real life

Is 'Facebook friction' a problem in your relationship?

Here’s the question I’m most often asked about writing: how do you decide what to keep private? It’s a good question and my answer has changed over the years. Mostly, I like to think I can protect the privacy of loved ones while still writing honestly and openly about my life. In walking that tightrope though, I do sometimes wobble and occasionally I fall.

Columnists, authors and anyone in the public eye have always had to navigate their ‘material’ judiciously because they’re not just our lives we’re documenting. They’re also the lives of our partners, parents, children and friends. In fact anyone who crosses paths with a writer inadvertently risks exposure. It’s a miracle I have any friends at all.

Relieved you’re not one of them? Not so fast because you also risk unwanted exposure. Everyone is trying to navigate the privacy balance and the new tightrope is social media.

‘Facebook Friction’ has been recently identified as a big issue for many couples with 95 percent of people worried about privacy according to a recent survey by Relationships Australia.

This isn’t so much about flirting with your exes on Facebook or spending too much time online – although there’s that. This is the friction caused by boundaries that aren’t in sync with someone else in your life.

Social media requires so many discretionary decisions that are far more complex than privacy settings. Photos or not? What kind and of whom? Names of partners? Children? Exes? Identifying details about where you work and live? Mentioning the property you bought? What you paid? Ate? Think? Said? How you voted? Who you slept with? The fact your girlfriend has a shocking hangover?

With all those variables, it’s virtually impossible to find two people who calibrate their social media lives exactly the same way.

This is how you can discover that your child has posted holiday snaps to Facebook including one of you in a bikini, holding a cocktail and squinting at the sun in a way that makes you look completely pissed. Or that your partner has published a funny anecdote on their blog which happens to include reference to the fact you farted in bed last night. Or that your brother has tweeted a photo of himself at your house with your naked toddler streaking in the background.

Awkward.

Have you noticed how “don’t Facebook that” has begun to creep into conversations as a pre-emptive strike? One of my friends is a compulsive Facebooker and has over 1000 friends. He hears the don’t-Facebook-that thing a lot and it irks him. “My family get really narky about what photos I put up,” he complained to me when I asked about boundaries. “It’s weird because I’m close to my sisters and I want to share how proud I am but it freaks them out. One time I posted the cutest photo of my nephew on his first day of school and my sister went ballistic and made me take it down because she said she didn’t want anyone to know which school he went to. I didn’t write the name of the school, it was just a blue shirt and grey pants. Is that such a big deal?”

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Multiply that conversation by the number of Internet connections in Australia and you have a sense of how many people are struggling to synchronise public/private boundaries with their family and friends. Couples struggle the most because they have the most shared material. Like children, finances, sex lives and all the intimate minutiae of daily life.

One friend regularly clashes with her husband over their child. “We had a ding dong blow-up last night after I wrote a blog post with our 9 year-old daughter’s name in it,” she explained. “He’s adamant I can’t use her name online or publish any photos of her.  I agree about photos but when I asked him why no name he just said he’d prefer to retain some anonymity and she’s too young to decide whether she wants her identity slapped all over the net. I think the problem is that he doesn’t get it.  He is not on Facebook, doesn’t understand Twitter and when I mention Tumblr he thinks I am falling.”

When I first began to write a column, my husband hated it. This was before social media kicked off so the idea of having parts of your personal life shared with the world was, you know, STRANGE. Not normal. He felt like I was leaking the privacy out of our relationship and sometimes he was correct. Slowly, I got better at preserving the important bits and he grew to trust my judgement. For a time, it worked really well. And then suddenly our eldest became a teenager and I was forced to recalibrate all my boundaries. As a writer, the hardest part about having a teenager is all the great material they give you AND YOU CAN’T USE ANY OF IT. This is enormously frustrating because while I absolutely respect my son’s privacy, I am gagging to write about being the MOTHER of a teenager. Tragically, those observations are off limits to me. For now.…

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Do you experience friction in any of your relationships about what you put up on Facebook? Friends? Partner? Kids