Are We In A Relationship If We’re Not “In A Relationship?”
My question isn’t complicated, but for some reason I can’t figure it out. My question is: how important is it to be “in a relationship” on Facebook when you’re in a relationship?? My last boyfriend didn’t want to be “in” one with me, and then we broke up. My current boyfriend WANTS to be in one, and for some reason, I find myself totally opposed to it. Maybe because I can’t understand why he wants it so badly, now that I feel I’ve “grown out of” that. My girl friends say it’s just another way guys avoid commitment/cheat, but I’m not interested in cheating and I still don’t want to do it. I can’t even explain WHY I don’t want to do it this time around, or why it mattered so f***ing much at the end of my last relationship, except maybe that we had underlying problems anyway? Does this mean I have problems with my boyfriend that I’m denying to myself, or does it mean that HE (or the whole world) has problems? I guess my questions are, 1)When did this become an issue?? (which I guess is a rhetorical question), and 2) What does it mean???
Even though your first question is supposed to be rhetorical, I think it makes sense to start there. My earliest memories of Facebook date back to the beginning of high school, when a college friend made an account for me — because back then, you had to have a college email account to be on it. And back then, Facebook was awesome, because it allowed my friends and me to do stuff online that we couldn’t do around adults — make vulgar jokes, celebrate what we could remember of boozy parties and garage band shows, and announce our relationships to the only people who would take them seriously — namely, other kids our age. Facebook was like the world, but without the adults, and although that made it more savage at times (the bullying was awful), for the most part it was exciting and fun — and private.
These days, however, Facebook has become the opposite of private. I’m not a particularly active user, but my friends include former bosses, aunts and uncles, cousins, and current and former professors, as well as plenty of exes and ex-friends whom I don’t feel like sharing personal information with. Hell, I have friends who are Facebook friends with their own parents. While back in high school, sharing information on Facebook meant sharing it with my social circle — the people who were likely to find out who you were dating and what you wore on Halloween, anyway, regardless of whether you posted it yourself — it now involves sharing that information with your colleagues, coworkers, and extended family.
Even information most people would be happy to discuss at dinner parties, like whom they voted for, can become sensitive material around people who hold different views. It no longer seems worthwhile to catalogue your favorite music and risk alienating an admissions committee somewhere. And the problems get worse when you think about sex and romance. Back in high school, I had friends who had come out on Facebook but hadn’t come out to their conservative relatives or parents — it was just an easy way to tell your friends whom you were dating, or who you wanted to date, without making a fuss. Now, sharing your relationship status on Facebook means telling people who beforehand wouldn’t have known otherwise, which is a much riskier business.
The strange truth that’s emerging as Facebook gets more and more popular is that to some extent, secrecy is a well-adjusted impulse. I’m ardently Pro-Choice, to use a personal example, but I’ve learned over time that it’s not worthwhile to argue the matter with some of my relatives. And when a high school teacher of mine friended me recently, and I saw that she was “in a relationship,” I sort of wished I hadn’t known — not because I didn’t want her to date, or disliked her boyfriend, but because I preferred to imagine her only as a teacher and scholar, not as a woman whose problems and weekend plans were probably not dissimilar to my own. To take up a more serious case, for gay, bi, trans, and queer people, keeping one’s sexual orientation private in the workplace or at family reunions often reflects an understanding of the unjust and prejudiced world we live in, rather than a lack of self-acceptance. Now that Facebook offers less privacy than any single event or gathering in the real world except reality TV, those concerns carry over to the online world in a singular way. In some respects, the worst aspects of the real world — its inequality and injustice — have become less avoidable on Facebook than in real life.
Facebook relationships therefore mean different things to different people. If your boyfriend doesn’t want to go public with your relationship, it could mean that he doesn’t want to wreck his chances with someone else; it could mean he has extremist relatives or coworkers whom he doesn’t want to offend; or it could just mean that he doesn’t want cousins calling him from across the country to ask what happened if you break up (my own greatest fear where dating is concerned).
I suspect that your case is closest to the latter situation. Since you’re an undergrad female, the fact that you’re dating men doesn’t seem to be the issue, and I believe you when you say there’s nobody else in the picture. It also sounds like you had your heart hurt at the end of your last relationship. I would venture to guess that you don’t want to take the psychological risk involved in telling everyone you know about your new boyfriend — because that means admitting to everyone you know that you don’t think you’ll break up any time soon, and the last time you felt that way, you were dumped shortly afterwards.
Talk with your boyfriend and assure him that it’s not a reflection of the way you feel about him so much now as the way you’re afraid you could feel if things went badly. Tell him that everyone that matters to you already knows about your relationship, and that Facebook doesn’t reflect the most important aspects of your life or identity any more. If he’s still unhappy, offer a compromise: offer to change your status to “in a relationship,” but withhold his name, or offer him a date by which you’ll change your status if you’re still dating.
Look, at the end of the day, he’s not wrong; no matter how you phrase it, ultimately, the reason you’re having trouble with this status stuff is because you are having trouble committing to him — you’re not taking a chance on him, making that leap of faith. However, what he might not see is how big of a commitment “Facebook relationships” really are, and how vulnerable they can make us feel.
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