Now My Relationship With Facebook Is Complicated

How the social network's new relationship status has screwed everything up.

For as long I’ve been on Facebook — since 2007, it turns out — I’ve had the same two words appended to what Facebook calls one’s relationship status: “it’s complicated.” It was what I chose from their menu of choices, and I’ve never looked back. After all, when is it not complicated? Seemed like it would always fit, no matter what happened, and so it has.

But two days ago, the site changed those words to “in a complicated relationship,” and I was stunned. I am?, I thought. Wait, with who? The way I look at life, even my relationship with my dog is fraught. It could be anyone.

The change in wording seems small, but it takes us from the general to the specific in a way that doesn’t match up with reality. If someone says, “What’s your relationship status?” and I say, “It’s complicated,” that could mean “I’ve been married for years” (marriage is complicated, after all) or it could mean, “I think I had sex with Riccardo Muti last weekend in Chicago but I can’t remember anything beyond looking at that giant bean in Millennium Park.”

Its generality was its genius. “It’s complicated” was flexible enough to suit any interrogation about sex and relationships. If someone asked me to elaborate, I could be buttoned-up about it (“as Thomas Carlyle once said …”) or louche (“as Oscar Wilde once said …”) or just write, “Heh. Life.” I mean, life is complicated — no one is going to argue with that.

Mostly, however, people didn’t ask for elaboration, perhaps because they worried I would give it. They really just wanted a link to the page of the person I’m having sex with.

“It’s complicated” was, ironically, the least complicated option for the terminally evasive — other than simply opting out of the status altogether. But why do that? That would be too easy, and I’m Jewish.

What bothers me most about my new relationship status is that it’s not true. Facebook is lying about me, which is superfluous — I’m perfectly capable of lying about myself on Facebook without corporate intervention. As it happens, I’m not in a complicated relationship. I just got out of one, and then into another that’s rather uncomplicated — a transition that is, in my opinion, rather complicated, even though it’s the biggest cliché in the book.

To tell the truth, I would have appreciated more time with “it’s complicated” so I could tussle with this question of how agony wedges itself up against joy. Or maybe I should start getting high.

It’ll be interesting to see now which of my friends reaches out to ask me who my “complicated relationship” is with. I think they’ll be pretty disappointed when I give them the answer: Facebook.