The One and the Many, FB-style?

Tell Facebook: “Relationships” Comprise More Than Just Sex Partners

by Christina Campbell, originally published at The writer has a really interesting blog — great perspective. Here it is.

Facebook allows us to write whatever we want in our profile’s “Religion” box — even Peanut Butter Cups. So why, for our “Relationship,” must we choose from a pre-set list of nine choices: single; in a relationship; engaged; married; it’s complicated; in an open relationship; widowed; separated; and divorced?

The relationship drop-down menu of doom.

Facebook needs to make the Relationship status a write-in field. I at least want the option of flaunting of my relationships with my cat or my hairdresser. But there are serious, bigger problems at stake here.

By forcing users to choose one “relationship” from a narrow range of options centering around marital status and sexual habits, Facebook perpetuates our society’s entrenched mate-mania, which over-worships the sexual-couple-unit, and marriage in particular. This bias devalues other important relationships. It devalues platonic friends and non-spousal family members. And it devalues people for whom conventional coupling/marriage is either not appealing or not an option.

Many of us have experienced this mate-mania in common discourse, such as the single person who weathers comments like “You’re so awesome, why are you still single?” But most people don’t realize that this irritating cultural quirk is actually codified into government policy. In the U.S. legal code over 1300 laws mention marital status, favoring married couples by a wide margin. People seldom question this blatant discrimination because they’re brainwashed by the myth of marriage-as-panacaea, a myth encouraged by casually couple-centric phenomena like the Facebook Relationship Drop Down Menu of Doom.

Since at least 2007, users have been asking Facebook to broaden its definitions of relationship (here and here and here and here and here and here). [links for the word “here” found at the original post.] Facebook appears to have ignored them. To get their attention, please sign this petition asking Facebook to allow users to write-in their own descriptions of their Relationship.

Granted, with all freedom comes risk. Someone might argue, “But my creepy coworker could write that he’s dating me, when obviously I would never go out with someone who collects shrunken heads.” Solution: Facebook could allow your coworker to request you “validate” his status update (as already occurs with “in a relationship”), which you of course wouldn’t, thereby rendering his update less legitimate-looking.

And while I’m redesigning Facebook, why is there only one Relationship Status box? (The answer to that rhetorical question is in paragraph three.) Let’s advise Facebook that we all have myriad important people in our lives.

And even if the only important person in your life is your spouse/partner, then please sign the petition for my sake. I don’t want to have to choose between “In a relationship with Dwight” and “In a relationship with Cottonpaws” because I’m not sure who would come out on top.

25 thoughts on “The One and the Many, FB-style?”

  1. Hey Angie: “finally ended up getting out of it due to the incredible waste of time and energy,”

    I’m with you. I just re-upped my FB account, but don’t mess with it more than once or twice a week. When I wasn’t working two jobs, the 4-5 hours a week it consumed seemed negligible. Now that each one of the 168 hrs. in my week has a name and serial number, there is no way to trance out.

    It will be a great place to hang out after the Abundance Economy kicks in and everyone realizes that the only real currency is attention. Until then, the landlord keeps telling me otherwise.

    (Having my annual Realasm.)


  2. My niece talked me into jointing FB quite some time ago, even though it did not have a great deal of appeal to me. I did like being able to check on my great-nephew in Afghanistan, but finally ended up getting out of it due to the incredible waste of time and energy, the many pointless posts, and the fact that they banned “Just Say Now”.

  3. We use facebook as a way to connect with family. We have nieces and nephews from ex-wives and ex-husbands who have reconnected with us through FB. Instead of making a tentative phone call and risk a turn-down, or a dropped email, you can connect directly through FB and nearly always get an answer when the receiver is in the mood to receive. The step brother of my niece is coming home for Christmas for the first time in nearly 20 years, after connecting with all of us. We are building family and community.

  4. FB may perpetrate a lack of credence towards platonic freinships and their importance but unforunately i think its just mirroring what’s going on anyway.

    – i sometimes forget i am in the 21st Century when i am told for the umpteenth time, rather smugly that why would i expect to maintain a friendship with a member of the opposite sex to the same degree after they are married or in a long term relationship.

    As for FB i really dislike this putting yourself out there in a self promoting sort of way approach to human interaction, im leaving in the New Year and people have actually had a go because’ that means its going to be harder to let you know about an event because i have to get in touch with you separately rather than doing a FB invite’

    Some people have muttered that i must have entrenched anti social problems to even consider leaving FB, I hate being defined by that crappy little algorithm.

  5. One of the interesting thing about Internet culture in toto is that takes tools that were previously only available to publicists and puts them into the hands of the rest of us. It enables everyone to work with image in ways that only those who were famous or seeking fame had available. It has brought out the publicist or the spokesman in many people, and is for sure a turning point in the history of the human ego.

  6. It seems the issue has shifted to facebook per se!

    facebook is not an entity, of course. It is, in my view, better described as a place rather than a space, because it is not entirely undefined – something shapes it outside of the collective interactions which function that way.

    facebook ‘the place’, does not have any power to make me do anything. I may choose to hang around there, passively waiting. But I could do that anyplace.

    facebook takes nothing away from anyone. It does, however, add something not previously there – a set of potentialities. What is significant about it, is not what it erodes or precludes (take it away and what has anyone gained? Apart from maybe an incentive to ‘do something else’ – well that’s ALWAYS an option with ANYTHING) but what it may reveal or add, that was previously concealed.

    So, if a person is not their ‘true’ self on facebook; so what? They had the tendency to hide away anyway (moreover, that is an incongruence that may be subsequently discovered through contrast should you meet them – if you know them in any case, what’s the issue?)

    If a person IS something approaching their ‘true’ (unselfconscious) self on there, then arguably you might get to know them in a way you may not by use of different media of interaction. That constitutes enhancement.

    What do such observations tell us?

    facebook has the capacity to enhance our social reality when it is entered into with personal congruence. Provided that you are not already somehow vulnerable you will not incur any damage by making the kind of healthy choices you purportedly would in any other arena of life.

    Ergo, facebook carries risks for unaware and damaged people and carries incredible opportunities for expansion with respect to those with credible and healthy outlooks. This is obviously a spectrum phenomenon.

    But hey, if you are a light worker, make it work for everybody and enjoy yourself in the process! And if you are damaged? Hope that you find even more opportunity to learn anout yourself in interaction with others.

    The whole issue is one of perception. Only, whoever you are, be aware that the journey from facebook to 3D contact carries all the risks, as well as possibilities, that come from progressing any project. Above all, therefore. BE SAFE!

  7. I fell prey to the FB mania about a year ago (or is it two?), but then realized that it is such a time consumer/waster. I keep in contact with those true friends of mine by other means, and my world is no less richer for ignoring FB. I am still on FB, I just ignore it until they send me something “suggested” by one of my friends. Life seems to go on just fine without daily updates… And no, I’m not a Twitter user either.

    As to the relationship categories, I’m of the persuasion they should leave it blank, and have no categories. It might force people to actually think about how they feel about themselves, instead of pigeon holing their persona into a ready-made category or classification. A form of honesty and self-worth. A lot of folk might just leave it blank, especially since, as someone already mentioned, most real friends already know about your current status.

    /back to my hermit’s lair/

  8. Many, many thanks to Christina Campbell and Amanda. What an eloquent and liberating piece. Exposing the process by which certain relationships are devalued, resulting in each one of us being devalued to some extent is a beautiful revolutionary act.

  9. great discussion!

    by all means, the rate by which FB has become almost everything/the only thing for many users (especially younger ones) is pretty unnerving. i’m really struck by how much my contact with friends by phone and regular email has dropped off in the last two years — both contact initiated by me and by others.

    sam — really great points about reification and ownership issues regarding what is basically a tool created for profit, not a public service/utility. and i do not think FB interaction is without its mask, by any means. it may not be the same mask as patty’s mother put on in the 50s, but people definitely make an effort to present themselves with a certain slant — even if that slant includes more facets.

    personally, i’ve never filled out the relationship field on FB for several reasons. Even when i’ve ‘fit’ one of the categories, it has never felt necessary for me to declare it in that forum. my most intimate friends have a sense of what that aspect of my life is like — and know that it’s often in flux — and if i’m going to enter the subject with acquaintances, it’s through a direct conversation.

    i definitely appreciate that FB has the “open” and “complicated” options for those who choose to use them.

    that said, i was struck by the article’s point that even those options are predicated on the traditional model, even if by way of contrast/opposition:

    “By forcing users to choose one “relationship” from a narrow range of options centering around marital status and sexual habits, Facebook perpetuates our society’s entrenched mate-mania, which over-worships the sexual-couple-unit, and marriage in particular. This bias devalues other important relationships. It devalues platonic friends and non-spousal family members. And it devalues people for whom conventional coupling/marriage is either not appealing or not an option.”

    now, as a for-profit company, does FB have a responsibility to advance paradigm shift? does it “owe” its users a blank relationship field to fill in? of course not. but i think the effort to open up any sphere of interaction/community to shifts in worldview is worth considering.

    the challenge seems to be not confusing one’s FB presence with one’s full existence. as sam asked, “aren’t i already who i am?” hell yeah. i think FB offers an interesting mode to communicate aspects of that “i” that people may not always get exposed to, as patty notes. but the level of investment in FB “selfhood” i see in many is terrifying. i do wonder how far the pendulum will swing before it shifts direction.

    “it is a concession to an information-obsessed society to make the assumption that some category descriptor of relatedness is more significant in functional terms than the actual quality of interactions shared.”

    absolutely, HdW. though i am curious how something like a change in FB’s categories and descriptors might positively effect the actual qualities of those interactions — especially those conducted face-to-face, in the flesh, even on the phone.

    the flow of influence moves in both directions; hopefully with some balance, but that takes awareness — which we know is sorely lacking in this world.

    i’ve seen in myself how that flow can shift: the reluctance to join FB followed by a compulsiveness of usage, then avoidance, then using it primarily for promotional use of PW and some of my own creative endeavors and as a resource for news leads and articles of interest, and to share the same with others. yet i’m still not entirely sure i have my current use in balance; i’d really like to reinvest more energy into direct contact with my friends.

    so is it naive to think we can use a re-vamped “relationship” category on FB to help shift “historically normative modalities” or worth pursuing? is any level of energy invested in FB going to contribute to the fall of our current atlantis? or would we be headed that way anyway without it?

    i’ll end by reiterating: the value i saw in this article was not its focus on FB per se, but the author’s understanding of the value of all our relationships, whether they be sexually-oriented or not, however many or few we may have, however they may or may not fit “traditional” modes.

  10. Yeah I knew what you meant by have to be, and that questions wasn’t just directed at you. Lots of people I know “have to be” on Facebook. Not everyone has such a straight up reason as yours. Like, people say that they can’t keep in touch with people unless they are on Facebook. Or that no one will keep in touch with them if they aren’t on Facebook. Etc.

    I have not seen that South Park episode, but it sounds fabulous.

  11. Have you seen the episode of South Park where Kyle’s friends goad him into joining…then he gets “sucked into Facebook” via the webcam on his Mac and gets trapped in a Matrix-like world where he finally has to stand down his own profile (which is 10x bigger than he is) and beat it in a game of Yahtzee to get out — and if he loses, he stays “inside Facebook” forever.

    It is vindicating.

    By “have to be” I mean to keep up with the latest way to generate Web traffic. The bizarre thing is I met someone who thought that Planet Waves was a Facebook feature because she only accessed it through Facebook. Umm……we were on the Web before Google.

  12. I want to bring up two more questions, now that I’ve nudged this discussion into a general critique of Facebook:

    1) Isn’t it funny that one has to be on Facebook?

    2) Also isn’t it funny that when I tell people I don’t want to be on Facebook they sometimes actively campaign for me to join and/or take offense at my non-participation?

  13. Hi Eric, Yeah I definitely understand the idea that people feel they had a hand in creating Facebook. But it’s interesting to consider that people still have this feeling in the context of what you describe in your first and second paragraphs.

  14. So, I don’t get it. Facebook is helping us be who we are? But I am who I am, aren’t I? And wait, didn’t someone say it isn’t letting us be who we are? What is this Facebook anyway, and who’s that man behind the curtain?

  15. The main problem I have with Facebook is that the whole thing is a proprietary closed space. They own the whole thing. Now, that has good points and negatives. For a while they banned me from sending Planet Waves pages out via their little post system. I would get a message, “This looks spammy,” but it was that day’s audio or blog. So I complained — twice — and the ban was lifted.

    The other issue I have is with Zuckerberg. I don’t find him to be a friendly presence. I recognize that sometimes pioneers need to be arrogant or just happen to be that way, and my current hero is an accused sodomizer, cyberterrorist and self-avowed cocky bastard. So I think it’s more than that. The FB environment is just a little chilly, despite all the “interaction.”

    Sam, the reason people can take some ownership of Facebook is that they still have a sense that they made it what it is. If I didn’t have to be there I wouldn’t, but I can say I’m figuring out (after a year and a half) how to make it work pretty good for us.

  16. If you are ‘friends’ with the people on your page, they should already know you. If they don’t know the real you, they will soon by the pages you ‘like’ and groups you are in. No one is forced to make a selection. Some friends have photos of their pets for their profile photo, and most of them ‘like’ all the various animal associations and breeder groups that go with little Calico and Spot. One old school friend likes the gay and lesbian realtor association – who knew? You get to see a side of people you couldn’t see from our old posturing days. When i was a child my mother didn’t leave the house without a beautiful hat, her good coat and gloves. That was the 50s and early 60s, before the president died. It was a mask and she freely admitted it. The masquerade appears to be almost over and we can finally be who we really are. Maybe the real camelot is on the horizon.

  17. Something that’s fascinating about Facebook is the fact that its users treat it like a public space or a space that owes them certain rights, the right to create it in their own image. It’s almost as if they’ve become so enmeshed in this commodity that they’ve become it, and therefore it ought to become them. Makes me think of Eric’s comments on Atlantis.

    Some people might say, well if we’re going to use something it should suit us, respect us, match us, etc. We shouldn’t settle for less than that. But to me there is a problem in this Facebook question which is different than if we’re talking about a tea kettle or a pair of shoes. Although shoes and kettles carry certain psychological projections, they’ll never be exposed to the expectations for Facebook. The difference has to do with the issue of reification of various intangible concepts and experiences such as identity, personality, personhood, communication, and relationship. Reifying these leaves people dissatisfied and alienated. But rather than recognize and revolt against reification, people attempt to have their cake and eat it to — to make what’s already a reified thing more human, more real, more ME. As if that will solve the problem. There are no tweaks, no category updates that will remedy the problem of Facebook not representing you or me or ze enough. To fight that battle is to beat a dead horse, or rather, to create a horse zombie. As if the intangibles weren’t still available to be conjured and encountered, as if our only hope lies in that dead horse.

    And just so there’s no confusion, this is not to say that online communication is inherently alienating. I can hear the beat of horse hooves in emails, in skype calls, in articles, in photographs. But I wouldn’t touch Facebook with a ten foot riding crop.

  18. aword – I have to agree with your sentiments about the broader sense of relationship; that has tripped me up several times! I also heartily concur with you about the virtual dating aspect – I lose count of the number of times the same process has greeted me on there. It certainly does not suit me to fill in any of the relationship fields, they get in the way of cyber-exchange, for me.

    It’s funny that even Hollywood is ‘allowed’ to explore this question in a relationship-obsessed fashion, while even dramatizing traditionally deviant sexual liaisons, in a web of intrigue, through a film like Closer.

    It scrapes through because it activates our relationship filters, so that we are getting off on this question of intrigue – it ALL comes back to how the deviance feeds the mono-obsession quest.

    Eric, it is indeed quite striking that the open relationship option is there. Okay, it still infers that only one other can be classed as ‘significant’, but I suppose it’s a start!

    There are certain fixed characteristics in the distribution and relationship between macro and micro factors within culture that ensure that historically normative modalities will endure. I think that it matters less what styles of connecting-choices are dominant and more that we increasingly inhabit a society where alternatives can be conceived, validated and practiced.

    For this to happen, the grip of religion will have to be palsied and superseded with something much more humanitarian and freeing. I won’t give it a name, because that is usually the beginning of the end!

  19. one more thought – that we are presented with this rather liberal list of relationship options simply because most of us still think of relationship within these boundaries.

    I have often seen the look of consternation or even terror in the eyes of a conversation companion when I use the word “relationship” freely – as in the idea that we relate and therefore have relationship with many people in many ways daily.

    This is not how we commonly use the term.

    So FaceBook’s list is Safe and just a bit Tantalizing but not a forum for understanding relationship differently.

  20. Adding; in divorce and child custody issues there is also a bias against the single parent if the other is in a “relationship”. Hetero-sexual, monogamous and in all ways “correct” of course.

  21. It’s kind of amazing they have the open relationship option.

    In the 90s I tried to place a Village Voice classified and they would not let me say that I was seeking more than one person. I could only be looking for one person.

    The big personal sites have the same issue. According to a friend who has tried, they will ban you for any mention of polyamory. I guess you could use your book list as a signaling device. “The Ethical Slut,” “Polyfidelity Primer,” etc.

    Actually not only is there a bias against nonmarried people; there are places where poly folk have to play life like a chess game or risk trouble with the school district, child protective services and so on.

    All of the anti-same-sex-marriage amendments define marriage as “one man and one woman.” They are ahead of the curve on polyamory.

  22. A base-line difference in face-book’s thinking and my own is that “relationship” is a category separate from “friends” in the first place. But to get all a-twitter about it seems like a net-load of misplaced energy.

    Facebook’s nod to traditional definition of “relationship” and it’s limited pre-fab list points strongly to it’s use as a virtual dating service.

    I believe that one does not need to check a relationship box at all if one so desires.

  23. For me, this article is a classic example of barking up the wrong tree. The issue is entirely valid but to attribute it to some facebook aberration is a category mistake.

    It’s like when you fill in an application form and it says ‘current job’ – well, I’ve had as many as four part time posts simultaneously. Assumptions of the normative model are absolutely no efficacious criticism of a necessary format-modality. To conclude otherwise is to throw away formatting per se, because you will always be oppressing somebody!

    The pragmatic response here would be ‘simply check open relationship’.

    The kind of information in view is, at any rate, only nominally relevant in assessing the value of the interface between othernesses – it is a concession to an information-obsessed society to make the assumption that some category descriptor of relatedness is more significant in functional terms than the actual quality of interactions shared.

    If someone discriminates negatively on the basis of such superficial profiling that is their loss, it seems to me.

    So, a crucial topic is easily watered down by association with a superficial critique of the nature of all bureaucracy (generalizations).

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