The evolution of the internet as a tool for communication has transformed the nature of long distance relationships. The ability of the internet to overcome geographical space and time has allowed for couples to stay closely connected, even when geographically separated for long periods of time. However, with limited time for face-to-face interaction, the meaning of interpersonal connection is constantly changing for people in long distance relationships. The majority of long distance communication now occurs using digital media. While cell phones remain the most common form of communication between long distance partners (Coyne et. al., 2011), I would argue that Facebook plays a crucial role in the maintenance of long distance relationships because it is instant but doesn’t require both parties to be available at the same time in order to communicate. A Facebook profile is the closest one can get to being in touch with a partner without achieving actual face-to-face, instantaneous communication. Facebook essentially provides a space that can serve as an atemporal, intangible extension of the ‘real life’ relationship. It provides a space to confirm a relationship status, to visualize romantic connections using photographs and past relational activity, to publically and privately display affection using wall posts and private messages, and to stay updated on partners’ interests and other day-to-day interactions by monitoring their Facebook activity.
Interestingly, studies have shown that restricted communication in long distance relationships actually contributes to the idealization of long distance partners. A study by Stafford and Reske (1990) found that “long-distance couples are more idealized, more satisfied with their relationship and with their communication, and more in love than geographically close couples” (277). This poses a problem, particularly in premarital long distance relationships because it puts couples in danger of marital dissatisfaction later in life. Stafford and Reske (1990) argue that this is because they will no longer be able to avoid difficult conversations, and they will no longer be disillusioned by ‘blocked communication.’ For my project, I chose to explore how the use of Facebook contributes to this idealization of long distance romantic partners.
I found that the idealization of romantic partners through Facebook communication has a lot to do with the nature of facebook and how it influences identity construction. Online social networks have become social institutions that influence cultural norms and values by transforming interpersonal processes, such as dialogue and social interactions, which are critical forces behind identity formation. The public nature of Facebook changes the dynamic of relationships, because it emphasizes the role that third parties play in affirming or validating a relationship. Interactions between two people, unless through private messaging, are no longer intended to be conversation between just two people. Public relationship displays, therefore, become an important part of one’s public identity.