By the time Facebook came along in 2004, many of us were already using other Internet vessels to gather intelligence about our romantic partners. It was already customary to check a person's relationship status on various social networks rather than asking him IRL, and astute daters knew how to "deep-Google" each other.
But Facebook, which now mediates a frightening portion of our normal social exchanges, made the practice of cyber-stalking even more commonplace. Not only that -- it became the medium in which people consecrate relationships. A romance is but a flame until both parties make it "Facebook official"; some might say an engagement means very little until the bride-to-be posts wall photographs of her ring.
But some people take the network far more seriously than others, according to a new study by researchers at Ohio State University. In fact, our way of dealing with romantic partners on Facebook often speaks volumes about our personalities. It can even reveal ghosts of relationships past.
After surveying 328 subjects at a large Midwestern University, authors Jesse Fox and Katie Warber concluded that relationship-stalking is more a personality trait, than a tool. Fox and Warber tested participants for a whole slew of variables pertaining to attachment style and relationship security, and then mapped those results onto their Facebook behavior. The tests required respondents to do an honest self-assessment, scoring their relationships on a 1-6 barometer of uncertainty, and characterizing themselves as "secure," "dismissive, "preoccupied," or "fearful." To an observer that might sound a bit subjective, but evidently it worked -- at least well enough for Warber and Fox to draw patterns.
And the patterns they drew weren't all that surprising. Lo and behold, anxious people admit to trolling their partners' pages more often, obsessing over details like the flirty wall comment from a co-worker, or the ex-girlfriend whose posts he keeps "liking." Secure people didn't gather that kind of intel, and were much less likely to care.
All of that seems, well, obvious. But Warber and Fox did note one surprising twist -- the lack of correlation between relationship uncertainty and Facebook jealousy. That might have to do with the devil-may-care attitude of respondents, the researchers thought, since many college students see their relationships as ephemeral or transient. But it could also mean that Facebook-stalking is a completely irrational behavior, and that it has no relevance to what's happened in a relationship, or where it's headed.
But Warber and Fox say they'll leave that discussion for another study.