How social media affects modern college relationships

Social media has allowed for certain types of interactions that did not exist before, such as “liking” someone’s photo or the use of emojis. Photo by Laura Claypool

One of the earliest features on Facebook – back when it was called thefacebook – was the option to add one’s relationship status. Alongside the traditional basic information, such as name, birthdate and sex, users were prompted to publicly share whether or not they were in a romantic relationship.

In today’s age, it is common to express whether one is or is not in a relationship on social media, whether it be sharing countless photographs together or writing the initials of a significant other in one’s Instagram bio.

“Facebook allows users to share their relationship status and photos taken with their romantic partners to a mix of close friends, acquaintances, new friends, old friends, family members and strangers,” said Kerk Kee, an associate professor in the School of Communication. “This digital display affordance creates a situation where users have to constantly ‘perform’ to an audience, especially when the relationship is going well.”

“I feel like people who are actually your friends know you are in a relationship without being Facebook official, which is what is important to me,” said Liv Hutchings, a junior business administration major. “I will say that becoming Facebook official does show that your significant other is willing to basically tell the world that you are a couple which is really nice and I guess comforting.”

Choosing when to change a relationship status on Facebook has become something that people are conscious about and must make a decision on.

“I think you want to wait until four months or so, just so you are fully committed and know that it is probably going somewhere, so it is not just a fling,” Hutchings said. “You want to wait until you can see it lasting for a while.”

Molly Miller, a sophomore business administration major, agrees with Hutchings, saying that waiting several months before changing your relationship status on Facebook is reasonable.

“Being Facebook official is not that important to me. I don’t think it contributes anything substantial to making the relationship any more real or official,” Miller said.

Kee said that social media makes relationships more public.

“When a couple goes through a rocky time, the question of authenticity comes into their (digital) performance, creating an awkward tension that was not as public and constant before the age of social media,” Kee said.

Changes in a relationship have a correlation to one’s social media presence, such as a couple entering a long-distance relationship, Miller said.

“My relationship became a lot more private when my boyfriend and I started doing long distance. In high school we were together all the time, so we would have lots of pictures posted for school events and dances and such. Now we only have pictures when we occasionally see each other, and even those I tend not to post,” Miller said.

Hutchings described her trouble with sharing photos about a relationship on social media.

“There can be a part of you that is wondering if a guy is trying to hide you when nothing is present on social media,” Hutchings said. “Part of me feels like I should document and show off cute dates and stuff. However, in reality, it is meant for the two people in the relationship.”

Social media has allowed for certain types of interactions that did not exist before, such as “liking” someone’s photo or the use of emojis. Social media has also led to partners being able to keep an eye on each other in new ways.

“Online surveillance is one way to express this social media-related jealousy and involves behaviors such as asking for the partner’s password, requesting that they unfriend, block, or not friend or talk to romantic rivals on social media, or snooping through the partner’s private and chat online messages,” said Jennifer Bevan, a professor in the School of Communication. “Surveillance is linked with increased physical and psychological aggression, and should thus be avoided as a compulsive response to social media jealousy.”

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