Technology makes the world a smaller place. We’re able to talk to people from where ever we are using mobile telephones. We can connect with people from all over the world (and also with people from our pasts) with ease, via the internet. The worldwide web has, without a doubt, shrunk the world and lowered walls created by geographical borders.
Our access to technology enables us to make contact, exchange views and ideas, and to talk with people whom we might never have had the opportunity to meet a few years ago.
This broadens our horizons and experiences, brings new cultures and new people into our lives, and gives us a glimpse into a world that is not within the confines of our own.
What does technology have to do with affairs and infidelity?
One of the main ingredients in the mix of an affair is opportunity. Social media, email, Skype, and instant messaging all provide an almost effortless ability to create opportunities to meet an affair partner that might not otherwise have been possible.
There are many affairs that start out with the cheater making contact (or reconnecting) with someone on Facebook - Facebook affairs are surprisingly common. The faithful partner can often find themselves unable to understand how it was possible to develop a relationship with someone over the internet, to the extent that the cheater would enter into an affair with them. Today’s article explores relationship development via Facebook and gives an insight into its popular use for the instigation or exploration of relationship possibilities.
Many faithful partners whose cheaters have started their affairs through Facebook (the Facebook affair) blame the technology primarily for the affair. They come to loathe the whole concept of Facebook and it isn’t unusual to hear people claim that it is immoral, or that it is nothing more than a glorified hook-up site. Many partners whose cheaters had a Facebook affair assert that this type of technology is entirely responsible for the affair, and further assert that the affair would never have happened if Facebook had not been available.
Let’s be clear: The technology (be it Facebook, Twitter, or Xbox Live etc) is simply not the culprit in affairs. Facebook is not the bad guy, it didn’t make the affair happen, it didn’t cause the affair, it didn’t lure, seduce or entice someone into having an affair. The Facebook affair is nothing more than a label for the mode of communication and (perhaps) first contact/renewed contact.
The cheater makes the decision to cheat regardless of the ease of opportunity created by technology. A cheater who is open to an affair (or actively seeking one) will use whatever means are available to them to create the opportunity for themselves, either consciously or subconsciously. Facebook (and Facebook affairs) is a convenient scapegoat for both the cheater and the faithful partner to mitigate accountability.
A cheater may well take the easy options - it might explain why so many affairs are with less than stellar examples of humanity in the affair partner. It might also explain why some of the affair behavior is so seedy - motels, backs of cars, the lunch-break quickie.
A cheater will often create a personal narrative of fate, kismet, cosmic and divine engineering, or destiny, to explain why their affair partner is ‘the one’. “We met on Facebook for a reason - out of all the millions of people we found each other.” “The universe connected us and threw us together - there has to be a reason for it and we can’t ignore that.” “It’s destiny that two people so connected happen to work together as well.”
Facebook may well be an easy option to connect with other people. Skype may well be an easy option to have cyber-sex on webcams. ‘Disposable’ cell phones may well be an easy option to aid in the secrecy of an affair. Smartphone apps may well provide an easy option to mask affair activity. Craigslist may well be an easy option to line up hookers or find others with similar fetishes. In days gone by, it was the easy option to catch up with the town gigolo or good time girl at the local dance.
In all of this, the term, ‘easy option’ is pivotal. Options mean that there is a variety of choices, fidelity being one of them. Choice requires cognitive decision making. Cheaters DECIDE to cheat. Facebook doesn’t do that for them.
Affairs are not caused by Facebook any more than they are caused by telephones - both are just tools that the cheater and the affair partner use to communicate. In the Facebook affair, the affair is still the operative word - the Facebook part of it is irrelevant.
Facebook is a piece of software that simply does not have the capacity to coax someone into an affair. The culprit in an affair is the cheater, aided and abetted by the complicit affair partner.
Facebook and Relationship Development: It’s Complicated
Whether you like it or not, Facebook has become a central part of young people’s lives: about 75% of adolescents and young adults (aged 12-24) in the United States are active users of Facebook. As an important part of their day-to-day social interactions, Facebook reflects and plays a critical role in the development of young people’s romantic relationships. The importance of Facebook is illustrated by a recent paper published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships,2 which employed in-depth interviews and focus groups with 55 college students to gather their thoughts about Facebook’s role in relationship development. College students are typically heavy users of Facebook; this sample of students reported spending, on average, nearly 2.5 hours actively using Facebook each day (which is similar to the frequency reported in other studies).
Based on these interviews, the researchers identified three themes that are relevant at different points of relationship development:
1. Relationship Initiation
In general, students do not consider Facebook to be an on-line dating site and don’t typically use it as a way to identify potential partners. However, Facebook is commonly used to communicate and interact with potential partners after meeting in person (read more about the best place to meet someone here). Students use Facebook as a way to see if they are interested in pursuing more serious relationships, and it has replaced talking on the phone in the early stages of relationships. For example, one participant in the study reported that “It used to be, like, ‘Can I get your number?’ But now, you’ll see the next day they’re friending you, and then you start talking on Facebook. And that leads to ‘Can I get your number? I’ll text you.”
Communicating via Facebook early in a relationship is a less direct and more casual way of seeing if someone is interested in you. Compared to talking on the phone, which can produce all sorts of anxiety for some people, on Facebook you can be less forward and slowly show interest in someone rather than jumping in headfirst with a phone call. In fact, participants in this study noted that calling someone on the phone was “too forward.” Because communicating via Facebook is less direct, there is less apprehension about being rejected; on Facebook, it may be easier to tactfully let someone know you aren’t interested in a romantic relationship without having to come right out and directly reject them.
In addition, getting to know someone on Facebook has actually slowed the process of relationship initiation. Facebook messages are an asynchronous form of communication (i.e., it doesn’t take place in “real time” with immediate back-and-forth responses). As a result, people can take their time and craft responses carefully, which allows them to better control their self-presentation (which psychologists call “impression management”). Since you’re not being put on the spot with a fast-flowing dialogue, you can make sure to put your best foot forward and strategically write clever messages that make you seem much more interesting than you really are.
2. Information Seeking
Looking at people’s Facebook profiles can give you all sorts of information about them and their potential as a relationship partner. Scouring others’ profiles for information about them (without their knowledge) is known as “creeping” or “Facebook stalking” and, at least according to one participant in this study, “Everybody does it, whether they admit it or not.”
Having information about others can help with later face-to-face conversations, because it can give you something to talk about (e.g., “I saw the pictures you posted of your cat…He sure is cute!”), assuming you can tactfully bring that into conversations without tipping your hand that you’ve been creeping. However, a downside of knowing about the other person is that, because of the information you’ve gleaned from creeping, you might feel closer to them than they feel to you. Closeness is built through self-disclosure as partners mutually learn about each other;2 however, with Facebook, the “communication” may be one-sided (i.e., you’re creeping but your desired partner isn’t), and you may feel you know the other person well although they don’t necessarily feel close to you.
When it comes to forming impression of others, people tend to rely more heavily on the posted pictures than what people write about themselves in their profiles. This may be a good strategy; “a picture is worth a thousand words” and it is harder to manipulate and manage one’s self-image in pictures, so pictures are seen as particularly credible (especially those your friends have uploaded and tagged you in). It’s hard to deny your Spring Break shenanigans when there’s visual evidence! Study participants noted this, reporting that they use photos to identify “red flags” like reckless behavior, substance abuse, excessive partying, promiscuous behavior, and “glamor shots” that may indicate vanity.
3. Relationship Status
Once a relationship forms (i.e., your creeping didn’t scare him/her off and your relationship moved to the next level), Facebook communicates your commitment about the relationship to others (both your partner and your friends/family). Couples post that they are “in a relationship with…” (a.k.a., become “Facebook Official”) to define the relationship to each other and to announce the new relationship to their networks.
Study participants noted that posting a relationship status was an added complication within new relationships, as couples negotiate when it’s time to go public with their relationships on Facebook. For example, (heterosexual) men in this study were more likely to say that they got pressure from their girlfriends about changing their status than vice versa, and the conversation about becoming Facebook official can cause stress. In addition, men commented that Facebook was an additional place where they had to work to maintain their relationships (e.g., showing affection towards their partners); one participant noted that he “got in trouble once because she said she loved me on Facebook and I didn’t reply back.”
In addition, because everyone can see your status, there may be social pressure that accompanies changing your Facebook relationship status to being “in a relationship.” Posting your relationship status (and having your partner reciprocate) also communicates to others that your partner is in a relationship; it’s a way of “claiming.” For example, one participant in this study reported that posting a relationship status was a way of saying, “’Girls, don’t touch my man.’”
Clearly, Facebook is changing the way relationships develop. It provides information that helps individuals decide about potential partners and changes the pace at which relationships progress. One’s Facebook status is also an important marker of commitment and communicates the relationship to social networks; however, it can also be a source of stress for partners. As technology evolves and becomes ever-embedded in our daily lives, it undoubtedly will both reflect the state of our relationships while also impacting them.