Menus Subscribe Search

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

September 1 • 1:00 PM

Television and Overeating: What We Watch Matters

New research finds fast-moving programming leads to mindless overeating.



September 1 • 6:00 AM

Why Someone Named Monty Iceman Sold Doogie Howser’s Estate

How unusual names, under certain circumstances, can lead to success.



August 29 • 4:00 PM

The Hidden Costs of Tobacco Debt

Even when taxpayers aren’t explicitly on the hook, tobacco bonds can cost states and local governments money. Here’s how.


August 29 • 2:00 PM

Why Don’t Men and Women Wear the Same Gender-Neutral Bathing Suits?

They used to in the 1920s.


August 29 • 11:48 AM

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.


August 29 • 10:00 AM

True Darwinism Is All About Chance

Though the rich sometimes forget, Darwin knew that nature frequently rolls the dice.


August 29 • 8:00 AM

Why Our Molecular Make-Up Can’t Explain Who We Are

Our genes only tell a portion of the story.


August 29 • 6:00 AM

Strange Situations: Attachment Theory and Sexual Assault on College Campuses

When college women leave home, does attachment behavior make them more vulnerable to campus rape?


August 29 • 4:00 AM

Forgive Your Philandering Partner—and Pay the Price

New research finds people who forgive an unfaithful romantic partner are considered weaker and less competent than those who ended the relationship.


August 28 • 4:00 PM

Some Natural-Looking Zoo Exhibits May Be Even Worse Than the Old Concrete Ones

They’re often designed for you, the paying visitor, and not the animals who have to inhabit them.


August 28 • 2:00 PM

What I Learned From Debating Science With Trolls

“Don’t feed the trolls” is sound advice, but occasionally ignoring it can lead to rewards.


August 28 • 12:00 PM

The Ice Bucket Challenge’s Meme Money

The ALS Association has raised nearly $100 million over the past month, 50 times what it raised in the same period last year. How will that money be spent, and how can non-profit executives make a windfall last?


August 28 • 11:56 AM

Outlawing Water Conflict: California Legislators Confront Risky Groundwater Loophole

California, where ambitious agriculture sucks up 80 percent of the state’s developed water, is no stranger to water wrangles. Now one of the worst droughts in state history is pushing legislators to reckon with its unwieldy water laws, especially one major oversight: California has been the only Western state without groundwater regulation—but now that looks set to change.


August 28 • 11:38 AM

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.


August 28 • 10:00 AM

The Five Words You Never Want to Hear From Your Doctor

“Sometimes people just get pains.”


August 28 • 8:00 AM

Why I’m Not Sharing My Coke

Andy Warhol, algorithms, and a bunch of popular names printed on soda cans.


August 28 • 6:00 AM

Can Outdoor Art Revitalize Outdoor Advertising?

That art you’ve been seeing at bus stations and billboards—it’s serving a purpose beyond just promoting local museums.


August 28 • 4:00 AM

Linguistic Analysis Reveals Research Fraud

An examination of papers by the discredited Diederik Stapel finds linguistic differences between his legitimate and fraudulent studies.


August 28 • 2:00 AM

Poverty and Geography: The Myth of Racial Segregation

Migration, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality (not to mention class), can be a poverty-buster.


August 27 • 4:00 PM

The ‘Non-Lethal’ Flash-Bang Grenades Used in Ferguson Can Actually Be Quite Lethal

A journalist says he was singed by a flash-bang fired by St. Louis County police trying to disperse a crowd, raising questions about how to use these military-style devices safely and appropriately.


August 27 • 2:00 PM

Do Better Looking People Have Better Personalities Too?

An experiment on users of the dating site OKCupid found that members judge both looks and personality by looks alone.


August 27 • 12:00 PM

Love Can Make You Stronger

A new study links oxytocin, the hormone most commonly associated with social bonding, and the one that your body produces during an orgasm, with muscle regeneration.


August 27 • 11:05 AM

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”


Follow us


Subscribe Now

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”

No, Smartphone-Loss Anxiety Disorder Isn’t Real

But people are anxious about losing their phones, even if they don’t do much to protect them.

Being a Couch Potato: Not So Bad After All?

For those who feel guilty about watching TV, a new study provides redemption.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014 fast-food-big-one

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