In the eight years I’ve been on Facebook, I’ve consistently left the “Relationship Status” section of my profile intentionally blank. As my social network became increasingly bloated with former high school acquaintances and distant relatives and coworkers, I became more reserved about sharing certain details from my personal life, including my dating life, which I increasingly reserved for texts, phone calls, and happy hours with my “real” friends.
But recently, Facebook has decided my relationship status is no longer a private matter between me and my dating partner. Instead, it’s become a group affair, to be jointly decided upon and shared by me, my partner, and my 912 friends, thanks to a new and not-so-discreet “Ask” button that now appears next to my Relationship Status section, as well as next to other private sections I choose not to fill out, like my phone number and home address. This new feature lets anyone from a jealous ex to my great aunt twice-removed to claw at me about who I’m dating and why I’m not married yet and when am I going to get my life together already?? It’s like a Poke, except ruder, and creepier, because if we were actually friends, presumably you would already know my relationship status, and thus not have to resort to asking me via a random Facebook button.
But now when you visit the profile of someone who has chosen not to publicly display their relationship status, you can click the little “Ask” button that brings up a popup box that says, “Let [Friend] know why you’re asking for [their] relationship status,” with the option to include a note to explain why you’re asking:
When you’re prompted to respond, you can mention the specific Facebook user you’re dating. Facebook also asks whether you want to share this information privately with just the asker, or with everyone on Facebook:
This is where things started to get murky. Immediately after I told Facebook to let just Brenna know it was “complicated” with Kris (who, disclaimer, is just a friend), Facebook did exactly what I was hoping it wouldn’t do and created a private but splashy Life Event that it posted to both Kris’s and my Timelines, complete with a mini photo montage:
Not 30 seconds later, Kris had been notified via Facebook of our new and nonconsensual relationship and began sending me frantic gchats (a selection: “seriously.” “what did you do.” “erase it.” “what did you do.”) It turns out if you respond to someone’s “Ask” by saying you’re in a relationship with another Facebook user, Facebook will immediately send that user — in this case, Kris — an invitation asking to “Confirm” or “Hide” our newly defined relationship status.
After Kris confirmed that things between us were, indeed, Complicated, he received the following notification informing him our “big news” would be showing up in his timeline, in other peoples’ News Feeds, and, rather ominously, “elsewhere on Facebook.”
What was originally supposed to be a private exchange between myself and one friend based on a simple question — “What’s your relationship status?” — had quickly devolved into a messy trail of mixed messages, timeline posts announcing our union that Facebook created on our behalf but also against our will, and one unintentionally pushy request from me (but really from Facebook) demanding that Kris confirm our relationship did, in fact, exist, at least within the Facebook universe. It also became a highly public affair. Kris and I broke things off 34 minutes later, so my Relationship Status is back to being an unanswered, unworthy nothing, at least, according to Facebook. And I’m fine with that — just please, please don’t Ask me about it again.
[h/t Business Insider]