If I were to name the top three events that have defined my college career thus far they would have to be losing Columbia Bagels (drunken cream cheese, I miss you so), failing at having sex in the Butler stacks (story for another day), and the birth of Facebook (if only procrastinating on it qualified as column research). There are a couple of other things that belong in there, like say, selling my soul to the Spectator and going to class, but that about sums it up. Especially Facebook. Imagine our lives without hours spent browsing Facebook photos, searching for old friends, and neurotically updating profiles. The sexual implications of the Facebook invasion are massive. Drunken dials have nothing on the late night wall post. But the worst implication of them all, hands down, comes from the "Relationship Status" option.
Newsflash, Mark Zuckerberg: I don't care how many million dollars you're worth. Figuring out a relationship's status was hard enough before Facebook. What happens when your significant other requests to be in a Facebook relationship without asking you about it beforehand? Breaking up with someone is plenty depressing sans having to click that ugly "cancel relationship" link (fun fact: the html tag for "cancel relationship" is "breakup"). As for the whole "In A Relationship with my best girlfriend" thing-it's a farce, a cover-up for how much you hate being single. Worst of all, the phrase "Facebook Official" has made it into the Urban Dictionary. It's "the ultimate definition of a college relationship-when on one's Facebook profile it says "In A Relationship" and your significant other's name," as in "'are Adam and Courtney dating?' 'I don't know, they're not Facebook official yet.'"
Granted, making a relationship official was never uncomplicated. Marriage, the most official of all relationships, was originally created because ancient societies needed a secure environment for reproduction, a means of handling property rights, and a way to protect bloodlines. Ancient Hebrew law, for example, required the brother of a deceased husband to marry the widow. Today we get to marry people for love, not utility. The practical and societal commitment level has decreased dramatically (hence the higher divorce rates). Plus the commitment level that comes with marriage doesn't apply to us college students-or not yet, anyways. So what is it about labels, relationships, and commitment that makes the going-official-move so hard?
Laugh if you like, but the "Relationship Status" option on Facebook is a virtual manifestation of our actual relationship fears. That may not be true for everyone, especially not those who refuse to join Facebook in the first place, silly people. But it's easy to be hooking-up with someone on a regular basis, even exclusively; it's much harder to make it official. Making a regular hook-up official should be no big deal-it's just putting a label on something that already existed. And yet so often, hook-ups and other pre-relationship relationships end because someone is too scared of calling them anything more.
Part of the trouble is that relationships don't serve a specific function in college. Most of us are not looking to get married, and even if we are, the commitment level tends to remain vague. Often people differ on what being in a relationship actually means: some believe it means spending every waking moment together; others merely view it as the promise of monogamy. One person might see it as a long-term commitment; another might approach relationships on a day-to-day basis. The hooking-up culture that largely dominates students' sex lives makes relationships seem even more superfluous. If it's so easy to get ass, and even spend other kinds of quality time with someone without making anything official, there had better be a damn good reason to get into a relationship in the first place. It makes relationships seem all the more important. Or scary.
Someone recently commented to me that putting "relationship," "boyfriend," and "girlfriend" labels on what was already an exclusive and committed partnership seemed trivial. And on the one hand it is-what really counts is that the two people in a relationship, or whatever you choose to call it, are equally committed. But there is something to be said for using labels and making things official. Often, when somebody is unsure of their commitment, they will hide their significant other from family and friends. Making things official, no matter how trivial it may personally seem, indicates a greater commitment, because of the status the wider public places on labels like "relationship," "boyfriend," and "girlfriend."
So, Mr. Zuckerberg: While I sincerely appreciate all the procrastination benefits Facebook provides, I could do without the overly public strain it places on our sex lives. I realize that, by joining Facebook, we are voluntarily subjecting ourselves to said public strain. I also realize, if two people are happy to declare their relationship in the real world, doing so in the virtual world should be no big deal. Two words: it's complicated.
Miriam Datskovsky is a Barnard College junior majoring in human rights and political science.
Sexplorations runs alternate Mondays.