The Couple Who Facebooks Together, Stays Together:
Facebook Self-Presentation and Relationship Longevity
Among College-Aged Dating Couples
Catalina L. Toma, PhD, and Mina Choi, MS
Drawing on public commitment theory, this research examined the association between Facebook self-presentations
of coupledom and relationship longevity among college-aged dating partners. Using a longitudinal design and a
path model analytic approach, this study shows that Facebook self-presentational cues (i.e., being listed as ‘‘in a
relationship,’’ posting dyadic photographs, writing on the partner’s wall) were associated with an increase in
relationship commitment for dating couples, which, in turn, increased their likelihood of remaining together
after 6 months. Contrary to predictions, the number of mutual Friends and the number of posts written by
partners on participants’ walls were negatively related to relationship commitment. This study is the ﬁrst to
apply public commitment theory to an online romantic relationship context, and one of the few to examine the
effects of Facebook on the state and fate of romantic relationships.
Relationship theorists have long noted that the success
of romantic relationships depends in large part on couples’
social environments. For instance, the longevity of romantic
relationships is affected by the extent to which friends and
family are aware of and approve of them.
In recent years, the
social environment inhabited by romantic couples has been
substantially altered by social network sites (SNSs). On Face-
book, the largest SNS, users typically reveal detailed infor-
mation about their romantic involvements
consisting of hundreds of Friends.
Additionally, social norms
dictate that SNS communication is positive and afﬁrming,
enabling users to attract support for their relationship-related
postings. How does this new social environment, characterized
by publicness and social validation, affect couples’ state (i.e.,
commitment) and fate (i.e., likelihood of staying together)?
This study addresses this question using public commitment
which focuses on the effects of public self-presentations
on individuals’ self-views. We focus on dating relationships
among college-aged adults because this demographic are at a
prime developmental stage for negotiating romantic rela-
tionships and are also heavy users of SNSs.
A public commitment framework for couples’
Self-presentation is the act of editing the self in order to
convey a desired image to an audience.
While meant to
inﬂuence others, self-presentation has the important side-
effect of inﬂuencing how self-presenters view themselves.
The intrapersonal outcomes of self-presentation are the
purview of public commitment theory,
which argues that
people come to view themselves in ways that are consis-
tent with their public claims. For example, after publicly
claiming to be extroverted, people believe themselves to be
The shifting of the self-concept to
match public self-presentations is a largely unconscious
process known as internalization (in fact, the theory is
sometimes referred to as ‘‘identity shift’’
tion occurs because deeply engrained social norms pre-
scribe that people be who they claim to be. Therefore, public
statements psychologically obligate people to fulﬁll them.
Indeed, the mechanism behind internalization is similar to
that behind cognitive dissonance, whereby people change
their attitudes to match their behaviors,
or the behavior–
attitude consistency norm, whereby people feel pressured to
be consistent in their behaviors and expressed views.
cases, there is a powerful urge to match private beliefs with
Public commitment theory has received ample support in
the context of personality traits (e.g., extraversion, sociabil-
ity, emotional stability), with individuals claiming to possess
these traits in front of real or imagined audiences believing
themselves to actually possess them more than individu-
als who lacked an audience.
However, the literature
is limited in that it has only considered self-presentational
Department of Communication Arts, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, Wisconsin.
CYBERPSYCHOLOGY,BEHAVIOR,AND SOCIAL NETWORKING
Volume 18, Number 7, 2015
ªMary Ann Liebert, Inc.
claims related to personality traits and short-term effects,
with internalization measured immediately after the self-
presentation took place. Can the public commitment framework
be extended to self-presentations that pertain to romantic
relationships, and to long-term effects?
Facebook self-presentation and romantic commitment
We argue that it can. Public commitment is deﬁned as
‘‘a pledging of self (a) to an action; (b) to a person, group, or
organization; or (c) to an idea.’’
can be conceptualized both as a pledging of self to another
person, and to the idea of being in a relationship. As dis-
cussed, Facebook self-presentations tend to be highly public,
thus meeting the criterion for internalization. Further, they
are recordable and salient for long periods of time. Through
repeated exposure, internalization may become deeply roo-
ted and long lasting.
Several self-presentational elements on Facebook should
induce public commitment toward one’s romantic partner.
First, Facebook allows users to associate with romantic
partners by listing themselves as ‘‘in a relationship’’ and
linking to their partner’s proﬁle. Relationship listing on Fa-
cebook is so meaningful for today’s dating couples that it has
received its own colloquial nomenclature, ‘‘going Facebook
Research shows a connection between relation-
ship listing on Facebook and relationship functioning: More
committed and satisﬁed couples are more likely to declare
themselves ‘‘in a relationship.’’
A second option for broadcasting one’s romantic in-
volvement on Facebook is via photographs depicting the
self-presenters with their partners. These dyadic photographs
are a potent display of merged identities, as they illustrate
joint activities and often affectionate behavior. The fre-
quency of posting dyadic photographs has been shown to
correlate with relationship satisfaction for both married and
Third, Facebook enables romantic partners to converse
publicly with one another by posting messages on their re-
spective walls. Focus groups indicate that public communi-
cation serves the purpose of afﬁrming togetherness, with one
participant memorably stating that it is the ‘‘ultimate form of
PDA.cause everyone can see it.’’
Fourth, Facebook allows users to declare publicly which
events they attended, what interest groups they are afﬁliated
with (e.g., ‘‘Cat lovers’’), and what networks they belong to
(e.g., high schools, universities). When partners partake in
the same events, groups, and networks, they can be con-
ceptualized as having joint afﬁliations, an indicator of to-
getherness. Research in face-to-face settings shows that
participating in social activities together afﬁrms romantic
partners’ coupledom by gaining the recognition of friends
Finally, Facebook allows users to accrue mutual Friends.
Research shows that closer and more stable romantic part-
ners have more friends in common, a situation referred to as
While couples may not be pur-
posefully accumulating Friends for self-presentational pur-
poses, this system-generated cue enables them to visualize
their own network embeddedness, and therefore may lead
them to understand themselves as part of a social unit, bound
together by common relations.
In sum, we propose that the frequency of posting the
above-mentioned self-presentational elements is associated
with an increase in individuals’ commitment toward their
romantic partners (H1). In turn, this increased commitment
should produce a stabilization of the relationship, with more
committed couples more likely to endure over time. Indeed,
the link between relationship commitment and relationship
duration is well established,
particularly among young
adults in dating relationships.
Therefore, we hypothesize
that relationship commitment will serve as a mediator be-
tween Facebook self-presentations of coupledom and rela-
tionship longevity (H2).
Participants and procedure
Participants were 212 undergraduates at the University of
Wisconsin–Madison, who were currently involved in a
dating relationship. Only heterosexual
students were invited to participate in a study of ‘‘romantic
relationships and media use.’’ Participants were recruited
through advertisements posted on the department of Com-
munication Arts’ subject pool Web site, and were compen-
sated with extra credit in their classes.
A longitudinal design was used, where Facebook self-
presentation was hypothesized to correlate with participants’
commitment to their partner measured during a lab ap-
pointment (time 1) and their likelihood of remaining together
6 months after the lab appointment (time 2).
At time 1, participants ﬁlled out a questionnaire with de-
mographic and relationship measures. Then, they were asked
to log into their Facebook proﬁle and use the freely available
‘‘Friendship’’ application on themselves and their partner.
This application generates a joint proﬁle for any pair of
Friends, on which it displays the Facebook information
shared by these two individuals (e.g., number of mutual
Friends, numbers of dyadic photographs). A research assis-
tant copied this information
into an Excel ﬁle, without
downloading the joint proﬁle.
Thirty-two participants were unable to use the application
because they or their partners were not Facebook users, re-
ducing the sample size to 180 (78.3% women; M
years, SD =1.92; 83.9% white, 12.8% Asian, 2.8% other).
The excluded participants did not differ from the rest of the
sample in terms of relationship longevity, t(164) =-1.28,
p=n.s., but reported lower relationship commitment,
t(206) =-2.16, p<0.05.
Six months later, participants were asked via e-mail
whether they and their romantic partners were still together.
Participants were reminded of the initials of the partner on
whom they previously reported. Eighty percent of the partici-
pants responded to the e-mail, a rate consistent with similar
There were no differences between participants
who responded and those who did not in terms of any of the
variables reported in this study.
Relationship commitment. This was measured using the
relationship commitment subscale of the investment model
(7 items; e.g., ‘‘I am committed to maintaining my
relationship with my partner,’’ ‘‘I feel very attached to our
368 TOMA AND CHOI
relationship—very strongly linked to my partner’’). Items
were rated on a scale from 1=‘‘not at all’’ to 7 =‘‘extreme-
ly.’’ High reliability was achieved (a=0.85), and a conﬁr-
matory factor analysis revealed a one-factor structure. The
relationship commitment score was normally distributed.
Relationship longevity. This was operationalized as
whether the relationship endured until the 6 month check-
point (yes/no). A total of 76.4% of the participants were still
together with their partners, while 23.6% had broken up, a
rate consistent with prior research.
Facebook cues. The following cues generated by the
‘‘Friendship’’ application were recorded: (a) whether par-
ticipants were listed as ‘‘in a relationship’’ with their ro-
; (b) the number of photographs in which
both participants and their partners were tagged; (c) the
number of comments posted by participants on partners’ wall
during the last month (i.e., participant-initiated wall posts);
(d) the number of comments posted by partners on partici-
pants’ wall during the last month (i.e., partner-initiated wall
posts); (e) the number of mutual Friends; and (f) the total
number of networks (e.g., high schools, universities), groups,
and events in which both partners were enrolled (i.e., joint
afﬁliations). Descriptive statistics for these variables are
presented in Table 1.
Covariates. These included gender (because women’s
mate selectivity is different from men’s in ways that may
affect relationship longevity),
age (because younger peo-
ple’s relationships tend to be shorter, less committed, and
more likely to break-up
), and the length of the romantic
relationship (M=15.22 months, SD =14.76; because rela-
tionships that have already stood the test of time may have a
higher chance of endurance).
The hypotheses were tested through a path analysis con-
ducted with the Lavaan package in R.
Since the endoge-
nous variable in the model (i.e., relationship longevity) was
binary, we used the maximum likelihood estimator with ro-
bust standard errors (MLR), which can handle non-normal
A test of joint signiﬁcance
was used to examine the
mediating effect of relationship commitment. See Table 2
for a partial correlation matrix between all variables, after
controlling for gender, age, and the length of the romantic
Our primary goal was to examine whether Facebook self-
presentation of coupledom increased relationship longevity
among college-aged dating couples by enhancing relation-
ship commitment. To test this prediction, a path model was
generated with the hypothesized Facebook cues entered as
exogenous variables, relationship longevity as an endoge-
nous variable, and relationship commitment as a mediator
(see Fig. 1). Gender, age, and relationship length were en-
tered as covariates. Based on Kline’s
cutoff criteria, the
model demonstrated excellent ﬁt with the data—v
4.07, p=0.67; RMSEA =0.00 [90% conﬁdence interval
0.00–0.09]; CFI =1.00; GFI =0.97; TLI =1.15; WRMR =
0.43—and explained 35.7% of the variance in the endoge-
nous variable, relationship longevity.
The following Facebook cues were positively associated
with relationship commitment: relationship listing, number
of dyadic photographs, and number of participant-initiated
wall posts. Contrary to expectations, the number of mutual
Friends and of partner-initiated wall posts were negatively
associated with relationship commitment. Joint afﬁliations
were not signiﬁcantly related to relationship commitment.
H1 was therefore partially supported.
Consider now the mediational role of relationship com-
mitment between Facebook self-presentation and relation-
ship longevity. The preceding analyses demonstrate that
some Facebook cues were related to relationship commit-
ment. Further, relationship commitment had a direct and
Table 1. Means and Standard Deviations for All
the Continuous Variables in the Path Model
Relational commitment* 5.69 1.02
Number of dyadic photographs 50.06 82.99
Number of participant-initiated wall posts 1.05 2.07
Number of partner-initiated wall posts 0.67 1.29
Number of joint afﬁliations 7.65 18.70
Number of mutual Friends 126.67 146.92
*Measured on a scale from 1 =‘‘not at all committed’’ to
Table 2. Partial Correlation Matrix for the Variables Used in the Path Model
After Controlling for the Covariates (N=144)
1 2 3 456 78
1. Relationship listed on Facebook —
2. Number of dyadic photographs 0.22* —
3. Number of participant-initiated wall posts 0.21* 0.33*** —
4. Number of partner-initiated wall posts 0.15* 0.61*** 0.61*** —
5. Number of joint afﬁliations 0.07 0.15 -0.09 0.08 —
6. Number of mutual Friends -0.16 0.06 -0.05 -0.05 0.16 —
7. Relationship commitment 0.37*** 0.26** 0.20* 0.11 0.15 -0.15 —
8. Relationship longevity 0.27** 0.12 0.13 0.05 0.20* -0.01 0.43*** —
*p <0.05; **p<0.01; ***p <0.001.
SELF-PRESENTATION OF COUPLEDOM ON FACEBOOK 369
positive association with relationship longevity. For a one-
unit increase in the relationship commitment score, the odds
of the couple staying together after 6 months increased by
50%. According to the test of joint signiﬁcance,
supported. None of the covariates reached statistical signif-
icance. See Figure 1 for all the path coefﬁcients in the model.
Despite our theoretical predictions that Facebook self-
presentation affects relationship commitment, it is possible
that it reﬂects couples’ pre-existing commitment. That is,
couples who are more committed are more likely to create
the types of self-presentations examined here. To investigate
this competing possibility, we generated a path model with
relationship commitment as the exogenous variable, rela-
tionship longevity as an endogenous variable, and Facebook
cues as mediating variables. Following Kline’s
teria, this alternative model showed an unsatisfactory ﬁt with
(16) =639.58, p=0.00; RMSEA =0.53 [90%
conﬁdence interval 0.43–0.50]; CFI =0.54; TLI =0.20;
WRMR =03.95. Therefore, we conclude that the data are
consistent with the claim that Facebook self-presentation
affects, rather than is affected by, relationship commitment
among college-aged dating couples.
Romantic relationships do not exist in isolation. Rather,
they are affected by the social context in which they are
embedded. In recent years, Facebook has changed this social
context by, among others, allowing couples to make public
claims about their relationship. This study investigated how
these public self-presentations of coupledom shaped indi-
viduals’ commitment toward their romantic partners, as well
as the fate of the relationship.
Results show that the public association between the self
and a romantic partner generally boosted Facebook users’
relationship commitment, which, in turn, increased their
likelihood of staying together after 6 months. The more
participants listed themselves as ‘‘in a relationship’’ with
their partners, shared dyadic photographs, and wrote mes-
sages on their partners wall, the more commitment they
experienced. Consistent with public commitment theory,
these publicly posted cues likely induced participants to
perceive themselves as part of a romantic unit, thus ce-
menting the relationship.
However, several self-presentational elements did not op-
erate in the predicted way. First, the number of mutual Friends
was negatively associated with relationship commitment. This
could be the case because more mutual Friends signal a larger
social network and, thus, the availability of many alternative
romantic partners. Indeed, the investment model of relation-
proposes that the more alternative partners are
available, the less committed individuals feel toward their
existing partners. Second, posts written by partners on par-
ticipants’ wall diminished relationship commitment, unlike
posts written by participants on their partners wall. This
double standard could occur because participants interpret
partners’ wall posts as a sign of possessiveness, or over-
sharing, but their own as a sign of commitment. Finally, joint
afﬁliations were not associated with relationship commitment.
These cues are not displayed straightforwardly on Facebook
proﬁles. For instance, in order to determine whether both
participant and his/her partner attended the same events, it is
necessary to click on each event and scroll through the list of
attendees. Due to their decreased visibility, these cues may not
exercise psychological effects. Future research is required to
test these possibilities fully.
Despite these unexpected ﬁndings, the general pattern of
results advances public commitment theory in meaningful
ways. The present study represents the ﬁrst application of
this theory to romantic self-presentations, thus extending its
boundaries to a new and important self-presentational do-
main. It is also the ﬁrst to demonstrate the temporal endur-
ance of public commitment effects.
This study also advances the literature on the effects of
Facebook on romance by suggesting a causal order of the
variables under scrutiny. While previous literature
FIG. 1. Path coefﬁcients for all
the hypothesized relationships in
p<0.10; *p <0.05;
**p<0.01; ***p <0.001.
370 TOMA AND CHOI
used correlational or qualitative methods to suggest that
Facebook activity reﬂects relationship characteristics (e.g.,
more committed couples are more likely to list themselves as
‘‘in a relationship’’), this is the ﬁrst study to indicate that
Facebook activity might also affect relationship character-
istics. In fact, the path analysis suggests it is more likely that
Facebook self-presentation was associated with changes in
the way partners experienced their romantic relationships,
rather than it merely reﬂected this experience.
Limitations and future research
Several limitations need to be acknowledged. First, this
study’s focus was on premarital, dating relationships among
heterosexual college-aged adults. Future research should
examine individuals across life stages and relationship types.
Second, self-presentation is only one aspect of Facebook use
in the context of romantic relationships, along with partner
and the maintenance of back-burner relation-
for instance. How do self-presentations of couple-
dom ﬁt into this larger ecology of Facebook use? What is the
net effect of these different aspects of Facebook use on ro-
mantic commitment and longevity? Third, it bears noting
that while longitudinal designs are superior to cross-sectional
surveys in drawing conclusions about causality, they still do
not provide deﬁnitive evidence. Future research employing
an experimental approach is needed.
While originally intended to connect people with their
friend networks, Facebook has become an important space
for the negotiation of romantic relationships. Indeed, the
present research suggests that Facebook use may have an
impact on the very existence of dating relationships.
a. Following Ellison and boyd’s
suggestion, we capita-
lize the word ‘‘friends’’ to denote social connections
on Facebook. Facebook Friends include close and dis-
tant friends, family members, acquaintances, and even
b. Long-distance relationship partners were excluded
from this study because a large body of research shows
that they use and are affected by the media differently
than geographically close partners.
c. The Institutional Review Board (IRB) at the authors’
institution only allowed the numeric information pro-
duced by the ‘‘Friendship’’ application to be recorded
(e.g., number of mutual Friends, number of photos),
but did not grant permission to record the content of
the messages exchanged by the partners, or to save
their photographs. This information could therefore not
be examined in the present study.
d. In addition to listing themselves as ‘‘in a relationship’’
with their partners, Facebook users also have the op-
tion of choosing other romantic relationship listings,
such as ‘‘in an open relationship’’ or ‘‘it’s complicat-
ed.’’ Since fewer than 5% of our sample chose these
other options, they were not considered in our model.
e. We also ran a structural equation model (SEM) with
relationship commitment as a latent variable and ob-
tained similar results—v
(5) =2.91, p=0.71; RMSEA =
0.00 [90% conﬁdence interval 0.00–0.07); CFI =1.00;
GFI =0.99; TLI =1.13; WRMR =0.40. The model
explained 29.5% of the variance in the endogenous
variable, relationship longevity. We decided to report
the path model, rather than the SEM, because our
sample size was below that recommended for running
The authors are grateful to Amelia Gordon and Samantha
Hersil for their help with data collection, and to the Hamel
Family Foundation for their ﬁnancial assistance.
Author Disclosure Statement
No competing ﬁnancial interests exist.
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Address correspondence to:
Dr. Catalina L. Toma
Department of Communication Arts
University of Wisconsin–Madison
6144 Vilas Hall
821 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53706
372 TOMA AND CHOI