Hours before their breakfast date, a woman's boyfriend buries his bleary-eyed face in the bosom of an aspiring stripper. Weeks later, the girlfriend finds their "photo shoot" on Facebook and has a jealous meltdown.
Another woman trolls her boyfriend's Facebook page days after he jets off to Prague for "international politics studies." She spots a photo of him with an attractive Romanian girl, his hands resting on her hips, the cobblestone streets behind them. She reams him out over the phone: "This is the way it ends, not with a bang but a whimper," she says coolly, referencing T.S. Eliot.
Dating just hasn't been the same since Facebook arrived five years ago. The social-networking site has rapidly devolved into a surveillance tool, dissolving many a relationship status in the process.
Canadian academics are now tallying the damage. For their paper, "More information than you ever wanted - does Facebook bring out the green-eyed monster of jealousy?" two University of Guelph psychology PhD students conducted a survey of 308 Facebook users and found the more time they spent on the site, the more suspicious they became of their partners. The women, who spent an average of 41 minutes on the site a day, grew more jealous than the men, who averaged 30 minutes.
"It became a feedback loop," says Amy Muise, co-author of the study, which looked at undergraduate students and will appear in an issue of the journal of CyberPsychology & Behaviour. (Canadian undergraduate students were picked because, according to Advertising Age, 90 per cent of the demographic reported using Facebook daily.)
"Seeing certain things on Facebook could enhance the jealousy that a person was experiencing, and that might lead to more surveillance and monitoring of their partner's Facebook page, which could then expose them to more jealousy-invoking information," Ms. Muise says.
Previous research on jealousy has described four triggers: Seeing a partner interact with an ex or someone you don't know; seeing someone show interest in your partner, and witnessing "ambiguous scenes."
"All of these things are happening on Facebook," co-author Emily Christofides says.
The researchers argue that the social-networking site provides a vast catalogue of potentially painful artifacts, the kind of stuff a partner might once have found in a dusty shoebox if they were determined.
On Facebook, users can easily become spectators to the days before they came along: They can gaze into their predecessors' lives, from flattering photos to frivolous interests and preferences - some of which can be disturbingly similar to their own.
More problematic is the fact that the site gives people unprecedented access to the "off hours" of their significant others. On Facebook, this information is "available and encouraged," Ms. Christofides says.
"You get a news feed telling you who posted on your partner's wall, who said what, what friends have been added," she said, pointing out that although most of the information is vague and lacking in meaningful context, it can be painful for some.
The risks are particularly high at the start of a courtship. The researchers write: "In young relationships, a glance at a rival or a small token of affection is sometimes enough to send those involved into a giddy high or momentary despair. In the past, flirty gestures of interest or signs of subtle disregard remained entirely within a person's own control, and partners in close relationships were most often not subjected to the daily scrutiny of their exchanges with members of their social circle."
Also not public was bantering with your ex. Surprisingly, nearly 75 per cent of respondents had added former flames as friends; close to 80 per cent reported that their partners had added their own exes.
"In the past, people in relationships had a certain degree of privacy about the nature of their relationships with other men and women. Now, your partner can question the nature of these relationships," said Serge Desmarais, a Guelph psychology professor who oversaw the research.
He adds that even those who refrain from spying on their partners are not immune: Well-meaning friends sometimes bombard them with "evidence."
"Suddenly everyone is on the lookout," Prof. Desmarais says. "Friends end up providing you with information that 10, 15 years ago you would never have found out about. ... And suddenly you're exposed to everybody else's misattribution of what's going on in the pictures and comments."
The bottom line: Facebook "seems to make it difficult for people to trust, even when they feel confident in their partner," Ms. Christofides says.