Changing your relationship status on Facebook is one of those Signs of Our Times people love to debate. But the most common status is actually "married," implying that many couples wait for a ring before making it e-fficial.
Noam Cohen's Times article on the subject is full of the kinds of pronouncements about How Facebook Has Changed Our Lives that crop up in old-media coverage of the site — "People are ‘performing' relationships on Facebook;" "What is a wedding ring, but a status report?" These come courtesy of Nancy Baym, author of Personal Communications in the Digital Age, who claims Facebook is changing the way people think and talk about their relationships, introducing added pressure to "make things explicit." Of course, that's not true for the 47% of women and 53% of men who choose not to list a status. These folks, I'd argue, have the right idea.
I'm not one to get too concerned about online privacy, but I haven't listed a relationship status on Facebook since 2007. The reason: breakups. Blogger Tomfoolery sums up my feelings on the subject: "All of your friends get that update in real time; not a fun way to find out that the dream is over." I don't mind telling my friends — or even my acquaintances — when a relationship has ended, but I prefer not to do it all at once, via RSS. And then there's the separate problem of one's ex's relationship status and whether he or she decides to change it — listing your relationship status just makes any change in it all the more obnoxious to deal with.
However, I've sometimes said I might relent if I ever got married, a decision many other Facebook users seem to have made. "Married" is actually the most common relationship status, with 35% of users listing it — next up is single, at 32%. "In a relationship," with 22%, is a distant third. It's not clear how many Facebook marrieds are just college kids fake-married to their BFFs (an annoying trend Cohen mentions) but it makes a certain amount of sense that a legal commitment can spur people to make an Internet one — especially since people's wedding photos typically go up on Facebook anyway. Still, in the event of a divorce, these folks have opened themselves up to "Oh no! What happened?" messages from all their junior high classmates. Maybe that's the point, though — just as legal marriage makes it financially difficult to separate, maybe Facebook marriage makes it socially hard (or harder, that is). And maybe the threat of all those annoying messages is enough to convince some couples to work things out.
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