x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Nowadays we can 'friend' and 'follow' but also 'de-marry'

Social media has made it easier to connect with people. And easier, too, to disconnect.

A friend has done it again. He has divorced for the third time. And in this case he did it via Facebook.

He typed it out three times: "Inti Taleq" - you are divorced - on her timeline, and pressed "post".

He did the face-to-face divorce with his first wife, then the telephone one with the second, and now the third wife has been given the social media treatment.

This was a union that took forever to cement, with families bickering and obstacles of distance and time. She had analysed and reanalysed his "worth" - from what watch he wore to his degrees - before settling on him, and he had done the same. And now this: As quickly as you can "de-friend" or "un-follow" someone, you can now "de-marry". The value of a relationship has been downgraded to clicks and blocks.

There have been some serious problems between my friend and this latest wife: she didn't trust him and he didn't trust her, all thanks to social media. "Why does he have all these weird women as friends on Facebook? And why does he follow mainly women on Twitter?" was his wife's complaint. His was "why does she close her laptop whenever I pass by? She says she communicates only with girls, so why the secrecy?"

These two were sometimes sitting complaining to their friends about their partner, even tweeting about it, instead of talking out their issues with each other in private. Did social media kill their love, or did social media just expose a problem?

They are not alone. Many couples have issues with social media and their spouses who use them.

This week there was a report about a Saudi man who divorced his wife because she had opened a Twitter account without informing him. He asked his wife to cancel her account, Arab News reported, and when she refused, he divorced her. But it didn't stop there: their effort to reconcile include an agreement by which he will pay his wife a generous amount to delete her account.

My friends and I debated this case, with some saying that she was being silly to risk her marriage for a Twitter account, while others said she has a right to an account and her husband should trust her more.

I think they should just follow each other around on Twitter, and put an end to whatever is behind this issue.

Watch the right to Twitter or Facebook slowly be included in marriage contracts. Stranger things happen: I once read that someone asked a man to marry her and her two best friends as well.

As if marriages weren't already hard enough, we now see couples struggling to understand each other's obsession with a virtual world full of people the spouse will probably never meet. I have been at the home of friends when both the husband and wife were on their computers or smartphones, checking updates on Facebook or Twitter, engrossed to the point of forgetting that I was there. What was the point of visiting? I might as well have tweeted them.

No wonder we all have "computer neck", a term coined by my therapist, who says she notices more and more people coming in with a "neck like an old giraffe … I tell them it is because they sit hunched over a machine that doesn't care about you or love you back", were her wise words.

Besides those already married, - some of whom have been known to seek affairs online - there are also singletons reaching out via social media to find the "right one".

I see girls scanning the profiles of profiles of potential husbands, to see what they tweet. Many agonise over finding the right balance of wit and humour in a tweet to a person they like, or have a crush on. Once we had "snail-mail" letters and real meetings, then chat rooms and emails. These days people use faster, more accessible tools.

I know of many love stories that began in a chat room or on Facebook, but so far I have heard of no romances started via Twitter.

Is all this connectivity making it harder for us to forge strong actual connections? How can anyone feel "connected" to hundreds or thousands of people, and still have time for real people in the real world?



On Twitter: @Arabianmau