Dating and Facebook

WASHINGTON — A few weeks ago a man on my Facebook network (a person I know of but don't really know) changed his relationship status from "engaged" to "single," triggering a news alert that was immediately sent to all his online associates.

What ensued was a public outpouring of bafflement and support for the brokenhearted guy. "Keep your chin up," folks wrote on his publicly visible wall. "Be strong."

Probably some of his more than 600 friends knew the whole sad story; the rest of us were incidental, unwitting voyeurs.

Lots of Facebook users have by now figured out tricks to ensure discretion on the social networking site (turning off the news feed, for instance). But not everyone has mastered a strategy of navigating the digital world — or come to terms with the ramifications of sharing so much.

Let's face it, these digital straits are precarious. You can, of course, simply choose not to report a relationship status at all. But for single people, that might mean cutting off opportunities to connect with interesting friends of friends. And once a real connection is made, how long do you wait to change the status to "in a relationship"? Does a couple need to have "the Facebook conversation" before either makes a status change?

Jennifer Kelton, publisher of, has some thoughts on the matter. "Know your audience, and know who's looking at what you're saying. Just be thoughtful," she says. "Not everybody needs to know every tidbit of your information."

After all, our man's ex-fiancee might have something to say about the way he told the world of their split. In an extreme, tragic case, a man in Britain — upon hearing that his recently estranged wife changed her status to "single" — flew into a rage and killed her. He told police he was "humiliated" by her online posting.

Hopefully it never comes to that again, but online networks and their role in modern relationships are here to stay.

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