By PAULETTE PARKER
Facebook statuses announce everything from new babies to new love. Thoughts have been confined to 140-character tweets. Even breakfast and dinner plates have gone public with Instagram.
Social media is a prevalent, dominant and almost vital presence in our society. New relationships are formed and existing relationships maintained using these outlets. However, “real-life” relationships begin to suffer when people become so plugged in that they tune out to the world around them.
“I see people all the time; they have their headphones on, or they’re always texting,” said Cassandra George-Sturges, a Washtenaw Community College psychology instructor. “How do you know that the guy right next to you on the elevator may not be the next person who you can actually see and spend time with? You don’t even know because you’re so tuned out from the real world.”
With specialized dating sites that connect farmers, Christians, cougars and older singles, creating a profile has become easier than approaching that stranger in the grocery store. And with apps like Tinder, your husband or wife may be only a right-swipe away.
But the convenience is not without risk.
“Now you meet a person, and they can tell you anything,” George-Sturges said. “They have pictures up of when they were younger or smaller. Now people have an opportunity to present a part of themselves that’s not even real.”
Users have a responsibility to themselves to make sure they have an opportunity to meet the person face-to-face, she said.
“I would think that after at least three months of communicating on social media that, at some point, you need to meet them,” George-Sturges said. “And if they can’t find a way to meet you, and you can’t find a way to meet them, in my opinion, those are red flags.”
Social media doesn’t only pose a unique set of challenges in beginning new relationships, but can complicate established relationships. Social media has made distributing and obtaining information instantaneous. When oversharing takes place, things can go awry.
“People post their personal business,” George-Sturges said. “When you take something that’s intimate and personal and private, and you put it in a social media setting and put people in your business, I feel like you take away some of the sacredness of that bond.” She suggests that if you’re in a relationship, keep it to yourself.
“That is not the place for social media to me,” she said.
WCC pre-med student, Shelby H., 22, of Pinckney, said that, while her boyfriend has written inconspicuous tweets directed toward her, she refrains from sharing her relationship details online.
“I don’t like involving people in my drama,” Shelby said.
George-Sturges also warns that people need to be conscientious that intentions can be misinterpreted online, particularly when it comes to comments or messages.
“I think you should be aware of flirtatious behavior,” she said. “You have to remember that when you make a comment or make some type of post, that sometimes it can be interpreted in a way that can hurt the person you’re in a relationship with.” Sometimes the best rule to follow is just not to say anything at all.
“If there’s any doubt in your mind that in any way this can be taken as disrespect for your partner, don’t do it,” George-Sturges said. “Err on the side of not posting anything that looks flirtatious.”
WTMC student, Abrielle Fretz, 16, of Superior Township, feels that anything said online is open for interpretation.
“It can be hard to portray subtle things like sarcasm,” Fretz said. “If there’s anything important that you need to say, definitely in person is the best way to go.” Ups and downs are a part of any healthy relationship, George-Sturges said. But involving others in those down moments can be detrimental.
“The minute you post something negative about your relationship, you have just taken something that you and your mate would have gotten over in a couple days, and now you may never survive it,” George-Sturges said. “Don’t post your emotions. Don’t post anything about your mate online – period.”
“People share things that they wouldn’t normally share because they have the safety of anonymity,” she said. “I can say how my husband is getting on my nerves and how my wife isn’t a good wife.”
So is social media to blame for breakups or does it just expedite the inevitable?
“My daughter said, ‘You put people in your business, and people will attempt to destroy it,’ and I agree with [her],” George-Sturges said.
“I feel like social media ruins relationships – period,” Shelby said. Breaking up has changed in the digital age, becoming simultaneously easier and more difficult.
“I just think that the lack of, or this superficial layer of communication makes it easier for people to break up with each other and not be concerned about their feelings,” George-Sturges said. “You can get over a picture quicker than you can making love to a real person.” Moving on gracefully after a breakup can be exacerbated by social media presences.
“I think people look at their exes’ social media pages due to jealousy or the fact that they’re not over them, and they want to see what’s going on,” Shelby said.
“When my son and his girlfriend broke up after seven years, he would go on her Facebook every night to see what she was doing,” George-Sturges said. “I knew he was over her when he stopped.” She recommends cutting all social media ties, including mutual friends.
“The healthiest thing to do is delete all friends that you have in common because you’ve got to remember it’s social media; it’s not real life,” she said. “If you have a friend in common, go to the movies together. It doesn’t mean they’re not your friend anymore, but in this artificial world of communication, keep it clean, cut it off.” Moving on is beneficial for both parties involved.
“I do think that seeing this person on social media after a breakup prolongs the healing process because you miss the opportunity to go within,” George-Sturges said. “You eventually get over them, but I think you put yourself through a lot of turmoil comparing yourself to the new person and getting angry again about something they said, which is really none of your business. That’s the thing, once you break up, they’re no longer your business.”
Sending messages and making posts with the intention of hurting one another should also be avoided.
“When people hurt, they hurt people,” George-Sturges said. “I think the No. 1 rule should be this: If I was not able to hide behind social media, would I go to this person’s face and say it straight away? And if you have any hesitation of saying that directly to their face, you know you shouldn’t be posting that.”
In the end, grieving is necessary to get past a previous relationship.
“Grieving releases the past,” George-Sturges said. “It releases everything that didn’t work from your life, and it gives you an opportunity to attract something new and more wonderful.” Balancing relationships and social media is fairly new territory. Just as with any new development, the rules must be learned.
“I think that we are evolving as human beings, and it’s, like, this is a new way of communicating,” George-Sturges said. “I think that in the process of this transition into this new phase of evolvement as human beings, we have to be patient with each other.”