Like many well-meaning fellas, Jonathan Torres never saw the very first rift with his girlfriend coming. The culprit: his Facebook status.
You see, Torres was still getting used to the whole living-your-relationship-in-social-media game — at age 31, he was 10 years older than his text-friendly, Twitter-savvy girl, Courtney McGarry. So when they decided to move from friendship to something more, the Clearwater marketing account executive forgot an important change.
He forgot to make it Facebook official.
"I didn't think it was that important," he said, recalling his response when McGarry asked why he hadn't changed his "single" status to "in a relationship." Guess what happened next?
"She says, 'If you don't think it was that important, then maybe I'm not that important,' " recalled Torres , who quickly corrected his error. "She saw it as me maybe not wanting to publicly acknowledge her. It's just another way of cementing your place in that person's life."
Indeed, some social-media experts say platforms such as Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter and text messaging have sped up the pace of romantic relationships, requiring people to learn new ways of negotiating a media universe where they're constantly declaring their relationship status to the world.
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"Facebook is progressing relationships to the maximum level — (people are) sharing a lot more information than they would normally give to an acquaintance," said K. Jason Krafsky, an author and blogger who wrote the book on social media and relationships, Facebook and Your Marriage, with wife Kelli Krafsky last year. "You're moving from partner to partner at a faster clip, but not necessarily developing the foundation for a healthy relationship."
A January Zogby poll estimated almost one-half of American adults on Facebook use it to tell the world their relationship status. About 73 percent of users who are single will use the service to learn more about whom they want to date (the number jumps to 94 percent for those aged 18 to 29), and 30 percent of women will look at their partner's friends, compared with 20 percent of men.
The Krafskys, married for more than 16 years, wrote their book after friending a bunch of past romantic partners on Facebook and seeing emotions rise which rocked their marriage. Their advice: Don't friend exes, do talk offline about online issues, and resist the urge to stalk your spouse. Share your log-on and user information with your spouse and definitely don't do what one man did when his wife complained he was friending too many women online: He defriended her.
"In relationships, women have their foot on the gas pedal and men have their foot on the brake," K. Jason Krafsky said. "But with social media, women can put the pedal to the metal … Social media is about informing people, but it shouldn't be the driver for your relationship."
Even marketers are getting into the act, with a commercial in last Sunday's Super Bowl literally featuring a driver using hands-free technology to check his friends' Facebook statuses after a date. He breaks into a smile after learning his new flame posted four words: "Best. First. Date. Ever."
But for those wise to the ways of romance and social media, that moment meant a lot more.
First, it meant he had included his date within his circle of Facebook friends before they ever went on a date. Second, it meant she probably put up her status update knowing he would see it. Third, she managed to communicate something to him about their relationship without ever directly connecting with him, avoiding that uncomfortable space when somebody must decide when (or if) to call for that second outing.
"It's common … but it leaves a lot of room for miscommunication and injured feelings," said Sarah Harrison, vice president of content and branded media for Your Tango, an online dating and relationship advice site. "I know guys who only deal with some women by text message. A lot of women might take that as a huge insult, but the guy is (saying), 'I just texted her five times; I'm totally into her.' "
To help their users get through the coming holiday, Your Tango declared today "Ex Your Ex" day — encouraging its audience to go through the increasingly arduous task of fully breaking up in the social-media age.
That means unfriending old flames on Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter and any other social-media platform. Block or erase them on Google Chat, AIM and other instant messaging services. Remove your names from any photos online — known on Facebook as "untagging" yourself — and delete any songs or music playlists that remind you of that person.
Harrison said the holiday was inspired by Your Tango's online poll of 1,000 users, which found that 71 percent felt they thought about exes too much, with 50 percent of women and 40 percent of men saying they looked at their ex's profile too often online. Half those polled admitted texting, IM-ing, calling or e-mailing an ex when they shouldn't have, and 30 percent admitted to having sex with them.
"You can't really get away from your exes these days; they're everywhere," said Harrison. "It's so easy to feed this desire to know things about people. But you need time to heal."
That's a truth Torres discovered last year when he and McGarry decided to take a break. He worried in particular about photos on Facebook; keeping them might make dating someone else difficult, but deleting them seemed an admission they would never reunite. The photos stayed.
"You're literally having to delete your past," Torres said. "Her mom, dad and brother were all my friends on Facebook and they all unfriended me. But it was hard to see her out and about doing things without me; I had to really cut off contact for a while."
As Valentine's Day approaches, Kelli Krafsky said the best social-media advice for the holidays is to put down the smart phones, iPads and laptops, buy real flowers and reaffirm the offline connections with the people in your life.
"None of these virtual gifts or status updates will replace the real thing," she said. "Women need to interact; they need to feel taken care of, and technology can never fill that void."
Eric Deggans can be reached at (727) 893-8521 or firstname.lastname@example.org. See the Feed blog at www.tampabay.com/blogs/media.