Friday, January 30, 2009

Insert Beyonce Reference Here

Facebook wants to make women (and for all I know men) neurotic about their relationships, because as everyone knows, change in relationship status is what makes people click on profiles, leading to hours spent staring into the abyss. I'm assuming Facebook tends to make more money the more time its users spend on it. (There ends my grand theory of economics.)

On my Facebook sidebar, distracting from all that pertinent information about which of my Facebook friends are newly single or engaged, there's always an ad either for a) reliably hideous engagement rings or b) "Is He Distant?", with a photo indicating a man who's Just Not That Into the woman he's with. It is always one or the other. Because relationships (well, In a Relationships) can, Facebook will have you believe, take one of two paths: imminent and diamond-encrusted marriage-and-kids, or so-overdom. Either He, the Boy, has bought you a $1 (?) Vellagio (Bellagio? Villagio?) Engagement Ring, or he's staring off into the distance... perhaps at one of your Friends who is Now Single.

While Facebook is correct that relationships do typically either end or get more serious, these are subliminal messages telling you to add drama to your life, ASAP, because if your relationship status flat-lines, your profile is effectively dead to all but the most procrastinatory of Facebook users. The point of them is to push users faster than they'd go otherwise in one or the other direction, so that their Facebook friends can get all OMG about the bouleversement of the day. Sneaky, sneaky Facebook.

(Presumably not mentioning relationship status at all leads to ads that play no less cleverly on the probable neuroses of the single and/or discreet. There is no way out!)


Jeff said...

here's always an ad either for a) reliably hideous engagement rings or b) "Is He Distant?", with a photo indicating a man who's Just Not That Into the woman he's with.

Are those the ads that get served to women? I keep getting solicited to buy acreage in North Carolina.

David Schraub said...

I feel like Marx would have a field day over Facebook.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


You don't specify your Facebook relationship status, but I'm sure therein lie the pleas to buy property.

David Schraub,

He wouldn't have known where to begin.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I have nothing in the relationship status field, and I get a lot of dating web site or class ads.

[About 5 conversations I've had this week, though, have made me more convinced than ever no good can come of specifying ANY sort of relationship status on facebook]

Dana said...

Elizabeth is right: no good can come from that. The feed bot is buggy and will constantly report changes. I say nothing, and I'm in a committed relationship and my profile pic is a pic of us because I look nice in it. While I get what it means to represent yourself as part of a relationship to the world, I don't like the idea that "it's not official until you declare it on Facebook." No! I am all for declaratory symbolism--there's a reason why legalizing marriage for all is so important, not only for the legal benefits it confers but also for the fact of recognition, that you can present your relationship in a formal way--these institutions and symbols have great meaning. Facebook and social networking sites? Far less. It means more to me that we have integrated our lives to the extent that our friends and family have met, and it will mean more when we take steps to formal commitment, but I really don't care about broadcasting my relationship status to my loose online social network. My partner isn't even on Facebook anyway.

I use the Adblocker Plus Firefox extension. I see no ads! Gmail ads sneak through though, but I have learned to ignore them.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Elizabeth and Dana,

You both make good points. (And I'm especially intrigued by this ad-blocker extension.) There are plenty of fantastic arguments for keeping one's entanglements off Facebook.

To give the counter-argument, although one I'm not fully convinced by... the sense I've gotten from others who put "in a relationship" - consistent with my own view, as this is indeed my Facebook relationship status - is that it's done more a message to the person you're with, that you're open about your taken-ness and the identity of your partner, than an announcement to anyone else in your network. A partner unwilling to change status is either put off by all things personal on Facebook, or really *is* ambivalent about the relationship. There's no one answer that fits all situations. Some will claim anti-Facebook sentiment when they in fact want their status ambiguous so their partners in other cities don't learn of one another. It's the same with something like Valentine's Day. There will be those who truly do think the day is idiotic and not to be acknowledged, and there are others who might do so with a person they *really* liked, but not with someone they're sort of eh about. A woman who agrees the day is dumb can still find herself rendered neurotic if the guy she's seeing doesn't make a mention of it, because she may not know whether the guy's avoidance of it means something about his feelings towards her or not.

Because of this ambiguity, institutions like Facebook and Valentine's Day maintain their grip on otherwise sensible adults.

Dana said...

So, usually I am anti-Valentines after a couple of years of being really into it in my first relationship back in college and then many years of singledom. This year, I'm going to strike a middle balance and give him a card. We're spending the weekend with my best friend and her husband, so it'll be sort of a couples thing but not too high pressure. I don't want to go out to dinner, and I don't want to exchange gifts. I feel like I did with my first boyfriend because I was young and these fake institutions had meaning to me in my nascent romantic education, so I felt like I had to prove something. Now, as a sensible adult, I feel more secure and all I want is to write down words I say all the time and take a weekend off from work and introduce my beloved to my closest friends.

I do know what you mean, though. I was unsure how "public" we were until I found out his friends and parents knew all about me. So even if he was on facebook and didn't list a relationship status, I wouldn't mind, knowing that he has signaled his commitment in really meaningful and public ways. It's sort of like the wedding ring thing: wearing it presents your relationship to the whole world, but unless the underlying relationship is solid, it's just a sign that doesn't express much Althusserian significance. Some of my siblings are doctors who can't wear rings, but their marriages are plenty secure. I would wear mine and not stress out too much if my partner did not wear his, if I had no reason to doubt that he represented himself as partnered in other ways and did not seek attention from the opposite sex in the way that a single man would.