Love in the time of Facebook

“We are both the leaders and victims of the Internet generation – and what may be the end of romance entirely."

Rachel Skybetter is a senior majoring in journalism.

I remember my first introduction to the notion of Internet flirting. I was in sixth grade, and I was innocently perusing a Hanson chat room when I was singled out: “Hey GoalGirl42, A/S/L?” (Age/Sex/Location, for those of you not fluent in chat pick-up lines). I don’t remember my response, but it was probably an exaggeration. “A/S/L?” has since given way to AIM, Xanga, MySpace and obviously, Facebook. We are both the leaders and victims of the Internet generation – and what may be the end of romance entirely.

Looking back, I can trace my past relationships to awkward “convos” on Instant Messenger in which I and whatever boy of the moment would spend hours getting to know each other. We’d share likes and dislikes, our deepest secrets and our feelings for each other – entirely online. I can’t remember the last time I was asked for my phone number, but I can easily recall the last time I gave my screen name away (coincidentally, through a Facebook message). We thrive off instant gratification, and it’s hard to remember a time before e-mail replaced love letters or “A/S/L?” replaced “SWAK.”

While the Internet is a useful medium for communicating, it’s also deceitful. It’s easy to hide behind the guise of the computer screen and put on a front of wit and charm. After all, there’s nothing the delete key can’t solve to ensure a perfectly calculated response. It’s great if you’re outgoing and confident online, just as long as you can be that way in person. I’ve had some wonderful conversations through AIM, during which eye contact and social skills don’t matter, that have resulted in cringe moments in person.

Since the AIM craze subsided slightly after high school, Facebook has revolutionized the way we date in college – from “Oh my god, he friended me!” to “What the hell? He detagged every picture!” Facebook marks every monumental moment of a relationship for hundreds of other people to see. First, there are the cryptic messages and pokes, then it moves on to flirting on a “wall” for all mutual friends to see, until finally it escalates to the coveted “In a Relationship with _____.”

It does not end there.

There’s the “friending” of each other’s closest friends, the changing of default profile pictures to include the new partner and the persistently optimistic status updates. All of these changes litter everyone else’s news feeds, resulting in congratulatory wall posts and some scowls from bitter hags like me. Pictures of the duo are posted documenting every date and, in some extreme cases, the significant other’s name is listed under “Interests.”

Unfortunately, Facebook has a much uglier side.

Breakups are never easy, but Facebook makes them a lot worse. There’s the initial dumping, and then there’s the Facebook dumping – or, as I like to refer to it, “the cyber lobotomy.” Understandably, one must cancel the relationship status, knowing that their friends (all 1,016 in my case) will see that little broken heart icon next to their name as soon as the page is refreshed. It’s as if Mark Zuckerberg gets some cruel pleasure from displaying broken hearts for the world to see. The only way to effectively avoid the inevitable slew of post-breakup wall posts and messages is to temporarily deactivate your account before the cancellation of the relationship.

Then comes the emo status and profile updates, because as the Internet generation we find comfort mourning in a public forum. Besides, there’s always the hope that the ex is monitoring your page. “Monitoring” is a friendly word for “obsessively stalking someone’s profile,” which is a natural (and unhealthy) step after a devastating breakup. Slowly, as pictures of new flings are posted, the ones of the ex-happy couple are detagged, forever fading into cyber history. Screen names are removed from buddy lists, MySpace Top 8’s are rearranged and lovey-dovey comments are deleted. The same virtual world that cultivated the relationship is also its final resting place.

So now what? Do we revert to real dates and late-night phone calls? It may already be too late for us, at least until we graduate. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Facebook launched its own matchmaking application in the coming months. So in preparation: 21ish/F/Bloomington, U?


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