Love and Heartbreak on Facebook

Setting your "relationship status" on Facebook may mean more than you think.

May 20, 2008— -- The highlights of a romance were once trumpeted by the presence of a ring, a ceremony and a joyful notice in the newspaper.

And the bitter lowlights were usually endured in the tearful intimacy of close friends.

These days, however, in a culture permeated by social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, a simple click of a button can mark the beginning and end of a relationship.

With an apparently dwindling desire and expectation for privacy, people increasingly indicate their "relationship status" on their social networking profile. The risky business of managing a romance is played out before hundreds of "friends," who may range from childhood pals to complete strangers.

That simple little button declaring romantic standing can also complicate existing relationships. These days, one half of a couple may lean on the other to change his or her relationship status to make a digital commitment.

Spencer Raymond, 26, recounts his "crappy" experience.

Raymond says that when he changed his Facebook status to single, he inadvertently hurt his ex-girlfriend. She was barraged with phone calls from several of his 400 friends, an experience he says was uncomfortable for both of them.

"Relationships are hard as it is," says Raymond. Facebook just "adds to the pain of a sensitive situation."

Jamie Barone, however, is quite comfortable publicizing his relationship status online. He lives with and plans to marry his girlfriend, whom he has been dating for 15 months.

About a year ago, as Barone's relationship became serious, he had a discussion with his girlfriend about changing their relationship status from "single" to "in a relationship" on their Facebook profiles.

Why bother getting into that sort of detail on Facebook? While Barone, 28 , hesitates to attach too much importance to Facebook, he says that specifying relationship status is "somewhat meaningful."

"Those things are your billboard," he says. "What you put up there is a reflection of what is going on in your life."

Barone doesn't concern himself with others' disdain of the public testament of his affection. If anyone finds it intrusive or silly, "it's their problem," he says.

For now, Barone is confident that he is in a relationship that will not end. He admits that if he breaks up with his girlfriend, his relationship status may become problematic.

Going from "in a relationship" to "single" online may become similar to returning an engagement ring, and is possibly a new rite of passage that young modern couples will have to have to deal with.

Psychoanalyst Bethany Marshall says that social networking sites can add to the pressures of a modern relationship. "The Internet is changing what intimacy means," she says.

Couples are accustomed to the rites of engagement, marriage and divorce on their relationships, Marshall says. Now, she adds, putting your relationship on Facebook for hundreds of strangers "messes with those rites."

Social networking sites may even be forcing a conversation on couples that they may not be prepared for.

A 32-year-old woman says that after dating for three months her boyfriend started pestering her to change her MySpace status from "single" to "in a relationship." She resisted and chose another option -- "swinger."

She said she tried to make light of the pressure while trying not to hurt her boyfriend. The relationship ended a year later, and her MySpace status remains "swinger."

Online social networking isn't going away, and neither are bad relationships. A social networking site may be a good way to tell if you are in a bad relationship. "Healthy relationships unfold at a natural pace," says Marshall, and "unhealthy people are really clingy or really rejecting."

Marshall advises that social networking sites should not be a weapon, and "if someone is pressuring you based upon your MySpace page, they may not be healthy enough to be in a relationship."

One MySpace user says he changed his status to "single" after his breakup as a way to "remind myself that my relationship really was over." It was a way, he says, of moving forward and facing life without a woman he thought he was going to spend the rest of his life with.

"Symbols in a relationship are huge, like a ring, or meeting the parents," says Marshall. And a Facebook profile may hold yet another symbol to be reckoned with in the 21st century relationship.

ABC News and Facebook are partners for political online coverage for the 2008 election

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