Public Declarations of Love – Modern Style

facebookmarried For my generation, there is a very public way to declare a serious relationship. It’s not a class ring or letter jacket. The question “Have you been pinned?” died long ago.

Today, the question is, “Is it Facebook-official?”

Facebook offers several relationship options: Single, It’s Complicated, In an Open Relationship, and In a Relationship. When you’re “In a relationship” with someone, it’s for real. You’re committed.

Facebook’s relationship status has changed relationships. I’ve had friends stop casually dating someone they liked because they got the relationship request via Facebook earlier than they expected or wanted. I’ve had issues with a guy I’ve dated still being listed as “Single” after five or six dates – then gotten hugely indignant after he quickly got “In a relationship with” someone after we fizzled. My friend’s parents joke that the previous 20 years of their marriage didn’t count; it wasn’t until several months after they each got a Facebook account that they officially became “married.”

Nothing’s real unless it’s on Facebook.

I reviewed one book in which the hero and heroine met on MySpace without realizing that they knew each other in real life, but meeting online isn’t what I’m talking about. Online dating could be another blog entry all together.

Still, social networking has yet to make a significant appearance in contemporary romance. I made this observation after reading Sandy’s piece on contemporaries last week. I’m still waiting for the scene where a heroine and her girlfriends Facebook stalk a potential boyfriend—something that always happens. There is always a Facebook stalking session when a friend has a new man in her life. While many heroines worry about what they are to their love interest and how he feels about them, there’s no anxiety about relationship status and whose job it is to change it, and when. Who makes that step?

I have several theories why this might be. Maybe it’s simply anti-climactic. Getting an email saying, “So-and-so requested to change your relationship status” certainly isn’t as exciting as an emotionally-charged confrontation. Maybe authors are just waiting it out, seeing how this technological trend will hold in society. It’s probably a good thing there weren’t too many Friendster-centered plots. Maybe it’s because Facebook stalking is a very visual investigation, one that may not translate that well to dialogue and narration. Maybe it’s a throw-back to the notion that Facebook and the like are only for students, and once students become “real people”, they move away from that online stuff.

Whatever the reasons, authors should start incorporating Facebook and social networking into their stories. Facebook is a growing part of modern relationships. A man paused his wedding ceremony while he and his new wife updated their relationship statuses right there, on their smartphones. Styles of communication are changing. It’s time for our romances to reflect that.

-Jane Granville

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17 Responses to Public Declarations of Love – Modern Style

  1. Scorpio M. says:

    I agree, FB, MySpace, Twitter, iPod, BlackBerry…it’s all a part of popular vernacular so it should incorporated because it’s realistic.

  2. Lavinia says:

    Did anybody see the news story about the man twittering and changing his Facebook status during the wedding ceremony? I think I would have left him at the altar.

  3. carrie says:

    I’m not really interested in reading romances with the whole facebook/ social-networking thing, but I realize it would probably appeal to younger readers. I’m on facebook and enjoy connecting with friends and my students, but rarely look at it more than once a day. And not all young people are interested. My married daughter and her husband (both 24) are tech-savvy (he works in IT) but uninterested in social-networking sites. My other four children have varying degrees of interest, with my youngest (13) needing to be limited on her time on facebook.

    My concern with facebook and other social-networking sites is the strange phenomenon of feeling you’re in a semi-private conversation while revealing to hundreds of people including perspective or current employers, your private life and thoughts. A few embarrassing moments have taught my children that facebook is about as private as publishing your diary.

  4. Wendy says:

    I think it would be fun to see contemp. stories incorporating FB. I do agree that maybe authors are waiting around to see if it “sticks” before incorporating it into novels, for fear of dating the book.

  5. willaful says:

    Do you think that MySpace story was a deliberate reinterpretation of “the Shop Around the Corner” (remade as “You’ve Got Mail”)?

  6. Jane AAR says:

    Lavinia–I have seen that video, and it was one of the inspirations behind this blog. I think it’s so indicative of the way society is changing. I too probably would have left him (though at that point, it was too late!), but it’s really interesting on a sociological level.

    willaful– I don’t know that it was a deliberate reinterpretation, though it had some similar elements (complete bonding online, hostility in person.) It’s been a while since I’ve seen You’ve Got Mail, but it’s an interesting comparison, and not one I had considered.

  7. xina says:

    I am on Facebook only because we thought it would be fun to view my daughter’s pictures when she studied abroad. I planned to deactivate my account when she returned, but I’m still there. She’s been home for 7 months! And now I have a bunch of friends I attended high school with 25+ years ago. I didn’t recognize any of them by their pictures. It’s strange sometimes. However, I have never loved Facebook more when I viewed my daughter’s status and found out she was single. Yay! She has had an odd boyfriend for over 2 years and we have been hoping she would break up with him. When she told me, I didn’t tell her I saw it on Facebook, but secretly I was cheering inside. Yay for single.

  8. Angela/Lazaraspaste says:

    Apparently though, according to a new study, you are really you online. Go figure:

    And in some ways, Facebook actually makes things more like living in the Regency period exactly because it is so public. Everything shrinks down, people who aren’t physically together are, in a sense, temporally together. They are all sharing the same information. So then relationship status online becomes just as meaningful as dancing more than one dance with someone at Almack’s. Whereas moments of significance may not be totally private, their public nature as a status (and how about that word?) doesn’t necessarily create a new anxiety but simply shifts an old anxiety into a more public space (where is this relationship going?).

    I pretty much don’t expect Facebook to show up any time in romances. When I read contemporaries, I always feel like I’m reading a book written by my mother about what she thinks young people these days are doing. I think there’s about a ten year gap between what a contemporary portrays and what actually is contemporary.

  9. Mark says:

    I would expect a lag of several years before ANY trend shows up in published books. Look how long it was after cellular phones, electronic mail, the Internet, world-wide-web browsing, weblogs, etc. became ubiquitous before they became common in novels. [I deliberately used long forms of several terms here even though most now have short forms in common usage.]
    Reasons for a lag: a trend has to exist long enough to be recognized or commented on at a level that percolates through the culture to authors (or an individual author has to spot a trend), the authors have to have time to write stories in which it is appropriate to include the trend, those stories have to go through the publishing process (acceptance, editing, scheduling, publication). The writing and publishing time might be shorter for category books than for single titles, but the whole process will usually take years.

  10. CindyS says:

    Two things happened recently – my cousin’s 5 year boyfriend stopped taking her calls and it was a month before she told us – the topper was he even unfriended her on Facebook – turns out he had unfriended me but I don’t care about stuff like that. Now the guy is trying to get back with her and so I asked the other day ‘did you get a friend request?’ and she nodded sheepishly so I already knew the next answer ‘did you accept it’ – yeah. Ugh.

    Another friend is in a feud with her sisters and whenever this has happened before none of the kids were every brought into it. She was sad to discover her 23 year old niece had unfriended her.

    So it’s an interesting phenomenon for sure – my two friends who were once best friends won’t speak to each other and haven’t for two years. Neither one though has un-friended the other so every now and then you’ll see the one who is being ignored comment on things the other has done. It’s painful to watch from the sidelines as you see the other person respond to everyone but one. Ow.

    I think it could be used in comedic ways but to have it be used in a serious story, I’m not sure.


  11. Teresa Medeiros has a book coming out in which the love affair is documented on Twitter. It’s called GOODNIGHT TWEETHEART, A LOVE STORY IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS. I belive it’s going to be out in trade size.

  12. SNH says:

    Facebook and other sites don’t play a huge part in everyone’s lives.

    And for many these days social networking is as a normal a part of the day as going to the bathroom. And THAT certainly isn’t in books. Social networking is mundane, forgettable, and dates the stories.

    I can’t imagine many FBI agents stopping to update their Facebook status – as if they would even have an account!! I cannot imagine a mature, sexy businessman being concerned about whether he has a Facebook page that tells everyone he is dating someone!!

    I cannot think of a worse way to ruin a book than to mention a character’s Facebook status.

  13. carrie says:

    Facebook or myspace could be used in a story without it being too trendy or shallow. I have friends who update their status at least once a day, and if they suddenly stopped, I would definitely want to find out why. It could be a lead in to a mystery/suspense story.

    On the other hand, I agree that most of the sexy heroes and heroines I read about aren’t good candidates for facebook updates. ;-) I really can’t imagine too many rodeo riders, a CEOs, and FBI agents, a medical doctor, or an investigative reporters (whatever the sex of these professionals or whatever their age) would run home and update facebook before bed. I guess in the light contemporary romances, especially the humorous ones, the use of facebook, etc, would fit more easily. An embarrassing status update could take the place of a drunken confession in the plot line. ;-)

    I could see the use of other technology like smart phones and video conferencing, or following someone on twitter if it moved the storyline along. I recently read a (not great) series book that incorporated fairly up-to-date computer use and video conferencing (to talk to family) in the plot. I think the earlier poster who said it takes a while for new technologies to make their way into novels is correct. Along with that is the fear it will be dated very soon. I have to smile when I read a story that has 8-track tapes, or even cassette tapes, in it.

  14. I love Facebook! I check in with my Facebook page at least several times per week, and often several times per day when I’m not close to a deadline. It’s wonderful to be able to interact with my fans. I even ask them to help me brainstorm story ideas and character names. – come say hi!

    I also love Twitter, especially the ongoing conversations during special events or TV shows. The Grammys were so much more fun this year because I was tweeting about them with other fans.

    However, having characters sitting in front of a computer isn’t as interesting to me as showing them interacting in real life. That’s not to say I’ll never include a scene with Facebook, just that I tend to stay away from scenes with a character sitting at a computer or in front of the TV or even reading a book. Of course, social networking sites allow characters to interact with each other in a way that TV and books wouldn’t, but they still can’t read each other’s facial expressions or body language.

  15. Thanks for the shout-out, Connie! Yes, I’ll have GOODNIGHT TWEETHEART about a man and a woman who meet on Twitter coming out next spring from Galley Books (Pocket’s trade imprint). As many of you know, I fell in love with Twitter the first time I tried it. When these two characters started nagging me to tell their story, I just couldn’t ignore them. Their voices were so funny and so strong they were literally burning a hole in my heart. And since I was able to do it without falling behind on my historical schedule, that made it even more tempting. The book is definitely in the tradition of YOU’VE GOT MAIL and SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE with a little LOVE LETTERS thrown in.

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  17. carrie says:

    I read a book over the weekend that had the heroine looking up murder suspect on facebook and, among other places. It was just a brief mention of doing an internet search, but I had to laugh after following this conversation last week. The book was released last Thursday and is titled No Such Thing As a Free Ride by Shelly Fredman. It’s the fourth in her Brandy Alexander series., a humorous mystery/romance series. (I recommend the series, btw, but start with the first book for best effect.)

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