Relationship status: It’s complicated

Ngoni Muzofa

IF you have watched the movie Social Network, you would recall the scene where Eduardo –– Facebook co-founder –– was confronted by his girlfriend Christy over his Facebook profile, which listed him as “single”. Eduardo lamely claims he does not know how to update his profile, leading to a series of events which ultimately lead to the end of their relationship.

Social Network is a 2010 film about the founding of the social networking website Facebook and the lawsuits that ensued. It stars Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake among others and won the Best Motion Picture at the Golden Globe awards last Sunday.
As this scenario shows, social networks have brought about a host of complexities in the realm of relationships.
More Zimbabweans are connecting to social network sites and to borrow a Facebook phrase, it has made things complicated.  Social networking, particularly being on Facebook, has become a by-word for being upwardly mobile and in tune with current trends and fads.
Relationships can never be the same in an era where –– through social networks –– one leaves behind an electronic trail. In the domain of relationships, personal and sensitive information is always at the risk of being exposed.
There are six relationship categories Facebook users can choose from: single, in a relationship, engaged, married, it’s complicated, and in an open relationship. Users can choose not to list a status, but according to Facebook roughly 60% of its users do, with “single” and “married” the most common statuses.
One common theme among romantically inclined Facebook users is that there are almost infinite ways for the Facebook relationship status to go in the wrong direction. Firstly there is the significant other who does not want to enlist the other on their account. A number of married people –– for instance –– have found an escape fantasy world in the social media. Some have linked up and rekindled affairs with “old flames” –– information they would do well to keep close to their chests. Having one’s wife or husband, as a friend, would open a can of worms.
The discovery, by friends, of a relationship that has disintegrated is usually accompanied with a chorus of comments — comments that while perhaps well-intended can make a breakup seem more devastating than it is. Experts say psychologically it is something overpoweringly concrete and final. It is a public announcement with an instant broadcast to the user’s closest circle of friends, family and acquaintances.
According to the BBC a British mother-of-four was murdered by her partner days after she changed her Facebook status from “married” to “single”.
Relationships can face added stress, greater pressure and more arguments with a public Facebook status. For many partners, a change of Facebook relationship status can become a serious issue. Whether publicly acknowledging a new relationship –– going from “single” to “in a relationship” –– or breaking-up, the psychological effect should not be underestimated.
“Players”, juggling two or more girlfriends, also have had a torrid time trying to keep their various love interests at bay. My friend Farai is a case in point. Until a fortnight ago he had on his profile a picture of himself and his “official” girlfriend. He now has another girlfriend who is unaware that he is already attached. Since then he has removed his profile picture and left it blank, arousing suspicion from his “official” girlfriend. She is demanding to know why the picture was removed whilst the new girlfriend has made friend requests to him which he keeps on ignoring.
Some have used social media to show their anger or settle scores with their partners. A partner may change their relationship status from “in a relationship” to “single” to fix a partner or bring attention to the other’s misdemeanours after an altercation.
However, users should be advised that an absence of any relationship status on Facebook is the best option, even if it comes across as being noncommittal or unromantic.
“When you have to ‘end’ your relationship on Facebook, it makes the breakup official for sure. It is a point of no return,” says Farai.
In the end it is important to remember that relationships are real, live, breathing things. They should not be defined by a status or an icon.