Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


I Now Pronounce You FBO: Facebook Official

• January 08, 2013 • 7:00 AM

New research reveals how Facebook has altered the dating trajectory, at least for college students.

A budding romance tends to follow a prescribed pattern, with dating leading to an engagement and ultimately marriage. But in further evidence that Facebook is changing the rhythms and rituals of our lives, researchers report that, at least among college students, a new marker has been added on the bumpy road of building relationships:

Updating your social-network status. Or, as it is commonly called, becoming Facebook Official, or FBO.

“This status is a new milestone for couples,” writes a research team led by Jesse Fox of The Ohio State University. Occurring sometime after an exclusive commitment is privately made, but well before any announcement of impending nuptials or cohabitation, it represents “a new tier in the relational hierarchy,” an announcement that two people are in “an exclusive, long-term, and public commitment.”

“In previous generations,” the researchers write in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, such widespread notification would not have occurred unless a public engagement was made in a local newspaper, or wedding invitations were distributed.”

Why hire an engraver when a couple of clicks will do?

This new step in the commitment process is one of several phenomena Fox and her colleagues discuss in their paper, which is based in part on the comments of 10 focus groups of contemporary college students. (The researchers don’t claim the insights they gleaned reflect societal trends beyond this population, although they may very well.)

Overall, their research suggests that, for a variety of reasons, Facebook is a positive factor for young people in the dating pool–at least in the initial stages of getting to know a potential partner.

“Typically, participants (in our focus groups) did not view Facebook as an online dating site,” they write. “Instead, pursuers initiated relationships off-line and then … turned to Facebook to continue communication. Participants almost universally cited Facebook as their primary tool for interaction early in the experimenting stage of romantic relationship development.”

This has its advantages.

“Facebook users can avoid the tension of having to directly express relational interest in the first meeting by asking for a phone number,” the researchers note. “Rather, they can retreat to the nearest computer or smart phone and look the person up on Facebook.

“If they wish to pursue further contact, they can send an informal friend request to the target, so that they can access each other’s profiles fully and open the lines of communication.”

In this way, Facebook allows for “slower progression,” Fox and her colleagues write, “as liking could be developed over time before the gamble of asking someone out.” Conversely, if a potential mate is of no interest, turning down their friend request is simple, easy, and much more comfortable—for both parties—than telling someone “I’m not that into you.”

Another plus—at least for cultivating healthy, mature relationships—can be found at the aforementioned step when people change their stated relationship status. The researchers note that, today as in the past, someone who is deeply in love can wrongly assume his or her partner shares the same level of commitment. Deciding to go FBO means laying your emotional cards on the table, face up.

The issue of whether to publicly declare coupledom makes it “difficult for couples of avoid discussions about the status, expectations and progress of their romantic relationship,” Fox and her colleagues write. Tough questions have to be answered in a mutually agreeable way; a commitment must be affirmed, or a relationship rethought.

“For some couples, Facebook may serve as a tool for relationship maintenance,” the researchers conclude. “For others, it may be burdensome, particularly if partners’ expectations or benefits do not match.”

The students in Fox’s focus groups also pointed to other negatives associated with Facebook, complaining that at times, one’s relationship can end up being “shaped by its actual and perceived audience.” And the researchers note they did not address the sticky question of how social-network status impacts breakups.

Still, the majority of participants reported that overall, the benefits of the social network outweighed the costs, its positive role in maintaining friendships outweighing the stress it can add to romantic relationships. The recently married Mark Zuckerberg has assumed a variety of roles in our culture; he can now add the title of computer-age Cupid.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 21 • 2:00 PM

Private Donors Are Supplying Spy Gear to Cops Across the Country Without Any Oversight

There’s little public scrutiny when private donors pay to give police controversial technology and weapons. Sometimes, companies are donors to the same foundations that purchase their products for police.


October 21 • 12:00 PM

How Clever Do You Think Your Dog Is?

Maybe as smart as a four-year-old child?


October 21 • 10:00 AM

Converting the Climate Change Non-Believers

When hard science isn’t enough, what can be done?



October 21 • 8:00 AM

Education Policy Is Stuck in the Manufacturing Age

Refining our policies and teaching social and emotional skills will help us to generate sustained prosperity.


October 21 • 7:13 AM

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you’ve (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.


October 21 • 6:00 AM

Fruits and Vegetables Are About to Enter a Flavor Renaissance

Chefs are teaming up with plant breeders to revitalize bland produce with robust flavors and exotic beauty—qualities long neglected by industrial agriculture.


October 21 • 4:00 AM

She’s Cheating on Him, You Can Tell Just by Watching Them

New research suggests telltale signs of infidelity emerge even in a three- to five-minute video.


October 21 • 2:00 AM

Cheating Demographic Doom: Pittsburgh Exceptionalism and Japan’s Surprising Economic Resilience

Don’t judge a metro or a nation-state by its population numbers.


October 20 • 4:00 PM

The Bird Hat Craze That Sparked a Preservation Movement

How a fashion statement at the turn of the 19th century led to the creation of the first Audubon societies.


October 20 • 2:00 PM

The Risk of Getting Killed by the Police If You Are White, and If You Are Black

An analysis of killings by police shows outsize risk for young black males.


October 20 • 12:00 PM

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they’re motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.


October 20 • 11:00 AM

My Dog Comes First: The Importance of Pets to Homeless Youth

Dogs and cats have both advantages and disadvantages for street-involved youth.


October 20 • 10:00 AM

Homophobia Is Not a Thing of the Past

Despite growing support for LGBT rights and recent decisions from the Supreme Court regarding the legality of same-sex marriage, the battle for acceptance has not yet been decided.


October 20 • 8:00 AM

Big Boobs Matter Most

Medical mnemonics are often scandalous and sexist, but they help the student to both remember important facts and cope with challenging new experiences.


October 20 • 6:00 AM

When Disease Becomes Political: The Likely Electoral Fallout From Ebola

Will voters blame President Obama—and punish Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections—for a climate of fear?


October 20 • 4:00 AM

Coming Soon: The Anatomy of Ignorance


October 17 • 4:00 PM

What All Military Families Need to Know About High-Cost Lenders

Lessons from over a year on the beat.


October 17 • 2:00 PM

The Majority of Languages Do Not Have Gendered Pronouns

A world without “he.” Or “she.”


October 17 • 11:01 AM

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.


October 17 • 10:00 AM

Can Science Fiction Spur Science Innovation?

Without proper funding, the answer might not even matter.


October 17 • 8:00 AM

Seattle, the Incredible Shrinking City

Seattle is leading the way in the micro-housing movement as an affordable alternative to high-cost city living.


October 17 • 6:00 AM

‘Voodoo Death’ and How the Mind Harms the Body

Can an intense belief that you’re about to die actually kill you? Researchers are learning more about “voodoo death” and how it isn’t limited to superstitious, foreign cultures.


October 17 • 4:00 AM

That Arts Degree Is Paying Off

A survey of people who have earned degrees in the arts find they are doing relatively well, although their education didn’t provide much guidance on managing a career.


October 16 • 4:00 PM

How (Some) Economists Are Like Doomsday Cult Members

Cognitive dissonance and clinging to paradigms even in the face of accumulated anomalous facts.


Follow us


That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.

Advice for Emergency Alert Systems: Don’t Cry Wolf

A survey finds college students don't always take alerts seriously.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.