It used to be that the intricate details of a relationship were matters for the couple in it only.
But popular social media sites redefined relationships, turning them into topics for public online discussion and fodder for idle gossip.
Relationships now rope in Facebook ‘friends’ and Twitter ‘followers’, creating a scenario where the potential and progress of a relationship is measured by the number of ‘likes’, ‘comments’ and ‘retweets’.
Twenty-seven year old Wambui Mungai traces a recent relationship with a man two years her junior to Facebook.
TIMELINE TO A BREAK-UP
The social networking site sparked off their relationship and later led to its death. She couldn’t stand that her boyfriend relied too much on Facebook, rather than on face-to-face communication and spending quality time together.
Moreover, he had a habit of posting every little thing about their relationship on Facebook, where everyone could see.
From experience, she now believes that a relationship that plays out on social media cannot blossom to maturity.
This view is supported by an American study released mid this year.
The study revealed that people who use Facebook often are more likely to experience relationship conflict with their romantic partners.
This threat is especially true for those in new relationships which have not yet achieved maturity.
In Wambui’s case, away from social media, her boyfriend was a far cry from the confident and charismatic persona he presented online.
“On the few occasions that we had a real date, the conversation was awkward. He was uncomfortable in my presence and couldn’t keep eye contact for more than a few seconds.”
What’s more, his tendency to overshare intimate private moments publicly with his online circle of ‘friends’ did not go down well with Wambui.
“He would post photos of us on dates on his Facebook wall and kept leaving me intimate romantic messages on the public timeline. I would have preferred a more private relationship,” she says.
A false sense of community triggers people to overshare private details about their lives, including those about their relationships on Facebook and other social networking sites.
There is also the allure of people ‘liking’ and ‘commenting’ on the posts.
In the midst of all these, the ex is always a comment away, and may try to interfere with a relationship that plays out openly on social media.
Wambui’s boyfriend had an ex who would leave comments on every lovey-dovey post he posted. She also regularly sent her unpleasant messages.
“Here was a man who thought it ordinary to air our relationship in a public forum before it even had a chance to take root.
Moreover there was this meddling ex-girlfriend who was obviously still stuck up on him. That was my cue to run for the hills.”
Wambui adds that putting up special memorable moments for all to see kills intimacy and waters down the relationship.
Mary Wahome, a sociologist, is with her on that. She advises couples against sharing every detail of their relationship on social media, and focusing on a Facebook relationship that does little to foster real emotional intimacy.
“There is no substitute for physical interaction which creates a strong and lasting bond with your partner. Heartfelt emotions cannot be communicated through smileys,” she says.
That said, social media is an integral part of long-distance relationships as they help to maintain passion and intimacy in the absence of physical interaction.
This is true for Gakii Moraa, 32, who relocated to Johannesburg to pursue her Master’s degree, last year, and needed a way to keep in touch with her fiancé.
“The Internet and social media make it easier for us to communicate, but we make a point of calling each other often to hear the sound of each other’s voice.”
However, to avoid having a relationship that exists only on social media, Gakii and her fiancé visit each other every few months to keep their bond strong.
“An entire week of having my fiancé near me gives me a boost to tolerate another few months, of social media, without him.”
Relationship counsellor Chris Hart explains that even though most people are preoccupied with social media, the ideals of romantic relationships have not changed.
Therefore, social media is merely a tool couples use to compliment other forms of interaction and rather than the place where the relationship exists.
“Relationships on social media are superficial. They are all about getting affirmation, especially amongst the younger people.
Use them for fun and complimentary communication and not as a replacement for the ordinary aspects of a normal, healthy relationship,” he explains.
SOCIAL MEDIA ETIQUETTE FOR COUPLES
According to Grace Bonney, modern etiquette of real-life interactions need also be applied to social media.
Beware of oversharing: Posting frequent and personal updates floods your friends with unnecessary - and annoying - details.
Social activity follows you: Unless your account is private, what you say online is public. Be careful about saying things off the cuff. If in doubt, don’t share it.
Public attacks: It’s easy to fall into a social media war. Unless someone is causing real damage to your reputation, walk away. Or respond with a simple factual response.
Act the way you want to be treated: Put positive and responsible energy out on all your accounts. You are more likely to get the same back.
- A study revealed that people who use Facebook often are more likely to experience relationship conflict with their romantic partners. This threat is especially true for those in new relationships which have not yet achieved maturity.
- A false sense of community triggers people to overshare private details about their lives, including those about their relationships on Facebook and other social networking sites.