Today’s newlyweds grew up alongside the internet and now they have to navigate married life with it, something no other generation has had to deal with. Massive social networks and mobile dating apps have transformed relationships in a way few could have imagined even 10 years ago. A huge percentage of young people use the internet for dating (a 2015 Pew research poll found that 60% of respondents thought online dating was a valid way to meet people), and about 5% of those make it to marriage.
Millennials enter their relationships with long online histories, and social media profiles that can be over a decade old. Previous generations had the opportunity to create their online presence with their current marriage in mind. Now, with huge scandals hitting Facebook every week (most notably, the revelations about the political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica and its data mining operation) people are rethinking their relationship with social media, and prominent people are leaving the social network behind.
This moment provides young couples a good opportunity to take a step back and reflect on how the possibilities of social media impact their relationship, and their own privacy.
The Cheating Machine
Dr. Michelle Drouin has done research into the impact of social media on relationships. She sees Facebook as a major factor in divorces and breakups, calling the social network “a cheating machine.”
The social platform has definitely helped facilitate people’s infidelities. In fact, 75% of divorce cases list both “opposite sex” and “Facebook” during the proceedings. Drouin thinks that Facebook’s social network plays a huge part in how these divorces happen. She says, “If you’re on Facebook and you’re even a little bit unhappy with your marriage, you’re stupid.”
The wealth of data Facebook provides its users makes it insanely easy to check in on people from our past. Lots of users stay connected to attractive contacts, keeping them in mind for when their relationship goes sour. Drouin calls these contacts lingering on your friends list “backburners;” they’re “the people who you keep waiting in the wings.”
Keeping these friends in the mix as potential romantic options can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Drouin explained that access to more romantic options makes it harder for partners to commit. “Instead of marrying the boy in my town I now have access to anyone in the world… As soon as one partner exhibits one trait that seems undesirable,” the other partner can easily “find other people who they’re willing to date.”
Sparks Will Fly
One partner doesn’t even need to actively seek out another person to wind up cheating. Drouin says this spark can happen almost anywhere online because “You can find people who are like you,” even in the comments section. When you see a positive comment on a YouTube clip of your favorite song, you’re naturally tempted to identify with that person.
Facebook facilitates so many of these connections that some of them wind up occurring on some pretty odd parts of the platform. In 2014, HuffPost spoke to Benjamin Painter, whose marriage ended after his wife cheated on him with someone she met through the Facebook game “Mafia Wars.” Two months into the marriage, Painter started seeing notifications on his wife’s profile from some guy named “Johnny.” His wife eventually blocked him from seeing her profile.
Painter he thinks his ex-wife’s behavior would have manifested eventually, with or without Facebook, and doesn’t blame the platform. She clearly had something to hide, and that’s never a good sign in a marriage.
Expectations of Privacy
Spouses expect transparency from their partners because of how marriage is inherently designed. Drouin says that when married couples are living together “in the same physical place, you’re giving up privacy.” The transparency of marriage might explain why sharing passwords is actually pretty common. According to a 2014 Pew Research Survey, 67% of internet users in relationships have shared at least one password with their spouse.
Pushing for digital privacy from your spouse can be a sign that you’re doing something you know you shouldn’t be. Drouin says “secrecy is the hallmark of infidelity.” If you’re unsure whether or not some of your online communications are above board, she says to ask yourself if your messages include “anything that you wouldn’t want your partner to read.” She also said that deleting messages is also a sign that someone might be hiding something from their spouse.
Drouin says that the ease of private communication makes hiding infidelity easier than it was in the pre-internet world, because “if someone wanted to send me a message 20 years ago, they’d have to reach me on my house phone.” Nowadays, someone could be engaging in a romantic affair without even leaving the house.
Our addiction to our smartphones also feeds this behavior. This takes time away from people’s interpersonal relationships. On this, Drouin says, “When you use technology when you’re partner’s there, it communicates a messages that you’re tending to this technology and ‘this tech in this moment is where i’m putting my energy and not to you…’ This can translate to feelings of anger and… feelings of loss, [that] this is just time i’m losing from my partner.” She adds, “this technology is becoming a third wheel.”
One of the prime advantages of falling in love is the shot of dopamine a partner can provides you with, even from something as simple as a furtive glance or a quick kiss. Relationship apps play into this, using our own instinctive reactions in order to steal as much of our time (and data) as possible. Drouin says that many apps addict us by design. When we get notifications from people we care about, the app is really “hitting us at this basic level… the need for love.” Apps like Tinder are “gamifying and simplifying” the dating process and giving us a rush of dopamine with each notification. “You get a match and it pops up, it’s exciting.”
The Need To Navigate
It’s so easy for people to get caught up in their online lives. Drouin says this is why couples should “negotiate at the onset” what their relationship looks like online, and how much privacy they’d like to give each other. There’s no standard for the sort of boundaries couples set, but Drouin says that couples can be pretty open about their social media habits “as long as it’s all above board.”