There was a time, perhaps not so long ago, when two tech-savvy humans would meet, mash their parts together, fall in love, and make a display of their blissful commitment to the world: making it "Facebook official."
People fretted over that step, agonized and analyzed over when was the right time to ask their partner about changing their status to "in a relationship." In many ways, it was the digital version of the traditionally analog process of "defining the relationship" and thus the source of late-night TV show jokes and wine-soaked goss-seshes among besties. It was the new symbol of how our anxieties over our digital lives impact our real ones. The most important website of this century had given birth to a completely new step in the millennia-old tradition of finding another human to dock genitals with for a few decades until you die.
But it seems "Facebook official" isn't what it used to be. This week, BuzzFeed News ran a poll, "How Do You Use Facebook's Relationship Status?," asking people whether or not they display their relationship status on their Facebook profile, and some of the social etiquette around it.
A few notes about the data: As many as 80,000 people responded to the 16 questions (People tend to drop out of these polls: 80,000 answered the first question, but only 40,000 answered the last). The last question was about age demographic, which as you would imagine would significantly impact relationship status. Only 11% of respondents were over 30, and 14% were high-school age (14 to 18). The other 75% were 19 to 29 years old. So consider that these results are MOSTLY about twentysomethings. However, each question is not broken out by age.
Also, please keep in mind that this poll was in no way scientific. Take it for what it is: a large sampling of Facebook users who self-reported their habits in a BuzzFeed News poll designed to be entertaining.
Qualifications aside, here were some of the most surprising findings:
About 40% of twentysomethings don't put "in a relationship" on their profile.
However, there's a little bit of wavering here. For example, 34% of respondents said "Ew, never" to the question of "How long into a relationship do you change your status?" A few questions later, though, it jumped to 43% saying changing their status is something they'd never do. Later, 41% said that even in a serious relationship, they don't put their status.
I blame this discrepancy on poor poll design by yours truly. My attempt to make the poll fun to take turned out to be at odds with creating an accurate poll. It essentially asks the same question a few times, but with differently worded answers, and sometimes more middle-ground, nuanced answers. So sue me, Quinnipiac.
Mostly, abstainers think relationship statuses are corny.
So why don't people want to show their relationship status? Of those who said they hide it, the vast majority chose the option that it's "cheesy." A fair amount don't want certain people to know — that could be as benign to a relationship as wanting to keep your prying aunt at bay, or as sinister as not wanting your exes or other potential hookups to know.
Few said it was either because their partner didn't want them to. Even fewer admitted to what we might think the motivation for status-hiders is: being up to something shady.
People have their own reasons — I'm a status-abstainer because it just feels weird to me — but Jared Durston, 27, perhaps explained it best in an email to BuzzFeed News:
The absolute god damn minute you and your girlfriend/boyfriend ever change your relationship statuses, or god forbid actually name each other in them, Facebook will always decide that this the biggest shiteating news in the whole god damn world and will put that shit front-and-fucking-centre all over the timelines of all your dumbass acquaintances and relatives and exes and other fuckheads you've accrued over your entire life. These fuckheads will then start cruising through your profiles and digging through your online trash, most of which is probably dumb as hell because you're just as much of a fuckhead as they are, and immediately form an opinion of you that you can neither live up to nor live down ever, even after you finally meet Uncle Steve and Childhood Friend Amy Who Has Too Many Kids For Someone Her Age at some reunion and calmly explain to them that no, you are actually not that big into Transformers, you just took that Buzzfeed quiz back in May and clicked the Share button by accident, and no, you don't got skiing all that often, Sharon just took a lot of pictures at that one Banff trip, and no, you are not actually Republican, that was an Onion article about harnessing poor people to power generators.
Sounds as good a reason as any to me.
Single people are way more likely to hide their status.
People see a big difference between using the relationship status to show you are married/in a relationship and being single. Sixty-eight percent of single people said they hide their status.
Listing yourself as "single" might seem desperate or like you're trying to use Facebook as a dating service. My colleague at BuzzFeed News, Joe Bernstein, who has such a bad personality he will likely never find love, said he doesn't display his single status because "it would just feel inappropriate to say 'single' on Facebook."
People do ironic relationship statuses.
Sapna Maheshwari, a business reporter at BuzzFeed, has been "married" to her best friend from high school since 2005 on Facebook. She said at the time, everyone was doing fake relationships with their friends. But keeping the fake relationship for all these years was sort of a relief — it meant she and her friend never had to have The Talk with their boyfriends.
According to BuzzFeed's poll, 39% of people have done a fake "marriage" to a friend at some point.
Everyone HATES the new "Ask" button.
Last spring, Facebook introduced a new feature that allowed people to "Ask" a user for information from fields they hadn't filled out. When you reply to a friend's request for your relationship status, it notifies not just that friend, but also adds the info to your profile.
It seems like it might be a useful feature — hey, sometimes you just wanna know if some hottie is single but you don't want to actually, ya know, message them. But users don't see it that way at all: 97% of people said the feature was creepy instead of helpful.
For the people who DO relationship statuses, it's still a big deal.
This doesn't mean that "Facebook official" has completely died out. Forty percent of people said they'd be offended if their partner wasn't willing to change his or her status, and 15% said they've gotten in an argument with their partner over their status before.