Monday, August 22, 2011

Has Social Media Messed Up Intimate Relationships?

Over at the blog Notes from the Dating Trenches, there is a good post about sharing, boundaries, and social media. Kelly writes:

There have been a few articles lately on the effect social media is having on us in terms of over-sharing. I just read one on Yahoo! about how one man’s tweet about a bad date caused hundreds of people to respond and share their own, obviously worse, stories. Like a competition. One woman said that when she showed up for her date the man asked her to go home and change because he didn’t like what she was wearing. Another man said he was freaked out because his date brought 25 photos of Sylvia Plath’s gravesite as a conversation starter (she sounds like a treat). Another admitted to accidentally pushing his date down the stairs. The man who started the tweet-a-thon was surprised, noting: “People don’t mind recounting things that in a previous age would have been considered deeply personal.” I’m sure he got over it though since he gained 5,000 followers.

Like Kelly, I'm troubled by the ways social media are sometimes used in the context of intimate relationships. It seems to me that the lines between public and private have become quite blurry, sometimes to the point where people are willing to subject their entire relationships to public scrutiny (like on these reality dating competition TV shows.) One of the major problems with this is that every little high experienced, as well as every mistake made, is both magnified and amplified. You tweet your first kiss to a thousand "friends" and receive several dozen virtual high fives in a matter of hours. Or you write about your latest fight on Facebook and have dozens of sympathizers calling your partner all sorts of names and telling you to get rid of him or her.

How is it possible to develop and maintain a clear and realistic assessment of your relationship amidst all of this?

Furthermore, how is it possible to stand on your own two feet, and make your own decisions about your partnership when you have dozens of other voices nearly instantly appearing in your head to compete with whatever your gut is telling you?

So, here are a few guidelines I have for myself, which might be helpful for you as well.

1. Don't share current relationship conflict on social media. If I want to talk about current struggles with others online, I might head to one of the numerous dating and relationship sites. I have a list of excellent ones on the sidebar of this blog.

And I'd be more than willing to host letters or write about questions readers have about current conflicts/challenges.

The main point in this is to aim towards minimizing harm, while also supporting the need to work through issues with others.

2. I don't have a relationship status on Facebook. Early on, I did change my relationship status a few times, and found that it just led to confusion and having to tell people stories about very short term relationships that really didn't need to be told. Dating someone for 3 or 4 weeks doesn't need to be highly publicized, nor does the end of that connection.

3. I have steered this blog away from "real-time" intimate relationships. Perhaps there might be some reason to break that rule in the future, but for now, I think it's a smart decision that also upholds point #1.

How about you? How do you handle social media and your intimate relationships?


  1. I handle it largely by not having much social media involvement! I haven't got the energy or time to wade through tweets all day, and anyway, if people I know have anything interesting to share then no doubt I will hear it from them on the phone later. And I am just not social enough to see the point of joining Facebook - again, if I have news then I will pass it on in a more personal way.

    On the other hand, I do blog about relationship stuff, and quite (pronounced "very") intimate elements, sometimes. Though always with a point, not just a "this is the latest update" kind of thing (unless it's "new relationship, yay!" or "relationship ended *sob*"). Then again, I have always wanted to share happyjoy and sadgloom times with friends and family, so this is just an expression of my natural inclination. As for conflicts, in general either they are not worth talking about, or else I feel that to give a proper account would require sharing stuff on both sides that should not be shared generally, but only in one-to-one communications with close friends.

  2. I just want to comment on the refreshing thoughtfulness and maturity of both your entry, Nathan, and your comment, SnowdropExplodes. (Great name!—Nathan, does that count as one of your "virtual high-fives"? ;)

    Actually, I want to try practicing using more "I-statements" and feelings/needs vocabulary (a la Nonviolent Communication), rather than judging. One of the things I remember most about one of only two (at most) NVC workshops I attended at Clouds in Water Zen Center, is the statement the instructor made that even a positive label—"good," "mature"—is still imposing a judgment on the "object" of comment, instead of owning my pleasant/nurturing (or opposite) feelings in response to my encounter with that "object."

    So, let me restate my original paragraph of this comment, to say that reading you folks' blog entry and comment, I feel warm, more at ease, more interested and curious, and more desirous of sharing my own experience and feelings in a similar way that I see you doing.

    These are feelings that I find I don't have nearly as often as I want when I read a lot of things on the internet (social media, blogs, etc.). I think I often feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information that seems to "go nowhere" (that I can comprehend), numb or more anxious after reading comment after comment where people mostly seem to be judging each other or third parties.

    I feel grateful to you both, again, for contributing to the opportunity to experience alternate feelings while I read your work.

    May you be well.

  3. Is there a place for intimacy in Social Media? i dont think so, not under the current definitions.

    I think I equate intimacy with privacy.

    This may be a generational thing!

    However, I prefer to keep a part of me private and separate - revealed only to those I know intimately.

    Of course, there is a place for self revelation but I guess Im big on boundaries.



  4. Rosemary,

    I would say I lean more in the direction of privacy and not sharing online overall when it comes to intimate relationships, as my post above points out. It may be that those of us under 40 are more "open" with less stringent boundaries - in part from the internet - but I also think more folks are trying to integrate all this online stuff in a healthier way.

    At 35, I feel like a tweener though, in that I didn't grow up with the internet, and I do sense that those younger than I am are perhaps more "naturally" plugged in, which has it's pluses and minuses.


    Thanks for the comment. Even though I do a lot of online writing, reading, and whatnot these days, I also find at times a sense of overwhelm coming up. Perhaps another helpful idea would be to instill "offline days" as a regular part of one's week or month. Especially those folks who spend a lot of time online, and generally feel more inclined to share a lot online about their relationships.

    Snowdrop - I like the point you make about many conflicts not really being worth talking about online. I have felt that too. Sometimes, it seems like people are addicted to the roller coaster that comes from sharing and responding about their conflicts - and that it doesn't really matter if the problems are the same thing over and over again, which is often the case.

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