In 2011, my wife and I traveled to Las Vegas. While we were there, we decided to renew our vows.
A few hours before the ceremony, I thought it would be an interesting social experiment to change our marital status on Facebook. I was curious to see how our Facebook friends would react.
I changed my status to "single" and my wife’s to "it's complicated."
Of course, I would immediately change it back to "married" once we renewed, but it felt fun and slightly liberating to change this part of our social media identity.
For the record, my wife protested this experiment from the moment I suggested it.
Unlike many of you, I joined Facebook as a married man. With the exception of changing my status to "single" or "it's complicated" (whatever that means), I’m happy to be "married."
The white, stretch limo whisked us away to the Little White Chapel. The ceremony was quick and cheesy. More importantly, it was sweet and it capped off the whole Vegas experience (note: if you’re planning a Vegas wedding, and you’re in a hurry, they actually have a drive-thru wedding option).
After we renewed our vows, we ended up back at the hotel where had a few drinks. We completely forgot about Facebook, which is shocking considering my fascination with social media and a need to feel connected to others.
After a bottle of champagne, I went to Facebook to find a mini revolt taking place on our pages. It seems my little status update experiment didn’t sit well with some of our friends.
Some were in on the joke right away. Others were not quite sure. Posts ranged from the curious "what are you crazy kids up to?" to the angry "if you guys get divorced, I'll never forgive you."
Some were just confused: "okay, this isn’t funny anymore, please change your status back" and "wait, where are you guys again? Aren’t you in Vegas?"
While most of our family and close friends knew we were in Vegas, and had a guesses as to our plans, it didn’t stop some from sending us private messages, just to make sure everything was kosher.
To be safe, we posted a few wedding pictures outside the chapel (the photos were part of our Vegas wedding package).
I've always known that our family and friends, however distant they may be, have instantaneous access to the parts of our lives we share on social media. Over the years (in my case, since 2005, when I joined Facebook), my wife and I chose to share the good things about our lives on Facebook.
So when Facebook friends see something negative (like a marital status change) it only makes sense that some would react negatively (even if it was in jest).
In the years since the Vegas trip, I'm a little more careful with the way I treat my status updates and personal information. The photos and names of friends seem distant on the page, but there are real people out there who care about my happiness and I want them to celebrate with me.
The little status change experiment confirmed something what the research says and what our gut tells us. We are more connected. We maintain closer relationships It’s up to us to protect the integrity of those connections and those relationships.
Our lives are an open (Face)book, but really – it's only the pages of the story we choose to share. Deviating from the story at times is fun, but can also come with some risk, and some angry readers.
~ A version of this story appeared in the Sunday, July 20, 2014 "Connected" section of The Vindicator.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor of communication studies the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA where he also directs the graduate program in professional communication. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers on social media and society.