Relationships without rules

Facebook causes problems for non-traditional couples

By Julie Hirshan |

It seems that in today’s society, young people can be reluctant to define their roles when it comes to romantic partnerships. I haven’t had any psychological or sociological training in this area. I’ve gathered these thoughts from my own experience and observations of my friends, family members and acquaintances.

Fewer would-be couples are categorized as dating, or even as exclusive. Instead, they continue in arrangements where only one or neither of the parties involved is committed solely to the other person.

Without definitive boundaries for these situations, no rules are established for conduct. Until, of course, they are broken, unknowingly, by one of the people. It is often unclear as to whether it’s okay to spend time with other people and to what extent.

Sometimes casual friendships and dates are condoned, and sometimes they are even encouraged. Physical relations are even trickier, especially when only one person is treating the relationship as exclusive. Hurt feelings can arise from misunderstandings.

Also, the rules that each person follows may change over the course of a couple’s time together. Even if the lesser or non-committed person is up front at the beginning about their willingness and the level of exclusivity that they are prepared to offer, problems can still arise.

People also spend less time face-to-face and more time using technology to communicate. The recent text-messaging craze encourages people to send quick notes instead of talking on the phone or meeting in person. The Internet is another obstacle to contemporary relationships.

Facebook, along with other online profile sites, doesn’t make things any easier. I often hear “it’s not official until it’s on Facebook.” This is a complicated part of the process.

The social networking site offers limited options for relationship status. They include “in a relationship,” “in an open relationship,” “it’s complicated,” “engaged” and
“married.” All of these include the option to add who the other person in the relationship is. This status can also be left off the page entirely.

This can be another problem if one person is more committed, or taking the relationship more seriously, than the other. Also, because Facebook is a relatively public site, any changes in status are visible to all of a person’s online friends and often become the topic of conversation when they are made frequently or abruptly.

As exclusive, definitive relationships become less frequent, open arrangements start to become more accepted and normal, which isn’t necessarily a negative thing. If people are less concerned with the labels they put on their romantic relationships, they can focus on things that are sometimes more important to people at this stage in their lives, like finishing their education.

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