Brittany Kelly - Study

Facebook Relationship Status: Confusion Over Privacy or A Way of Expression?

Just the Beginning

Single, in a relationship, open relationship, and the list goes on and on it seems. They may all be words we use every day, but what do they really mean? In a normal day-to-day conversation if you asked someone what single means she would tell you not dating anybody, “riding solo”. But we’re in the 21st century, we as humans do not just not date anybody, we “talk,” “hook-up” (what does that even mean you may ask). So many terms and yet there really is no set answer. One may think this is confusing, but what does it mean when we add this confusion to technology, Facebook. As Eli Pariser states in The Filter Bubble, “relationship status updates, for example, are weighed very highly; everybody likes to know who’s dating whom” (38). Do we do it to flaunt our statuses? The real question is — what is the point of displaying our relationship status? Relationship statutes seem to be defining each individual. Something that was so simple is now being converted into a complexity of questions and confusion. Simply, Facebook relationship statuses are conflicting with privacy, but in the meantime we never stop to think, “…relationships are not media” (Pariser 185).

Back When…

Back in the day, a relationship had so much meaning behind it. I am not trying to down play the word “relationship,” especially since I have not seen that word in my status for over three years, what I am trying to get at is this — why do we base everything on a word that has to be displayed to over 500 of our “friends?”

Words of the Wise

So in trying to figure out how to ask people what their thoughts are about Facebook, I of course went on Facebook to ask what people thought. I asked people to define in their own words what each relationship status meant to them (only asking about the ones that most people in their 20’s have- excluding engagement, divorced, marriage, widowed, separated). My friend Rebecca’s reply was the most interesting, she stated, “there should be a button for: single, very single, playing the field (even though you're not suppose to tell people you're playing the field), seeing, casually dating, hooking up, dating, relationship, open relationship, union, married, engaged and its complicated. And yes, there is a difference between dating someone and being in a relationship with someone…at least, in my book.” So many options and so little time, this is what we have come to. In hearing this I asked her what she meant by some of the statuses. She explained to me how a person could go on a date with someone, but yet they are not committed to that one person; the next night they can go out with someone else. Facebook does not have a status for this, so that person will simply keep her status “single” because “it’s complicated” would be more or less not knowing what is going on in her love life. In Alone Together, Sherry Turkle raises the same questions society asks today, “they are starting to have boyfriends. Should they list themselves as single if they are just starting to date someone new? What if they consider themselves in a relationship, but their boyfriends do not?… So there are misunderstandings and recrimination” (181). All these questions yet many answers.

Watch from 1:18-2:12

Newly Single

In the online article, Do You Suffer From Facebook Relationship Status Anxiety?, Wendy Atterberry discusses a friend of hers relationship status going from in a relationship to single and how much of an effect it had on her. The truth of the breakup for this woman was not the idea that she would have to return her boyfriends stuff, no, it was the sheer fact of changing her status from “in a relationship” to “single.” That is when reality hit her. Why does reality hit over the computer but it does not hit when she comes home to see that her boyfriend is no longer there (Web)? As Sherry Turkle states in Alone Together, “online intimacies, we hope for compassion but often get the cruelty of strangers” (169). We as humans focus too much on what other people will say about this changed relationship status. For example, we become too entranced with answering the questions of others to why we broke up, we do not give ourselves time to even process the reality of it. If people do not want others knowing their business and knowing that they broke up with someone then the fact of the matter is this, do not display it. People are not forced to show their relationship statuses, but yet they feel the need to in order to keep up with others. In the meantime, people are continuing their lives, as is, when the one that was just broken up with is wallowing in the corner trying to figure out how to move on.


“I’m riding solo,” may not just be a song to some, but a way of life. To be “riding solo,” sounds like fun, you know doing your own thing without having any ties… but the question of what it really means keeps going through our minds. Lets get real, Facebook has a status that says “single,” but does that mean that that person is not dating someone? There are many aspects to this. I personally know a girl that had “single” on her status and was dating many, MANY, guys at the same time. She would come in and flaunt to us that she got with “#19.” In amazement this is a person saying this, someone that put a number to the amount of men she “sees.” Lets just back up a few first. When one is “seeing” someone that usually means that they are “talking” to that person, thanks to urban dictionary for making that clear. But according to her she was dating these guys, she wasn’t committed to one, making her keep her relationship “single”. Pretty much she didn’t have any limits and would date whoever turned her way… sad, real sad. A year later and she started dating a guy from home, a few weeks later that “single” went to “in a relationship,” then four months after that he proposed to her… but instead of changing her status she erased it. Most people would be happy with being engaged, but for her, she did not want to display it because she did not want others knowing she was engaged. Just the things people would say knowing very well they have only dated four months kept her from displaying her new life. The ridicule from others kept her from doing this, in reality this shows how the influence of people affects others, causing her to hide her happiness in order to conform to the thoughts of others.

“Single” seems to be a simple word, I mean there is not really much to it, but when it comes to the Facebook world, that is a whole new level. I interviewed some of my friends asking them what “single” means to them. Amazingly most people answered the same way. My one friend Sarah stated, “To me single means no attachments, you are allowed to talk to whoever you want whenever you want. There is not that one special person you keep going back to type of thing. You basically have options, maybe a crush but no ‘go to’ guy.” In hearing this I could not help but wonder, does this mean that person does not have feelings for someone or is it mostly about keeping ones “options opened” and not settling down? This leads me to another interview where my friend (name will not be mentioned) had “single” as her relationship status. She had her relationship as “single” in order to show men that she was not committed to one man, so it was safe to make a move. Even though she had been talking to several men, she had her eye on one specific guy. In thinking that maybe there can be something more between them she changed her relationship status to “in a relationship,” in hopes of him seeing this and hopefully making a move (in some peoples minds it may make sense, but for me, it is confusing). It backfired; causing him to question what was going on. In all this disarray she later found out he was in a relationship, but thanks to Facebook, she did not know this because he had his status hidden. Which leads us into the next topic…

Hidden Relationship Status

Elizabeth Ann Persimmons states in her online article, Five Ways Facebook Destroys Relationships, “Even just taking off the relationship option causes it to be posted that you have changed your relationship status, which can lead to uncomfortable conversations” (Web). When this happens people are led to believe 1. That person does not want to display to the world what her relationship status is, 2. That person can be going through a rough time (break-up or divorce) and she does not want her friends to know what happened, 3. That person can be playing the field, meaning she can be in a relationship but is still talking to other girls who will never know that she is in a “committed” relationship (exactly what happened to my friend, except done to her by a guy). Amanda, a girl I interviewed said the following, “I can tell you, people live off knowledge, also known as facebook being a central everyday thing in some peoples lives. I feel people hide their relationship statuses due to judgment, maybe scared for others to know or they are unsure of being judged, for example having “single,” so they hide it.” Honestly, when I go to a page and see that the relationship is not displayed it makes me questions that persons intentions. I do not know why I feel this, maybe it is because of what happened to my friend, but many questions start to come up when seeing this. Someone I interviewed stated, “It’s not in the open, the relationship status is being hidden for a meaning, so when you don’t have that openness of course you question whether they are in a relationship or single. You really don’t want to ask because it maybe awkward but then again in the back of your mind you can’t help but question it, especially if they start “talking” to you and wanting to go on dates.” That is where we end up, we end up questioning this person’s intention because they are not put on display, but we have to think back to the innocent days of when Facebook was nonexistent (hard to believe right?), a time where we took a person as she was, for the words and actions she displayed. Not having this “security blanket” that we consider Facebook relationship statuses is going against all of the values we once believed.

In a Relationship

For every person I asked to explain “in a relationship” I received (lucklily) the same answer. The people that have “in a relationship” as their statuses are in it for the long run, they know that this is the person they want to be with. Hannah, a friend of mine, has been dating her boyfriend for about a year and stated, “Mine says I am in a relationship because I am in a monogamous relationship with my boyfriend. We do not see other people and we are in a serious, committed relationship for the long run.” There is no confusion with this status, it shows that they each care about each other, just how a real relationship should work. Another interviewee stated, “When I have I’m in a relationship, it means that I am dating someone exclusively. We do everything we can to make each other happy, and that ends up bringing out the best in both of us. It’s not something I say just to say it, I say I’m in a relationship because I mean it and I love being apart of it.” Thankfully people agree with this status, it is the fact of showing others that they are off limits and also to show their “friends” who they are in love with. In Who Has A Relationship Status and Why: A Casual Case Study, Cristin Canger states that, “Like the committed relationship-ers, the status is an easy way to let the world know you’re off the market for the time being” (Web). Pretty much it’s saying “keep your hands off my man.”


Lets go back a few years and see what certain relationship statuses meant to people that grew up in the times of no Facebook. I interviewed my mom and asked her her thoughts of being “single,” “ in a relationship” and what an “open-relationship” means. My mother stated, “an open-relationship means that a person can go out with whoever they want, it’s not monogamous. Two people can be dating but they go out with other people. What’s the sense of having an ‘open-relationship,’ when you’re dating multiple people, you might as well be friends. They’re stupid if they display this on Facebook because no one should know others lives.” In continuing our conversation my mom could not wrap her mind around the thought of an “open-relationship,” to her it is not a relationship at all because a relationship should be about committing yourself to one person, just like she did 31 years ago to my father. They started dating when they were fourteen and ever since they have stayed committed to one another. My mom continued talking about Facebook and how she did not feel it was right to display personal information, such as relationship statuses to others. She feels that “it should be about general information just because everything else has caused many problems between friends and relationships.”

It’s Complicated

Just when you think the lingo is complicated, there is a status for that as well, the “it’s complicated” relationship status. Personally I think this is the dumbest thing people can ever put on their status, why would anyone want to display this, it is showing the world that they are confused about what they are doing in their love lives. I did not really understand the meaning behind this display until an interviewee, another girl named Sarah stated, “It's complicated is more along the lines of my situation. You are really into someone and they may be into you as well, but it may not be the appropriate time nor place to begin a relationship for hopes that maybe something will become of the ‘it's complicated’ when the timing is right.” After hearing that I looked to see if her relationship status displayed this sign of confusion, but it did not, she hid her status. In her mind she knows “it’s complicated,” but she did not want others knowing she is in this state of not knowing what is really going on. As my interviews continued, I could not help but go back to the interview with Amanda, who tried defining “it’s complicated.” She stated, “it means, not defined, in that ‘talking’ phase of the relationship but not a defined boyfriend/girlfriend.” So I guess maybe that is why I do not really see people with this choice in status being displayed, yet Facebook gives us this option, in order for us to express ourselves. The article, Facebook Relationship Status, What Does “It’s Complicated” Mean?, questions the same thing, “Does ‘it's complicated’ mean, ‘something's going on, but I don't want to say what it is?’ Or even, ‘something's going on, but I don't know what it is’” (Web)? Till this day we may never know.

Civil Union and Domestic Partnership

The newest relationship statuses are the first of their kind to have a target group, homosexuals. Facebook recently added “civil union” and “domestic partnership.” It is stated by the Huffington Post that, “Facebook has always been an empowering place for gay people—it's a place you can be yourself in relative safety" (Web). With having these two new relationship statuses it gives homosexuals the chance to express themselves. In a way, relationship statuses can be a good thing, if people are proud to show what they are. In this sense, it is a way of expressing their emotions without being ashamed of their sexuality, which I think should be something people should not be afraid to express.

Where it Began and Never Seem to End

All this confusion for something so simple, and to think this was all developed by the mere words of asking whether a girl was dating a guy. “History” has it, according to The Social Network, the idea of having a relationship status developed by chance. When Mark Zuckerberg (the founder of Facebook)’s friend, Eduardo, asked Mark whether a girl he was interested in was interested in any guys, he replied with “people don’t walk around with a sign” (DVD). In hearing his own words he rushed back to his room where he would then come up with the idea of a relationship status. If people did not have a “sign” to display this, then a profile status would be the ideal way. Mark even states, ““Relationship Status”, “Interested In”. This is what drives life at college” (The Social Network, DVD). So years later we discover it is what college life relies on, the privacy that we all long for is not considered privacy, it’s out in the open for others to see, after all, “it’s complicated.”

Works Cited

Atterberry, Wendy. "Do You Suffer From Facebook Relationship Status Anxiety? - The Frisky." Celebrity Gossip, Relationship

Advice, Beauty and Fashion Tips @ The Frisky. BUZZMEDIA Entertainment, 30 Sept. 2009. Web. 17 Oct. 2011. <>.

Bosker, Bianca. "Facebook Adds 'Civil Union,' 'Domestic Partnership' To Relationship Status Options." Breaking News and Opinion on The Huffington Post. The Huffington Post, 17 Feb. 2011. Web. 17 Oct. 2011. <>.

"Facebook Relationship Status: What Does "It's Complicated" Mean? | YourTango." Smart Talk About Love | YourTango. Web. 16 Oct. 2011. <>.

Pariser, Eli. The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You. New York: Penguin, 2011. Print.

Persimmons, Elizabeth Ann. "Five Ways Facebook Destroys Relationships - National Real Relationship |"

Welcome to | Clarity Digital Group LLC D/b/a, 18 Aug. 2009. Web. 17 Oct. 2011. <>.

The Social Network. Dir. David Fincher. By Ben Mezrich and Aaron Sorkin. Perf. Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake. Columbia Pictures/ Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2010. DVD.

Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York: Basic, 2011. Print.