Love in the time of social media

Brett Stoeger, Broadcast Editor

It’s Valentine’s Day. Cupid hovers above a drowsy class of students, carefully deciding which two will be on the receiving end of this year’s arrows of love. A familiar scene with a contemporary twist, his bow transforms into a smartphone, he opens the Facebook application, and pokes the two young lovebirds.

The pair learns each other’s names over the next few class sessions, and after an internal struggle greater than scaling Mt. Everest, or perhaps in an uncharacteristically dauntless moment, one of them sends a friend request on Facebook. Six seconds later, the request is confirmed, and the personal dissection begins.

They dive into photos from high school, political affiliations, relationship histories, musical preferences and more, “getting to know” each other in the most efficient means of information acquisition in the history of dating. They want to test the waters, make sure they know what they’re getting into before becoming vulnerable for a stranger, and what better way than to observe interactions with friends? The impressions gathered from social media profiles create expectations for a date, which may be problematic if there hasn’t been any face-to-face contact. Profiles are tailored for “likes,” social relevance is the driving force behind the proliferation of social media, and while he may seem perfect because he likes puppies, plays bingo with his grandmother, and listens to Keith Urban, chances are he can only produce a lackluster, muffled attempt at “Raining On Sunday.”

But let’s say they make it through the first date, likely organized via Facebook Chat and preluded by a week or two of casual conversation to make sure things won’t get awkwardly quiet in person. Our two lovebirds hit it off and a blossoming romance ensues, but they continue to use social media in excess, monitoring each other’s posts and keeping the resulting frustrations on the back burner for the time being. Eventually it’s impossible to ignore that the mobile app says she’s currently online, but still hasn’t responded to the “what’s up” message from 27 minutes ago.

A study conducted by the University of Missouri School of Journalism evaluated Twitter use and the potential effects it has on relationship conflicts. The study, headed by Russell Clayton, surveyed 581 Twitter users based on the frequency they use the application, tweet, and scroll the newsfeed. The results of Clayton’s study were clear, higher levels of Twitter use, more frequent outgoing tweets and consistent newsfeed scrolling, are directly correlated to greater levels of conflict in relationships of the users.

So what actually makes it all fall apart? A person’s behavior surely isn’t variable depending on whether or not the action/event will be published on social media, is it? A study conducted by Jean Twenge for the journal Psychological Science asked baby boomers in the mid 1970s whether or not “most people can be trusted.” The percentage of young adults that were confident in the ability to trust others was 33 percent. As of 2012, the percentage of young adults that agree, “most people can be trusted” was cut by more than half, dropping to 16 percent of trust-filled millennials.

The immediate availability of information, and the ability to essentially monitor someone’s life, even location in real time, is creating a mentality that could be detrimental to the happiness of Generation Y. We’ve taken on a “kill or be killed” mindset as a result of suspicions brought about by excessive social media use. Arguments stemming from something as insignificant as a “liked” photo lead to unhealthy relationships, constant questioning, and accusations. The origin of the conflict may not even be valid, but the human need to protect ourselves from reoccurring tragedies compels us to strike preemptively; a true self-defeating prophecy.

The break-up is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the agony social media can bring to the relationship table. A study conducted by Western University student Veronica Lukacs found that higher levels of Facebook use after a break-up resulted in greater distress. Additionally, 70 percent of respondents admitted to using a friend’s account to “creep” on an ex.

Constant immersion into the ex’s life will bring about feelings of jealousy, even false memories inflated by tailored posts designed to get a reaction; yes, that selfie captioned with Drake lyrics is about you.

Repression is not the answer, however, as a conscious effort to put your ex on the back burner may result in a phenomenon known as the Ironic Process Theory, or “White Bear Effect.” Try not to think about a white bear, and Coca-Cola commercials may run through your mind on repeat.

Conflicts made relevant by social media may seem unavoidable, and they are if allowed to develop. Make the decision to get to know your love interest in real life, enjoy the moment and savor every new bit of information they trust you with.

Assumptions and expectations aren’t fun for anybody. Don’t be a creep.