How to Handle Being in a Relationship on Social Media

“In my day, when you broke up with someone, you broke up,” my mom remarked to me not too long ago. “We didn’t have this Facebook shit.”

Facebook shit, indeed.

It used to be boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, you meet your best friend’s new girlfriend/boyfriend at the bar, they live happily ever after, only to be seen or heard from again via monthly phone calls and Christmas cards. Or it might have went: boy meets girl, they fall in love, you meet their new girlfriend/boyfriend at a house party, they break up and the only reason you found out they did is because your buddy called you at one a.m. crying and/or drunk.

Nowadays, thanks to social media, it’s not outrageous to assume you might know your bro got dumped before he does thanks to his girlfriend’s tweets. Or that suddenly you’re someone’s boyfriend because your new squeeze changed her ‘relationship status’ on Facebook. Awkward.

Whether we like it or not, social media plays a huge part in the formation, maintenance, and dissolution of relationships. It can get a little confusing at times and since relationships are tough enough to navigate without the help (or hindrance) of 140 characters and the ilk, I came up with some tips to help you be less socially (media) awkward when it comes to your personal life.

Scenario #1: It’s been three months. You sleep at her place more than at your own digs. What to do about that Facebook relationship status?

Well, according to Toronto etiquette expert Louise Fox, “any change of status should be discussed first” and it should be a “mutual decision”. This is pretty much a no-brainer. Facebook should not be announcing what you think of the seriousness (or not so seriousness) of your relationship before your S.O. does. So, obviously, before you go from ‘single’ to ‘in a relationship’ in front of all your 400+ Facebook friends, the two of you have had a heart-to-heart and know exactly what you both think of your situation, and where it’s going, etc. But, Fox also advises “to ask yourself if it is necessary to ‘change your status’ on Facebook. Just because it’s not on FB doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist!” True. So do what’s comfortable for both of you. And, please oh please, if your relationship is in fact “complicated”, we don’t need to know that. It’s way TMI—even for Facebook. Why they even have that option beats the hell outta me.

Scenario #2: You changed your Facebook profile pic to a cute couple-y one of you two. She hasn’t. What does that mean?

Well, first, congrats on the digital PDA. Second, chill. Maybe her Facebook habits are different than yours (i.e. she’s not frequently on the website or long enough to upload a new photo). Maybe she doesn’t like that shot (you think she looks hot, meanwhile she thinks she’s having a bad hair day). Or maybe she needed you to make that extra push first. When an old boyfriend (who was normally shy of social media) changed his solo MySpace profile pic to one of us smiling like a couple of idiots in funny-looking hats, I knew right then and there that he was “all in” and it made me feel all those good feelings of warmth and security to see him take that initial “here we are, world!” announcement. That exact day, I changed my profile pic to the same one, thus instantly transforming us into one of those nauseating “twinsies” couples we all despise/envy.

But after a while, if your girlfriend hasn’t changed her photo and it still bothers you, then just bring up it oh-so-casually (“Embarrassed that I’m better looking than you in that photo, huh?”) and then you’ll get your answer.

Scenario #3: I think Mila Kunis is hot. So I tweeted how much I want to do her. Now my GF is mad. My bad?

Yes and no. It’s perfectly okay to have a celebrity crush, but maybe announcing it so publicly—and graphically—wasn’t entirely the best call. If your colleagues/friends/family are following you and you’re tweeting about banging other women, they might assume you’re now single (when you’re not) or that you want to be (when you don’t). Things could get further misconstrued if your GF’s colleagues/friends/family are following you and they assume the same thing. Social media is kinda like that old telephone game: the correct message gets misinterpreted sometimes because of how it’s delivered and received. Also, things usually seem much more dramatic and exaggerated on social media. So depending on the fall-out, you might want to scale back on your love for Mila, or simply reassure your girl that she’s the only one you want in real-life. Then there’s the third option: tell her to chillax; honestly, how many followers could you possibly have?

Scenario #4: I consider myself an amateur photographer and so I’m addicted to Instagram. This hot girl started following me and we’ve started messaging each other almost every day now. But that’s not considered flirting, right? (My girlfriend seems to think so.)

Okay, so you probably won’t ever meet this ‘hot girl’ you’re messaging daily, but I’m betting you also like the attention. That’s sketchy territory, dude. Of course the attention is nice (especially if it’s legit about your work) but once it turns into making silly jokes and shooting the shit (you know, when it starts becoming more personal than professional), then you should stop. Especially if your girlfriend has a problem with it. You might want to ask yourself why you’re continuing to chat with this other woman: is it simply an ego-boost, or is it distracting you from the realities of your relationship? Either way, end it with ‘hot girl,’ and get back to posting your Amaro-hued pics.

Scenario #5: We broke up. We follow each other on Twitter/Instagram/Tumblr, etc. We’re still friends on Facebook. Now what?

Social media has made it impossibly difficult for a ‘clean break’ and impossibly easy for the inevitable ‘backslide’ (which, in my opinion, does a lot more harm than good). Firstly, make sure that you “keep your relationship problems and break-ups off-line,” says Fox. “And don’t post pot shots or arguments via media posts. You risk putting yourself in a negative light.”

Once you’ve broken up (and both of you realize it wasn’t rash, but the real-deal), then cut all ties. Unfollow them as a friend on all your connected networks. Don’t bother changing your status on Facebook – just delete them. The less you see of them, the less sad/mad/bad you’ll feel. When it comes to ‘who should initiate the cutting off?’—the dumper or the dumpee—that’s a judgment call. The dumper might think it’s “way harsh” to completely remove his ex from his life, but I think by not doing so, he usually gives the dumpee some kind of false hope for a reconciliation. If getting back together will happen, it will happen when it’s supposed to. In the meantime, neither of you need to know what’s going on in each other’s lives (including, and especially, your new relationships).

As for photos, again, judgment call. I’d recommend deleting them from your profile altogether to get rid of any confusion from friends, family, or future girlfriends, and just keep them on your computer or hard drive. You might not want to delete them forever, ever, but they should be outta sight, outta mind.

Brianne Hogan is a freelance writer based in Toronto, something of a humorist, and considers herself more Bridget Jones than Samantha Jones. Though she won’t reveal which parts, she will admit to liking emotionally unavailable men and drinking lots of wine.  You can follow her on Twitter  @briannehogan

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