Adventures in Digitally Declared Dating
By Alysse Kennedy
My journey with Facebook began when I was 17. I had just begun to successfully navigate high school social life: I got my braces taken off, outgrew my glasses, decided full bangs were my signature look (years before Zooey Deschanel made them cool), and started dating my first boyfriend. Around this time, Facebook swept in, bringing new modes for communicating with the world and portraying your position within it. Just like in high school, on Facebook, everyone loves a good love story—or a good scandal. Back then, my Facebook “friends” loved to see relationship status stories flash on their newsfeeds, prefaced with the iconic red heart emoticon that was either whole or broken (a little distinction that made a big difference).
A relationship status going from “In a relationship with…” to “single” makes for embarrassing Facebook gossip, but when I was seventeen with a cute boyfriend that I wanted to show off, I wasn’t thinking about that. I didn’t want to seem clingy, so instead of talking about declaring our relationship on Facebook with my boyfriend, I did what any intrepid 17-year-old would do: I got my friends to bring it up with him in the cavalier half-joking way of a teenage girl. When I received a “…wants to be in a relationship with you” request from my boyfriend later that day, I was ecstatic, but, putting up a cool front, I ribbed him for it before clicking accept.
Lucky for us, that first relationship had some longevity. Over the months, I watched my friends date guys who didn’t last. Their statuses fluctuated from taken to single, and occasionally venture into that shaky territory of “It’s complicated.”
There came, however, a point sometime around when most of my friends started university, when a radical movement began: what if we just don’t have statuses? Suddenly, the clearly defined realm of the dating world got hazy as those in tumultuous relationships redacted their love lives. Who was dating whom? Who knew? And did the movement to obscure relationship information mean nobody cared about their relationship status any longer?
You would think that this would have been the perfect time to get dumped. You would be wrong. By the time my two-year relationship ended, newsfeeds were so barren of little hearts that even a quick switch and deletion to “single” made a splash. Girls commented on these status changes with sad face emoticons, virtual hugs, and inspirational quips from He’s Just Not That Into You. Boys, being boys, “liked” my new status and then started chatting me up.
In the emotional yo-yoing that followed (we got back together; we broke up, again), having a relationship status flicker like a strobe light was emotionally complicated and, in retrospect, not a good idea. At the time, it was important to me, because if we weren’t “Facebook Official,” I felt like we were hiding. If I could go back in time and tell my 19-year-old self one thing, it would be this: if you’re feeling this insecure about a guy, he isn’t the guy you should be with.
At 21, I finally got rid of the boyfriend and my status entirely. I was an enigma. I barely dated, but grew close with the boy (literally) next door. Except he wasn’t a boy: he was older and didn’t play childish games. When he confessed his feelings for me, I thought “here we go again,” but there was something in his eyes that reflected a life different than the one I had put in the past.
This time around I didn’t want my relationship to have anything to do with Facebook. This time, it was his friends who slyly asked me why his status was “In a relationship,” and I had nothing. Over the next few months, I started taking relationship baby steps until I reached that unnerving Facebook Official time once again. This time, the result was pleasantly surprising. All the friends who had been rooting for us since they first knew of our crushes were there with smiley faces, heart icons and comments of “Finally!”
I know girls who list all their old relationships on their Facebook history, like a dating résumé, often with ex-beaus still tagged. One click on a name takes you to a three-year-old photograph of the happy couple kissing. This feature is a reminder that we live in a strange world.
The issue I have is not that going Facebook Official is opening a can of worms, but that this can was never closed to begin with. Maybe it’s not the best idea to declare who you’re dating online, but having lived through the horrors of a public breakup, I’d go through it again to get to where I am now with the guy I love. That means being all in, even digitally, and there’s nothing “complicated” about that.