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It’s unclear how exactly the countless generations of doe-eyed lovers before us announced their relationship statuses. Perhaps girls in poodle skirts and boys in letterman jackets burst into their friendly American burger joint with the frantic announcement, “We’re going steady!”
While the practice of formal dating, as emerged in the 1950’s, has dwindled significantly, especially on college campuses, the designation of a relationship as “Facebook official” among those remaining instances of formal dating has become even scarcer. In reality, the practice of signaling a relationship to the broader world comes from a long-rooted tradition, and has undeniable merits, from practicality to symbolic commitment. Bottom line: If you’re in a relationship, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be “Facebook official” too.
At first glance, there seems to be something superficial about the practice of displaying a relationship on social media. Shouldn’t matters of the heart be whispered in private, and at least for the hopeless romantics among us, contained in the realm of moonlight and poetry?
Actually, no. The emergence of the term itself indicates that love has a practical and social component to it. Like it or not, lovers who dare face the light of day will have to situate their relationship within a broader social context. Because love inherently has an element of possessive exclusivity, handling the broader social context is inevitable. For example, you need people to know that however attractive your significant other may appear, he or she is firmly off limits to any potential seducers/seductresses.
This practical function is akin to the class rings that teenagers in the 1950’s would exchange, or to the cheerleader captain wearing the football captain’s letterman jacket to the sock hop. It may have evolved an ostentatious component to it, but it originated from a practical need to simply mark one’s own.
Of course, these arguments may still fall on deaf ears for hopeless romantics who believe simply in love—and not in “labels.” It’s undeniable that “Facebook official” is a much less poetic way of broadcasting commitment to social networks than a public declaration of love into a mic at a crowded party, romantic-comedy style. Yet Facebook pages are the first places we check when we meet someone new; our Facebook personas are, for better or for worse, undeniably important to our IRL lives. Translating real-life relationships to Facebook not only makes life easier but also has become in our modern context the new way of showing symbolic commitment.
The fear that it would make things awkward if you break up is a legitimate concern. The commiserating comments that accompany the “So-and-so is single” listing on any newsfeed can sometimes add salt to an already sore wound. However, it seems strangely morbid to enter a relationship assuming its demise, especially when the consequences are simply people knowing of its demise. Break-ups come with far greater emotional losses than the public awareness of its occurrence.
So here’s my call to all the happily dating people at Harvard that I know exist, despite the plethora of Internet articles bemoaning the fall of dating on college campuses: celebrate it. Post it on Facebook. Celebrate the hopeful feeling of new love amidst the crisp Cambridge autumn, without worrying about what could hypothetically happen at the end.
And of course, there’s no harm in watching the ‘likes’ accumulate.
Eva Shang ’17, a Crimson editorial writer, is an economics concentrator in Eliot House.
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