For college students, if it’s Facebook, it’s love

For college students, if it’s Facebook, it’s love

By Joanne Kenen
Dec 4, 2007

For the Facebook generation, love
now comes with a drop-down menu.

facebooklove.jpg

 

Stephanie Endicott and Marcus Smallegan, first-year students at George
Washington University, display a photograph of themselves on their
Facebook website, in Washington, Nov. 25, 2007. For the Facebook
generation, love now comes with a drop-down menu. (Jonathan
Ernst/Reuters)

With profiles on the Facebook social networking site
(http://www.facebook.com/) almost de rigueur on college
campuses, students can define their relationship status with
menu choices ranging from "married" to that perennial favorite,
"It’s complicated."

"It’s complicated" could also describe the emotional
calculations people in their late teens and early 20s make as
they decide whether their relationships are what they call
"Facebook-worthy."

For Stephanie Endicott and Marcus Smallegan, first year
students at George Washington University, announcing to the
world that they had found love in a college dorm was a
no-brainer.

"It was important for me to share this with my friends since I’m so far
away," Endicott, attending school 3,000 miles away from her home in
Maple Valley, Washington, said as she clasped Smallegan’s hand on a
park bench on the campus.

"Neither of us had been in a really good relationship
before and ours turned really good really fast," added
Smallegan, who had posted a relationship on Facebook once
before, only to have that girl move out of state and break up
with him via a text message on his cell phone.

Some of their friends, however, have had less harmonious
Facebook experiences. Both Endicott and Smallegan know of other
college students who thought they were in a relationship —
only to have it all blow up when they tried to link their two
Facebook profiles as a couple, an option that requires the
consent of both parties.

"It was this major emotional crisis breakdown," Smallegan
said of a close friend at a Midwestern university who was
heartbroken when her cyberlink was rebuffed by a young man who
thought they were "just friends."

Not all students post their relationship status. For some,
it’s a matter of privacy. For others, it’s all about
marketability.

"I have NEVER changed my Facebook status — it has always
been single, even when I started to get involved with girls. I
think it’s better this way, until you are VERY serious, because
people look, people talk, etc., and unless it is super-serious
it can ruin any chance with any other girl!" one young man, who
asked that his name be withheld to avoid alienating his current
and many ex-girlfriends, wrote in an e-mail.

But for many couples, being "Facebook-worthy" confers a
status on a relationship.

When a couple was "going steady" in the 1950s, the young
man might have let his girlfriend wear his Varsity team sweater
or given her his fraternity pin. But the 1960s swept aside
those rituals. Now the Facebook link has become a
publicly-recognized symbol of a reasonably serious intent short
of being engaged or moving in together.

"For those in a relationship, the theme that kept echoing
was that Facebook made it official," said Nicole Ellison, an
assistant professor of telecommunication and information
studies at Michigan State University who has studied social
networking sites. "That was the term they used. And when the
relationship fell apart, when you broke up on Facebook, that’s
when the breakup was official."

Facebook even produces a little red broken heart icon when
a couple splits up.

Duke University student Adam Zell concurred. "Putting it on
Facebook made it official," said Zell, who had a "serious
sit-down relationship talk" with his girlfriend last year after
two or three months together. They made a joint decision to put
"in a relationship" on Facebook, and link profiles.

Dave Berkman, who does mental health counseling at the
University of Wisconsin clinic, finds that some students feel
compelled to define themselves on a Facebook page, or to
compulsively update their status over and over again.

"People are beginning to use it more than phones, more than
text messages, more than instant messaging, even more than
talking in person," he said. "It speeds things up. People are
prone to define where they are so they can show other people
(online)."

If Facebook can certify a relationship, it can also destroy
one. Ellison in her research learned of one young couple in a
"Facebook-worthy" relationship. But he cheated with a young
woman who naturally looked up his Facebook profile. When she
saw he had an "official" Facebook girlfriend, she contacted the
other woman.

"Then the two of them were in cahoots to make this guy’s
life miserable," Ellison said. "So if you are in a relationship
and it’s listed on Facebook, don’t cheat."

(Reporting by Joanne Kenen; Editing by Eddie Evans)

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