THE BLOG

Facebook and Relationships: How Has Social Media Changed the Dating Landscape?

05/05/2015 11:11 BST | Updated 30/06/2015 10:59 BST

Are you in a relationship? Is it Facebook official? While social media has been brilliant for our social lives, has bought communities together and is the perfect platform for debate, since the emergence of sites such as Facebook over a decade ago, the landscape of dating has changed forever.

Are you "single", "in a relationship", "married? Or do you have an "it's complicated" status? How do you manage your personal relationship via social media? Do you obsessively watch what your partner is doing on there? Undoubtedly Facebook is a powerful tool for connecting with people and ideas but is it a good thing for our love lives?

Background checks

Who hasn't done some Facebook stalking in their time, or even worse, Facebook stalked themselves out of first date small talk? Pre-Facebook you might be hard-pressed to find out details about a potential partner, without sounding like a complete weirdo but become friends on Facebook and you can find out a huge amount of information about someone and if they are an active user, you can accrue huge amounts of details about their lives. From knowing where they are going that weekend and who they talk to most online, whether you have mutual friends and their last holiday, you can catalogue virtually every part of their life.

As one 2009 study explained: "The open nature of Facebook fives people access to information about their partner [or potential partner] that would not otherwise be accessible. As one participant recorded: 'It turns people into nosey parkers... all of that personal information is totally unnecessary but no one can help themselves.'"

False intimacy?

Facebook not only allows us to learn more about someone very quickly but it has blurred the lines of communication. Why wait three days to call when you can send a quick Facebook message? Getting in touch can simply be the click of the mouse away. Taking away the immediacy of person-to-person contact makes it very easy to initiate contact. Distance and a busy schedule no longer play a role or are barriers to dating. It is also slightly unchartered territory, instead of reading body language, tone of voice and other social cues, we're left wondering whether five comments on your photos in one day is a sign they are needy and demanding? It can leave us trying to interpret cues from behind a computer, leasing to misunderstandings and mixed messages.

Via social media, relationships can speed up very quickly if you find yourself swapping information via the Facebook Chat function about your past, childhood, family and future and then you might find yourself with a false intimacy issue, where digital intimacy becomes confused with true intimacy. Research has also shown that it is easy - and many people create an online persona, where their lives are more exciting than the everyday life that they lead or their posts are not an accurate representation of the sort of person they are. You might then find yourself on a date wondering who where that funny person on Facebook is.

A case of site induced jealousy?

Added to this is another layer of complexity when it comes to pokes, comments and likes. Not as trivial as you may think. Unsurprisingly there have been a significant number of studies into the affects of Facebook on our romantic relationships. One 2013 study at the University of Missouri surveying users ages between 18 and 82 found that 'Facebook-induced jealousy' significantly increased the risks for couples of cheating, break-ups and divorce. The study showed that conflict was more likely to occur the more people used the site, because they jealously monitored their partner's activity or reconnected with old partners, leading to physical or emotional cheating.

Getting over an ex

When you first meet someone it brings its own set of Facebook complications: Who changes their status first? Do you discuss it? What if the other doesn't reciprocate? However, the issue is compounded when you break up: Is it cold-hearted to immediately change your status? What if you see that your partner has changed their status to "single"? And if you don't go back and delete various items, everyone can rack your relationship history.

Facebook gives us an automatic window into the lives of our exes. This is fine a few years on but immediately after a break-up, it can be hard. In a recent study at Brunel University, it showed that remaining friends with an ex on Facebook delayed emotional recovery and led to greater distress over the break-up, suggesting it was harder to move on.

Gaining healthy intimacy

Undoubtedly Facebook and other social media sites and online dating sites have helped millions of people find love. While there is obviously a place for social media in our lives I think it is important to recognise the challenges it brings with it. When it comes to dating nothing can beat instincts when it comes to finding a partner. It is important to establish genuine intimacy, where good old-fashioned values like conversation and meaningful togetherness are still at the core of our relationships. So don't rely on Facebook to communicate and make regular dates to see and chat with people.