posting "Single" on their profile. We also found that people who disclose that they are "In a Relationship" on Facebook also report being more committed to that relationship. Even among married people, we found that those whose primary Facebook photos include their spouses are less likely to split up 6 months later.
So it's actually what most of us suspected all along: People who stubbornly insist on keeping the single status highly visible are kinda whorish, and anyone who doesn't want to update their status to "In a relationship" after you've been boning for more than three weeks just isn't that into you. But, of course, the bigger take away is that public declarations have a bit more heft, and that for all its supposed derailing of love, Facebook offers a public space for couples to make known what may no longer be so obvious in person. Legitimacy!
Argument #3: The mystery of romance isn't gone, it's just carefully edited. True words. As I've said many a time, us humans are all well-intentioned liars, and social network profiles are no different. It's all low-carb happy times on Facebook, and Facebook and Twitter are great vehicles for perfecting a witty, interesting persona that may or may not hold up to fluorescent light. However, where I part ways with this author is when she insists that Facebook/social media is fine for flirting, but "has no place in romance and relationships. Especially not publically. Your romantic Facebook messages about how you and your beloved are ‘soul mates' are making your friends want to jab their eyes out."
I would warn her that many a gross attempt at public flirting has made me want to jab out the eyes of every living thing nearby, and yet, I do not share her prescriptive attitude. Facebook, I get tired of pointing out, is but a mirror pointed at the grotesque preening visage of society. It is gross; it is sad; it is pathetic; it is hilarious. What it is not is a candidate for censorship. The hideous carnival of human vulnerability + cat pics must never, ever die. So please, romance the hell out of whatever you want on Facebook, people. And post updates. We're reading.
Argument #4: Most social media makes it hard to meet new people in person because you're mostly just browsing social circles of people you already know, but a mobile app using location-based technology would solve this problem, and guess what? I am the founder and CEO of such a company making such an app. No really, guess what? He is.
Argument #5: Facebook makes it painfully obvious when the guy you are dating has suddenly gotten back with his ex-girlfriend and didn't tell you yet, or also when the guy you are dating wants to stay tagged to his ex-girlfriend in all possible old pictures. Yes, yes, of course. This is what I like to refer to as the phenomenon known as "You're Dating a Dick." Facebook isn't responsible for his dickness; it's responsible for helping you find out early. That could have taken MONTHS to figure out before you made your way to the girlfriend pics in the back of his closet.
Argument #6: With social media, either you don't know what you're getting or you know too much. Facebook is great for meeting and dating and access to loads of potential peeps, says this author, but there's Catfish on one end of the spectrum and Overshare Central on the other. Sure, agreed. But this author actually encourages couples to not befriend each other on Facebook, and cites statistics such as "20 percent of divorces involve Facebook." Some partners overshare on status updates or have old "friends" (AKA, gargoyles) who leave inappropriate comments on photos and status updates, creating conflict. Finally, there is the opportunity for "social media burnout" between partners who are overexposed to each other online and can't miss each other.
All this stuff goes back to, not Facebook, but the couple and how they navigate their relationship. I suspect that oversharers online are oversharers in person, a gargoyle is a gargoyle is a gargoyle, and burnout is a high risk for any couples that enjoy spending tons of time together. As the Sex Pistols once sang quite presciently, "The problem is YOU!" (And gargoyles.)
Argument #7: Buyer beware. This author, who happens to conduct background checks for potential dating partners, correctly points out that Facebook and social media are great mediums for lying liars to lie it up, but also great mediums for checking up on the veracity of the lying liar's claims about themselves. Amen, sista!
In conclusion, there is no evidence in the above arguments that Facebook has ruined love, or anything for that matter. Sure, it has changed the landscape and given us more tools for talkin', but for everything it may have obscured, there is loads more it has revealed.
As someone who was already in college by the time the Internet got big, I can attest that prior to being able to type a cute guy's name into a search engine that, in many ways, it was more difficult to meet people with similar interests and people have always been squirrelly. Sometimes, all you had to go on was a Cure T-shirt and a wayward haircut, and it took a lot of time and beers and heartache to separate the just-moody wheat from the actually talented chaff.
Now you can find out in .2 whether so-and-so is actually funny, likes lame shit, takes weird pictures, likes socialism, has a girlfriend. Sure, you still have to put the work in person to take it to the next level, which, by the way, is just as difficult, labor-intensive and mysterious as it ever was. But at least you've already eliminated most of the population without so much as wiping the bacon off your shirt. No love lost, or bacon. Zuckerfish gets a poke.
[Image via Flickr/owenbrown]