I love Facebook. It helps me build community, make friends outside my normal social circles, or stay in touch with folks I might otherwise never see but for high school reunions (that I would go to over my dead and rotting body). It also lets me stay connected to family and friends, updating me on first words, last Friday nights, engagements and estrangements, feeding my concern and my sometimes morbid curiosity.
I also, however, hate Facebook. When my inner critic logs on, my newsfeed displays nothing but evidence of everyone else's perfect life: weekend farmers markets, impromptu picnics in the park, triathlons, and vintage flea markets. In fact, I’m pretty sure everyone I know is hanging out with Gwyneth Paltrow.
But like it or not, with more than 845 million users, Facebook is here to stay.
Moreover, 60% of these users report being in some kind of relationship. It’s not hard to see how social media is changing the face of courtship, dating, partnership, break-ups and separations. A 2009 study found that Facebook makes "unique contributions to the experience of jealousy in romantic relationships." In fact, according to The Telegraph, Facebook is cited in one out of every five divorce petitions. Yikes.
In my work as a Registered Marriage and Family Therapy intern, Facebook is a repeat offender in contributing to relationship conflict, confusion and miscommunication.
So how exactly Facebook ruining our love lives, and what can we do about it?
Problem: We’ve become Facestalkers!
It used to be that getting to know someone involved conversation and having actual experiences together. Or at the very least, night vision goggles and rummaging through a trash bin. Now, all we have to do is dig through somebody's wall, their pictures, and their friends to form an often false idea of who they are. We confuse number of friends with friendship and status updates with vulnerability.
Solution: Don’t kill the mystery! Let the relationship grow organically. It’s OK to check out someone’s profile, just keep in mind that it’s not a complete picture of who they are. If you’re in a new relationship, wait a couple of weeks before friending them. Make sure you really like your date, before you “Like” your date. Let them tell you about that awesome thing that happened last year instead of scrutinizing their Timeline.
Problem: We overanalyze and take everything personally.
She "checked in" at yoga but she told you she'd be at work at that time. What does this mean? Is she lying? You didn't even know she liked yoga! He posted on your wall 10 times today - does that mean he's into you, or that he's bananas. Really? 1478 friends? Who has that many friends? Overanalyzing will drive you crazy, annoy your partner and get you no closer to building the relationship you want.
Solution: If you have a negative reaction to something your partner posted, try not to make assumptions. Simply talk to them about it. Vulnerability and intimacy go hand in hand. And never, ever argue about Facebook on Facebook!
Problem: We get to see how much action our exes are getting!
Once we are broken up with someone, their sex life becomes none of our business. Unfortunately, FB makes it ever so tempting to check out what our exes are up to and whether their new person is hotter, or more exciting or less frumpy than we (think) we are. It's hard to let go of someone we love and even harder for our ego to accept that their lives continue without us, but your work now is to grieve the relationship and move on.
Solution: This one’s easy. If seeing a picture of your ex is worth a thousand words and most of those words are expletives, simply hide them from your newsfeed, or defriend them until things get easier.
It’s not that your new boyfriend isn’t the most amazing kisser, or that the video of your wife giving birth to your first born isn’t absolutely magnificent. It’s just that they might not want everyone in the world to know about it.
Solution: Be discerning with what you post online. Never post something that you wouldn’t show your partner in person. Give your partner a say in what you present about them online and learn about their preferences. Take this opportunity to practice collaboration.
It's just not that complicated...
... it’s also not Facebook’s fault that you’re hurting but rather, your relationship to FB and the behaviors involved. If you or your partner's online activity is causing you to suffer, ask yourself what you can do to make some changes for the better, and let your online activity reflect the values that you wish to cultivate within your relationship.
Lonely Forever? No Way.