Rita Howell Column

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 29, 2009

Rita Howell

Breaking up hard to do, maybe easier with Facebook

I’m going to date myself, but does anybody remember friendship rings? Among the junior high set years ago, it was fairly common for a boy to present a girl with this token of . . . friendship. It simply meant he admired her and, if she accepted, it implied the feeling was mutual. A simple silver ring with few, if any, strings attached.

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An emblem of a deeper commitment was the class ring, given by the older boy to his girl to symbolize that they were “going steady,” which, I realize, is itself a term that is obsolete. A 12th grade boy’s ring was generally way too big for his delicate girlfriend’s finger, but that never seemed a problem. She simply wore it on a chain around her neck or wrapped yards and yards of tape around it until it fit her finger. Sometimes the girl would purchase a silver ID bracelet for her boyfriend, his initials on the top, hers on the back.

Another sign of “going steady” was the relinquishing of the guy’s athletic letter jacket to his girl. So there he was, ringless and cold, but proving his devotion.

In college a fraternity man would present his lady with a “drop,” a charm with his Greek letters to be worn on a chain around her neck. If the relationship grew more serious, he would actually bestow upon her his fraternity pin, to be worn by her as a symbol that she was engaged to be engaged.

If at any point in any of the afore-mentioned relationships, either party wanted to call the whole thing off, the ring or jacket or drop or pin would be returned. Sometimes thrown. Sometimes with tears. Or gnashing of teeth.

The point of all this is that there would be disposition of material evidence of the courtship.

We have entered a new day.

Couples now break up by unfriending each other on Facebook.

The internet social network favored by the young (and those who wanna be) allows its users to identify themselves according to their relationship status: “single,” “in a relationship,”  or “it’s complicated.”

It has become apparent to me that Facebook is the new reality. Relationships are no longer affirmed by old-fashioned concepts involving exchange of jewelry. Couples who like each other and decide to “go steady” or whatever you call a mutually-exclusive dating arrangement, apparently must discuss this all and then go to their laptops and simultaneously check “in a relationship” on their Facebook pages to make it official.

This doesn’t seem all that romantic to me.

Of course all their Facebook “friends” can see the evidence of this change in their status. No need for rings or jackets.

“Friends” are those who have been accepted by the Facebook user so that they can have access to each other’s Facebook pages. Through this chain of friends and friends of friends, all those who know or care about George and Mary can see that they are now “in a relationship.”

So what happens if the relationship sours?

The dumper checks “single” on his/her Facebook page and then “unfriends” the dumpee.

The dumpee can no longer have access to the dumper’s page, status, whereabouts, political convictions or movie recommendations.

The dumpee can then reject the dumper as a Facebook friend, but probably by this time the dumper doesn’t care.

Which removes some of the satisfaction, I would imagine.

Wouldn’t it be more gratifying to throw a class ring at his feet, knowing that it’s going to take two hours for him to peel off all that tape?