Should you befriend spouses in a social network?

 The whole world is currently running on a new wave of technology that has seen social networking sites replace human physical contact.

Online chatting has literally taken over from both telephone and face-to-face conversations. Instead of going over to check on a friend amid a flurry of other activities demanding your attention, it seems more practical to post something on their facebook wall. It’s both time and energy saving.

These sites involve grouping specific individuals, especially those with similar interests, together. They have made it possible to develop friendships and professional alliances easily. Now all it takes to share a thought or an event that just happened with thousands of people online is a click of a button.

Due to an increasing ache for networking, new communities are mushrooming by the day. Facebook, Myspace and twitter are among those with the biggest following in Kenya.  We are at a point in time when being computer literate is evidently indispensable.

Online networking is now the norm thus suggesting that it is impractical for individuals in intimate relationships to steer clear of them. The dilemma most couples are now facing is whether to include their partner on their list of friends in these online communities or not.

*Martin Njeru, a 28-year-old man recently broke up with his girlfriend of two years after a series of rows all stemming from his facebook page.

“I spend a lot of time on facebook daily. It’s my small world where I go to let out thoughts and random jokes to these faceless people. When I decided to include my girlfriend on my list of friends, our relationship had reached what I thought was a point of no return. It was a sign of commitment for me and furthermore, I felt I had nothing to hide from her.” *Njeru recalls.

According to him, a relationship should be based on trust, so he didn’t have any problem with the arrangement. Initially, it tightened the bond on their relationship.

“We constantly posted messages on each other’s wall and inbox and uploaded photos that captured moments we both treasured.”

It was all bliss and things couldn’t get any better, or so he thought. Then she began keeping tabs on him.

“She started picking fights over my updates and obsessing over wall posts, tagged photos, friendships and innocent posts from my friends – both men and women. She seemed oblivious to the fact that almost all my online friends are practically strangers who I wouldn’t even recognise if we met in person.”

After each fight, they would talk things through but it wouldn’t be long before she came up with another accusation. She was twisting innocent messages to mean something totally different. She would sometimes post ‘funny’ messages aimed at staking her claim on me and which I ignored at first but which became more and more embarrassing. Because of what he felt was snooping on her part, he started limiting what he could say and to whom.

Months into this, Njeru says he started feeling suffocated by his girlfriend. This hurt her cause, annoyed her boyfriend and made her seem desperate and weak.

“She had become suffocating and controlling. I no longer had a right to my own thoughts or private jokes. It felt like she was always looking over my shoulder. I always had to be on guard about what I posted or what others said in response to my posts.” *Njeru says.

“She now viewed all my online female friends as some sort of competition.”

He knew their relationship was headed for the rocks when she began brooding over and comparing herself to the photos of his online female friends that she saw on his page. The fact that it was her he had chosen to date exclusively was not enough security for her.

She began to fill their conversations with references to her physical faults which he hadn’t given thought to before. The independent, carefree and fun-to-be with woman he had met two years earlier was now became clingy and insecure, the exact opposite of the independent streak that had drawn him to her.

Six months of this and he knew he wanted to end the relationship. He wanted space to be himself. That ability to enjoy the things he did before she started choking the relationship. When he’d had enough, he broke up with her. It was easy. He simply updated his relationship status on facebook from ‘in a relationship’ to ‘single’.

He knew it wouldn’t be long before she was up on his wall again. He says that from that experience, he now knows the importance of giving each other space in a relationship. He doesn’t intend to give up facebooking but he swears that when he finally gets round to dating again, he plans to keep his woman away from his page.

“I think it’s important to maintain individuality and personal space in a relationship. Having a different circle of friends from your partner is wise.” He concludes.

Is this cheating?

Cheating takes different forms to different people.* Anita, 25, knows this only too well.

She talks of an incident that significantly downgraded her relationship. She and her boyfriend have the kind of relationship which she describes as honest. They have each other’s passwords. Her boyfriend had been communicating with an attractive woman on facebook for a while when the posts between them began to get personal.

When she talked to him about it, he began hiding. He would exchange messages with this other woman then he would delete them. Once or twice, she came across them before he deleted. She felt hurt and betrayed.

“I knew they hadn’t met physically but the fact that he was deliberately lying about communicating with her amounted to cheating, according to me. He was lying about it because he felt it was wrong otherwise why would he think it necessary to hide their communication?” She maintains.

The two of them sat down and talked about the whole thing and how she felt about it. To safeguard their relationship, they opted to ditch the networking site. She says that what may seem like harmless flirting online, if allowed to thrive, has the potential to grow into something more.

Malice

Social networking sites have availed a platform on which malicious intentions can be executed. This can be attributed to their open nature. Armed with the knowledge that you and a partner are friends in an online community, a third party can use this information to hurt your relationship.

*Faith Mumbua confessed to using facebook as a revenge tool after her boyfriend broke up with her and began dating a mutual friend.

“I had invested three whole years into that relationship so it was hard for me to recover from or even accept the break up. I kept removing friends from his profile and posting messages suggesting that they were still intimate with each other on his wall just to put friction in his new relationship.”

*Faith knew that his new girlfriend was on his friends’ list on facebook and her updates were bound to upset her. For the length of time that *Faith kept at it, it worked. Since she knew his password, she would log into his account and post embarrassing updates which, in turn, had a detrimental effect on his image.

This went on for a while until, in a bid to save his new relationship, he closed his facebook account. His greatest undoing having been her easy access to his page.

Experts are of the opinion that it’s a natural reaction to cling to the person we love even when they want out of a relationship. However, we need to realise that their part in our lives is over and let them go.

An extreme show of clinginess, however, may be an indication of an underlying psychological problem which can be attributed to previous problems such as an emotionally traumatised relationship or upbringing or a low self-esteem. In such a case, an individual ought to seek professional assistance.

To avoid such intrusive behaviour, it’s a good idea to  keep your passwords secret. By all means steer clear of exes online especially if the break up was not mutual.

When you enter a relationship, it doesn’t mean that your personal life stops. Being a member of a social networking site is acceptable in a healthy, intimate relationship as long as intimate problems between a couple are kept private. It would be unnerving, and rightly so, if one found out that a partner was talking to someone online about a personal problem between you. Even worse, if they hadn’t spoken to you about it.

Preying field

A 25-year-old man who refused to be named revealed that he met the last 10 women he has slept with online; and he’s still counting. He admitted to frequenting a number of social networking sites several times a day. A little over six months ago, he entered into a contest with a couple of friends to see who could sleep with the most women that they met online.“It’s easy. I randomly add to my list of friends women who state their relationship status as single.

I act interested, comment on their every update, chat them up for a month or so and then ask to meet them in person – a request that is rarely declined. There are a lot of lonely and desperate women out there who fall for the smallest bait from a man,” he says.

When he finally meets these gullible women, he acts like the perfect gentleman, goes out on dates before he attempts to get intimate. According to him, most women he meets are all too willing to get intimate with any man who shows keen interest.

When he gets bored with his current catch, he moves on to his next target.

Kendi, 21, affirms this. She narrated how she met a man on a networking site who dated her for a few weeks, slept with her and then immediately blocked her from his page.

“He was sweet and seemed genuinely taken with me. The moment I gave in to him, he cut all communication. I wish I could access his page so I can caution other women he might be preying on,” is what she says.

jthatiah@gmail.com

An expert’s view

“Your partner is supposed to be your best friend but it’s healthy to allow the other party to grow as independent people so that you can grow together as a couple. When one party becomes too clingy, the other will naturally want to pull away. When a person feels this way, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have something to hide” Seth Kamanza, a relationship counsellor explains.

“When you have a partner as a friend on a social networking site, it’s human nature to feel an urge to keep up to date with what they are up to. After that first time, you will habitually check who they are in touch with and what they say to each other. This, to some extent amounts to a breach of trust. When broken, trust can be very hard to rebuild,” he states.

This online snooping may also give away the wrong message when the other party finds out. From their point of view, it could mean that you don’t trust them. Seth advises that interacting with other people other than one’s partner helps one develop individual personalities and characters, an important aspect of human growth.

If you are already friends with your partner in an online community, it’s wise to talk openly to each other about practical solutions and expectations. This way, both of you can come to a compromise regarding the amount of privacy each of you is willing to give.

If one suspects the other is cheating, it’s always wise to talk about their fears. If you find yourself online most of the time, you will habitually snoop even if you have no reasons to be suspicious. Don’t snoop. Ask direct questions. He maintains that space is important in a relationship not because we don’t trust each other but because we value our privacy. Everyone needs a little personal space and it’s a huge sign of respect towards your partner.

That aura of mystery is also a plus in a relationship. The impression of spontaneity adds spice to a relationship. When you know your partner inside out, they tend to seem boring and predictable.

His advice for those seeking to find love online is, “Take time to get to know a person better before agreeing to meet them in person. If they are putting up a façade, they will slip back to their true character with time.  In the end, its more about the personality type than the technology so care should be taken regarding who we choose to get close to both online and in real life.

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