Culture

It’s Complicated: Let’s All Remember The Chaos Of Facebook Relationship Statuses

"The only thing it was good for was identifying who your disaster friends were. Anyone who put “its complicated” was a total drama-fiend."

Facebook relationship statuses

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If you ever dated in the noughties, then there’s a good chance that you underwent the absolutely cursed experience of going “Facebook Official” with someone. It seems bizarre now, but there was a good six years or longer where the power of the Facebook relationship status was a very real and pressing issue for couples falling in and out of love.

How early in a relationship was it normal to go Facebook official? How do you bring it up? Is it EVER ok for to change your status to “it’s complicated”? These are the questions we were forced to obsess over for almost an entire stupid decade, like absolute morons, suckling at Zuckerberg’s flashy media teat with abandon.

The Facebook relationship status function was rolled out fairly early in the development of the social media giant, and quickly became one of the flagship features in our collective societal urge to publish everything about ourselves online.

If you somehow don’t remember, it basically allowed you to broadcast whatever type of relationship you are in — most notably when you officially began dating someone, or when you officially stopped. It’s still there today, but using Facebook for its functions outside of messenger is pretty much only done by boomers now — it’s slowly shrivelled up in use. A BuzzFeed quiz in 2015 showed that 43% of people consider engaging at all with the relationship status function as “cheesy”.

It’s pretty much only used as a brag for the recently married now. We get it, you’re happy, your photos look amazing.

We live in a world where the impact of Facebook on our lives has been deeply felt, influencing elections, stealing our data, destroying entire industries. It’s worth also remembering when it changed the entire way we dated too.

Do You Want To Be Facebook Official With Me?

When you’re in love, it’s fun to brag about it.

Facebook’s relationship status function seems like a simple and easy way to broadcast the fact that you’ve managed to find someone who will see movies with you, and doesn’t vom at the sight of your naked body, and that’s fine. There’s nothing inherently objectionable about it. Your friends and family should be happy for you, I guess.

People also seemed to engage with the function in a mostly ironic way. There was a period of time around 2011 when the height of comedy was for two friends to announce that they are married on Facebook.

But as Facebook’s usership grew to encompass the majority of the world, everyone with an account began to feel the unconscious pressure of the relationship status. Even refusing to put any kind of status down said something about yourself. Not having Facebook gave off vague Unabomber vibes, tbh.

So, becoming Facebook official — the act of declaring your relationship on Facebook — became a weighted act. How soon did you do it? What did it mean? Where did it fit in the accepted timeline of courtship?

Stories began to proliferate on dating advice columns and the like about relationships being ruined by the pressure of going Facebook official. Perhaps one person is too keen, the other less. Often it was a sign that someone was far more serious, or had misread the relationship. It was a quick way to flush our fuckboys.

And it’s not unfair — because of the functionality of Facebook, going official means that your new relationship was basically held up to your entire friends and family. It gave it legitimacy, it made it real — it meant that you lost control of it, and the relationship took on a kind of life of its own. Your mother now knows who you’re dating, and is probably trying to friend request them.

That’s not just scary for commitment-phobes.

It’s such a big deal that it’s still to this day one of the first things that immigration will apparently check when verifying your relationship. Anecdotally, it was the tool that a lot of queer people during the time used to quietly and efficiently coming out — it was much quicker to share that you’re in a relationship with someone of the same sex on Facebook, rather than cold-calling every aunty you’ve ever known.

Breaking Up Is So Hard To Do

Of course, the reason people get so stressed about making a relationship official is the fear that it will end. And relationships ending on Facebook were uniquely traumatic.

In the beginning, if you changed your relationship — for example, from “In A Relationship” to “Single” it would broadcast the news of your breakup as a highly embarrassing, and awkwardly engaging post. It would be pushed into your networks feed, cutting through the algorithm. You couldn’t do it quietly.

I remember watching it happen to friends, and it felt like a hyper-digital version of gossip in the town square — immediately you’d take to group chats and text messages, asking if anyone knew the story behind the tragic breakup. The newly single people would have a bunch of people commenting with broken heart emojis on the status update, or unhelpfully saying things like “Oh no!”

It changed in later years, no longer so aggressively pushing out the news, providing a bit of discretion. Facebook also started giving you the option of opting out of shared memories with your former partner, and essentially muting their content, which was frankly, extremely necessary.

But even with all these changes, Facebook managed to cement the status as a key step in relationship rituals — even the break up.

I remember after my big eleven year relationship break up, the act of actually spending the time to click all the buttons that officially ended our relationship on Facebook was weirdly emotional. We’d already done all the hard work of breaking up in person, moving out, etc — but there’s something extremely final and public about doing it on Facebook. Now, even the weird guy I’d met seven years ago while drunk in Vietnam would know about my heartbreak, and he might be judging me!

It’s Complicated

Listen, there’s no way to put this delicately — one of the main functions of relationship statuses were in pursuit of revenge. And that’s beautiful.

Spite, revenge, and chaos were all massively enabled by this function. Watching a status switch from “engaged” to “complicated” was one of the spiciest things I’ve ever seen. Watching someone officially enter into a new Facebook official relationship only weeks after loudly breaking up — brutal.

I think a lot of the motivation to declare your relationship status officially on Facebook is to make other people feel bad. To rub salt in the wounds of your ex, to lord it over your friends, to show off how beautiful and accomplished the person your dating is. That’s culture.

It’s been widely discussed how the youth have shifted from the aggressively positive over-sharing trends of the naughties, into smaller, more private social media. We’re in the age of the youth using Instagram photos with no captions, of private group chats, of locked profiles — and I think a lot of this comes from boomers, Gen X, and Millennials being absolutely messy bitches about relationships so publicly on Facebook.

It was embarrassing. We drove the youth away. And they were right to leave.

Getting Tagged Is The New ‘In A Relationship’

The Facebook relationship status shows every sign of being dead, and honestly RIP.

There’s been a couple of attempts to revive it by the company — including a function where you could “ask someone about their relationship” which seems like an invitation that would only be accepted by the world’s worst people — but it seems like it’s well and truly gone from our lives.

I would never even consider using a relationship status — heck, I had trouble even getting my new girlfriend to accept my friend request on Facebook, which I was pushing for entirely so I could invite her to improv shows, so I guess I understand her reticence.

But social media use and relationships are still things that happen, famously! And people still have the urge to brag, to share, to celebrate their new love. I personally announced my new relationship in a recap of The Bachelor, but that’s probably very specific to me.

So, I asked one of Junkee’s resident younger people about what the youth do these days? An elaborate TikTok dance?

It seems that it’s Instagram where it happens, and it’s more subtle by nature. Often the first step is tagging someone in your stories — that’s a way of first flagging that you’re together, and not just out on a date. The big move is putting up a couple shot on the Instagram grid — but even then, it’s not usually an oblique declaration of being together. It’s more of a flag. It’s a far cry from the flashy, faux-official announcement of Facebook’s past.

I did a Twitter poll, and for a long time it showed that almost 100% of people used Instagram to broadcast any relationship news, until it got shared into boomer Twitter, and suddenly Facebook shot up into 29%, and I had a bunch of people screaming “read a book at me”.

There’s obviously still some pressure from social media on new relationships — what if you never get put on the person’s grid? What if they don’t share your tagged story? But it’s more of a private affair between the couple, removed from having every relationship shift watched by hundreds of acquaintances.

It’s undoubtedly for the better, but there’s always going to be a part of me that misses the chaos of the Facebook relationship status.


Patrick Lenton is the Editor of Junkee. He tweets @patricklenton. It’s complicated.