In “Social Network,” the idea of the “Relationship Status” is presented as the cherry on the sundae, the finishing touch that makes facebook Ready, makes it Cool. The college student perspective was that it was a way to advertise being single or to find out if a love interest might be available.
In the world of grown ups, though, it has instead taken on the role of communicating to people about a big ol’ life event that would otherwise require cumbersome phone calls and emails or clumsy mass emails (“sorry for the mass email, but I wanted all of you to be the first to know…”) or even, god forbid, sending MAIL. Hardly ever does anyone send an email or call, and they definitely don’t send announcements in the mail to let the world know about these things. They post it on Facebook.
That little red heart and a single sentence “X is in a relationship with Y” or “X is engaged to Y” or “X is married to Y,” stands in place of the mountain-top cry of “I found them! They were there waiting all along!” Or it might mean, “See, I’m NOT a failure, a loser, a freak, or a jerk; someone likes me!” Or it might mean, “Leave me the fuck alone; I am claimed.” Or it could mean, “I Claim This Person. Hands Off.” Or all of those things, or something else. What the friends receive is simply a sentence and a little red heart.
I’ve watched it happen to my friends and family – my sister and brother both went from “in a relationship” to “engaged” to “married” in the past few years, and Andrew and Sabrina, too, went from soup to nuts on FB, and the stories behind each were complex and varied and deep. I’ve seen it happen to friends I know less well, too; and I’ve built stories in my mind about each little red heart, and I’ve felt a warm happy twinge to see just a little more love in the world.
(Always the stories I invent are about love, never fear. Why assume someone is in distress when the scant available information just as easily supports an assumption of joy?)
Now, for the first time since I joined Facebook, I’ve experienced a change in my own relationship status. The only people I called were my mom and my sister. I emailed a couple other people. And everyone else got “Emily is in a relationship with Rich” – seven words and a little red heart. Which, for me, meant something along the lines of, “It’s like I accidentally slammed my face into a door or fell down the stairs – I was looking the wrong way when all of a sudden THERE IT WAS WHAM and I’m off my feet and shaking my head to clear my vision – but in a good way.”
The person on the other end of my facebook status change has way way way more FB friends than I do, and he pretty much instantly had a couple dozen “likes” and a number of comments about his status change. It was more low-key for me; indeed, in a fit of self-consciousness I “removed post,” so that it wouldn’t be too much of a public proclamation, ya know?
(Though now I’m writing a blog post about it, and many more people see this than my FB, so what the hell, Emily?)
It’s a strange thing, the facebook declaration of relationship. A call or an email (or indeed a blog post) lets us tell the true story. But maybe it’s a gift to let people invent their own stories from that single sentence and the little red heart. It’s like handing them the perfect romance novel, custom tailored to the individual’s romantic inclinations, all in seven words.