(April 18, 2011)

Contact: Rick DelaHaya, Centenary News Services, 318.869.5073

High tech romance: Social networking blurs the lines

By Devin White
Courtesy of the Shreveport Times

SHREVEPORT, La. — Heidi Smith, of Shreveport, was just a few feet from her boyfriend when he broke up with her — on Facebook.

photo illustration
Photo illustration courtesy of The Times

"By the time I read it, there were 'likes' on there and comments about it," she said.

"It's like, I'm sitting right next to you. I was mad that he couldn't tell me personally, and he had to go and make it public."

It's no doubt that social networking and texting have altered the way people interact, but, just as in Smith's case, it could have a negative effect on modern romance.

Matt Weeks, Associate Professor of psychology at Centenary College in Shreveport, doesn't see the art of romance disappearing, but he does see social networking as a complication to intimate relationships.

"Some research suggests a blurring of the distinction between public and private information in some people's point of view," he said.

"Its not a clear dichotomy anymore. Consequently, if I'm in a relationship, maybe 'our' business isn't so private anymore."

While even ending a relationship with a telephone call sounds insensitive, social networks and texting have taken it to the next level.

According to Weeks, social networks give people another security measure to avoid direct contact.

Matt Weeks
Dr. Matt Weeks

"It allows you to maintain a physical distance to do the breakup, but also a bit of a social distance," he said. "I don't have to look you in the eye and do it, so it feels safer."

For Celeste Allen, of Shreveport, when she and her ex-boyfriend were fighting, everyone on Facebook knew about it.

Her status messages never mentioned him by name, but sharing the lines of a sad song or a quote relevant to the couple's argument was enough to infuriate her former boyfriend.

"He'd make me mad, and I'd post something. Not only would that make him angry, but the 20 million comments people would leave about it would also," Allen said. "He could not stand people knowing our personal business."

Social networking also raises issues regarding fidelity. It's become increasingly easier for people to reconnect with former flames and high school crushes.

What may start out as an innocent "friend request" can quickly turn into an exchange of telephone numbers and ultimately a face-to-face meeting.

Weeks calls this the foot-in-the-door phenomenon.

"We tend to take small steps toward bigger and bigger changes," he said. "You may never have gone into a situation intending to cheat, but one day you look up and you're doing something you never expected that you would."

Allen doesn't blame social networks for people cheating on their spouse. If people are going to have an affair, they'll find a way to do so, she said. In fact, she said social networks often help people find out if their partner has been unfaithful.

According to a 2010 survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, four out of five lawyers said there are an increasing number of divorce cases citing evidence from social networking sites.

But social networks aren't necessarily bad for relationships. It's simply how people use them.

Weeks has a Facebook page, but mainly uses it to keep in touch with old friends.

"It used to be that you had to exchange letters via snail mail. Then you could communicate more quickly via email, but now I can keep up with my friends by checking out their posts," he said. "It can give me a much greater sense of what's going on in their life."

Allen said she's learned from her past mistakes.

Instead of posting sad songs for her new boyfriend to read, she posts happy ones. And when they do have a fight, let's just say that's private.

"Any time we get into a fight or disagreement, we pick up the phone and call. No texting. No Facebook," Allen said. "If it's a serious matter, you have to have a filter there."

About Centenary College of Louisiana

Centenary College is a private, four-year arts and sciences college affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Founded in 1825, it is the oldest chartered liberal arts college west of the Mississippi River and is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Centenary is one of 16 colleges and universities constituting the Associated Colleges of the South and has been recognized as "One of the Best 373 Colleges" by the Princeton Review and one of "America's Best Colleges" and one of "America's Best Private Colleges" by Forbes.com. In 2008 Centenary College celebrated 100 years in Shreveport and Bossier City.