When I was in graduate school, I met a boy. He went to Cambridge; I went to Oxford. He studied Victorian English Literature; I studied Modernism. Steeped as we were in 19th century romanticism, we chose to eschew modern technological advances, instead leaving each other little notes to make plans on our windowsills, and in mailboxes and books. Finally, three weeks in, I couldn’t resist opening myself up entirely to my new beloved and taking that next big step: friending him on Facebook. It was with the unique thrill of new relationship glee that I refreshed the page to find his soul magically laid out for me, a thrill quickly replaced by the sinking feeling of relationship doom.
Firstly, his status indicated that he was already in a relationship with some pixie-haired brunette who lived in Arizona and didn’t even have the decency to look anything like me. More egregious than that was the sparsity of photos (which I find suspicious), his pretentious “About Me” statement (“An educated Cambridge grad with something to say”), and the numerous pictures showcasing him wearing socks with sandals that would have been in my summer future. The dealbreaker, however, was that he was somehow friends with my ex-boyfriend–even though I had intentionally gone out of my way to meet someone outside of our circle–a fact that I can only attribute to the sick sense of humor of the Facebook gods.
Whether you believe in friending your new partner or not is really tantamount to whether or not you agree with the statement “Ignorance is bliss.” On the one hand, perhaps it’s best that I found out about Socks-with-Sandals’ cheating ways before I let myself get too deeply involved. On the other hand, I would have enjoyed a few more weeks in ignorance’s summer sunshine, and (who knows?) perhaps if I had stuck around then his “open” relationship would have ended, and I could have convinced him to wear shoes. Most people would prefer to live in the fantasy, anyway, and according to recent research, scientists agree that it’s best for lovers to leave Pandora’s Online Box alone.
A study recently conducted by doctoral students Russell Clayton, Alexander Nagurney, and Jessica R. Smith found that participants who had especially high levels of Facebook use experienced higher levels of related conflict, cheating, breakup, and divorce. Researchers said that this was because they were at higher risk of experiencing jealousy induced over previous romantic partners or wall posters, as well as more likely to contact other users in ways that count as “emotional cheating.” Interestingly enough, Clayton found that these results were only true for couples that had been in relationship for three years or less, suggesting that Facebook is more of a threat to the “I want to know everything about you” stage of love than the “I’ve heard you tell that story a million times already” phase.
While for most people, this article is yet another in the series of "Science Telling Us What Is Blatantly Obvious," it’s comforting to know that you’re definitely not the only one poring over photos of your new beau’s ex trying to figure out if she’s better looking than you. It also gives you the scientific validation to do what you already know you must do: avoid Facebook friending your new partner.
The thing that gets you in trouble isn’t even outright cheating, but all of that secret single behavior that’s perfectly acceptable but that your lover should never have to see. I, for one, am shamelessly flirtatious in daily life and have no problem knowing that my boyfriend engages in the same harmless coquetry on a daily basis. But I boil over with rage when I see that some girl named Brittany, whose profile pic is a half-naked selfie, write “Hey there stranger” on his wall WITH A WINKY FACE (winky faces are just going too far). And nothing ruins dinner plans like spotting a nausea-inducing Facebook message in which your boyfriend compliments some girl in the gloriously objectifying way he only did when you first started dating. Liking someone’s every single status is the virtual equivalent of leaving flowers every day at their door. And, whatever anyone may say, posting a relationship status on Facebook IS a big deal, as it’s pretty much like walking around with the name of your ball and chain tattooed on your face.
Taken alone, these activities aren’t so bad, and humans have been engaging in them since humans first started communicating in grunts and angry gestures. But you shouldn’t have to SEE them, and this is the ethical dilemma that the Facebook gods place you in, making you angry at your significant other, then angry at yourself because you know you shouldn’t really be angry, and then angry at your significant other because they’re making you feel angry when you shouldn’t be angry.
Unfortunately, my desire to practically inhale the new object of my affection, my fear of finding out he’s actually a neo-Nazi, and my upbringing in the privacy-deprived Soviet Union makes it virtually (no pun intended) impossible to resist combing through his entire profile to look for cracks. But if you, like Nerve's editor Kelly, who has never friended her boyfriend of two-and-a half-years, have the emotional equilibrium to avoid it, then all signs point to having a long and healthy life.