With the advancement of new technology comes the adaptation of human communication. Just as the telephone replaced the telegraph, social networking sites and texting have become the norm for communication amongst friends and family. Social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter have also had a significant impact on the way romantic relationships are formed and maintained.
Social networking sites are “web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system”. Generally speaking, we normally know the people we are “friends” with on these sites and we maintain our relationships with them through the use of social networking. However, many of these sites allow us to make connections with individuals we have never met in person before.
Social networking sites also allow us to display our romantic relationship status, be it is single, engaged, married, or my personal favorite “it’s complicated”.
Direct Effects on Relationships
Social networking has had a direct effect on the way we develop our relationships, be they friendships or romantic relationships. This is especially evident in the development of I-You and I-Thou relationships. Julia T. Wood describes I-You Communication as relationships that are personal, but where we do not engage with others as unique individuals (Wood, 2010). Generally, I-You relationships occur in the workplace, on sports teams, and among classmates. They are somewhat personal but do not disclose a lot of information (Wood, 2010). I-You relationships are easily maintained on social networking sites through “friending” another classmate etc.
I-Thou relationships are a little harder to maintain on social networking sites since they are much more personal. Wood describes I-Thou relationships as “the highest form of human dialogue, because each person affirms the other as cherished and unique” (Wood, 2010). I-Thou relationships are rare, and are only seen when we are completely genuine with another (Wood, 2010). These relationships can rarely be maintained solely through the use of social networking sites because they require a deeper understanding of another, not just knowing their most recent status update or their favorite bands. To maintain these kinds of relationships, both parties will need to spend time together and communicate frequently though text messages, instant messaging, and telephone or Skype conversations if they cannot have a face-to-face conversation.
Long Distance Relationships
Social media sites are very helpful in maintaining long distance relationships. Distance can be leading factor in why many relationships crumble. Unequal effort on the part of one partner can lead to resentment from the other (Wood, 2010). Additionally, reunions can lead to more conflict because partners have established their own independent routines (Wood, 2010). Instant messaging on Facebook and video conferencing on Skype enable partners to communicate quickly and effectively when they are not in the same place at the same time. But merely chatting with your partner is not enough to maintain a relationship. Many couples have found that getting creative with their use of social networking can aid in maintaining their relationships. For example, sending videos, pictures, and setting up Skype “dates” can be effective in showing affection (Wood, 2010).
The Catfish Effect
While social media allows individuals to post and share pictures and other information about themselves such as hobbies and taste in music, movies, and books, it also opens the door for deceit. It is just as easy to post false information about yourself as it is to post the truth. It is important to remember that not everything on the Internet is true, so before jumping into an online relationship, remember to ask questions. However, there are numerous cases of people starting online relationships and then becoming sorely disappointed when they meet in person and find out that what they saw online is far from reality. One famous case is chronicled in the documentary film Catfish, which follows a young man by the name of Nev Schulman and his online relationship with a young woman by the name of Megan Faccio. As their romance blossoms on the computer screen, it becomes apparent that both want more and Nev travels to Megan’s hometown to meet her. Only when he reaches his destination, Nev is surprised to find that Megan is actually named Angela and she is actually 40 years old – far from the 19-year-old Nev thought he was talking to.
When we lie to those we are in a relationship with in this manner, we violate their trust, which is a key component to the foundation of any relationship. Trust is “believing in another’s reliability” (Wood, 2010). Once we trust another in a relationship, we begin to feel psychologically safe within the relationship. When trust is broken, the consequences can be devastating (Wood, 2010).
Jealously and Social Media
If you’ve managed to maintain a truthful online relationship, long distance relationship, or romantic relationship in general, you still have one more hurdle to jump: jealousy. Jealousy can quickly deteriorate a romantic relationship and social networking sites like Facebook are not helping. The Huffington Post reporter Katherine Bindley writes that triggers for jealously through social networking can be “under sharing” (aka rarely to never referencing the relationship on Facebook), tagged photos with an ex or a friend request from them, and even a flirty comment from another friend on the site. While Facebook isn’t exactly the problem behind relationship jealousy, it is a catalyst for it. Bindley found that the so-called “Golden Rule” of Facebooking while in a committed relationship is to not be doing things you wouldn’t want your partner to see, much like in life outside of social networking.
A Few Reminders About Social Networking
Social networks can be great places to meet new people, share more with people you already know, and even show off your creativity. However, you should always tread with caution when using them. Here are a few reminders:
Everything is permanent. Even if you delete the angry status you made earlier, the racy photo, or the vulgar Tweet, remember that everything is recorded and can be dredged back up in everything from a background check to divorce proceedings.
Meet in public. For those looking to take their online relationship to the next level by meeting in person, be sure to do it in public. You never know if the person you started an online courtship with is who they say they are. By meeting in public, you can help ensure your safety by being surrounded by others and a way out if you feel uncomfortable and want to leave.
Be honest. Social networking can be fun as long as you remain honest about who you are online. In reality, you are no different online than you are in real life.
Social networking has no doubt changed the communication landscape, with nearly 1 billion people and counting online, our interactions can reach across the globe. It is important to know the effect social networking can have on our relationships because soon social networking may define our relationships rater than face-to-face conversation. Society must learn to use social networking effectively and responsibly without forgetting how to interact in person. By following some of the tips and guidelines discussed above I think this can be accomplished.
Wood, J. T. (2010). Interpersonal communication: everyday encounters (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub..