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How do you know your love is real? Check Facebook

  • Story Highlights
  • For many college students, a relationship isn't real until it's confirmed on Facebook
  • Facebook users can see when their friends' relationship status changes
  • When it's listed on Facebook "it's public knowledge," says one sophomore
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By Michael Hernandez
Special to CNN
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CNNU campus correspondent Michael Hernandez is a senior at University of North Texas. CNNU is a feature that provides student perspectives on news and trends from colleges across the United States. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or the schools where the campus correspondents are based.

DENTON, Texas (CNN) -- Ashley Shinn didn't know she was in a relationship until asked to confirm it in a message from Facebook.

On Facebook users can share everything from photos to intimate relationship details with 67 million users.

The 22-year-old University of North Texas senior received a Facebook request from her new beau after a kiss.

"We didn't talk about it, then we kissed and then that night he sent me that request," on Facebook, she said. "Without discussing it. I was like, 'Oh, OK, I guess.'"

Shinn is one of more than 67 million Facebook users. The social networking Web site has redefined privacy online by allowing users to create profiles with photos, quotes, personal information and relationship statuses.

Facebook users list themselves as single, in a relationship, married, engaged, in an open relationship or to say "It's complicated."

In order to be listed online as a couple, both people have to agree to the designation.

For many college students, a new relationship isn't real until it's on Facebook.

It sometimes seems users' relationship statuses change just about every time you log on to the Web site.

Thanks to the main page's "news feed," which keeps tabs on everyone a user has listed as a friend, users can see every change their friends have made to their account, including up-to-the-minute reports on whether couples are still together.

Little red broken hearts appear next to a user's name if he or she recently went from "in a relationship" to "single."

Chris Neal, 20, a sophomore at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, said listing relationships online solidifies the commitment.

When it's listed on Facebook "it's public knowledge," he said. "Guys won't try to come get with a girl in a relationship and girls won't come to get with a guy. It's like marking your territory."

Neal, along with Taikein Cooper, 19, a fellow sophomore at the UNC-Chapel Hill, started the Facebook group "If your relationship isn't listed on doesn't count!" almost a year ago as an inside joke.

The group has almost 700 online members, most of whom agree with the statement, Neal said.

"You got a Facebook and it's not on there, then it's not official," he said.

Cooper echoes: "If you want him or her to be exclusive then you need to put it out there."

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Matt Pestinger, 18, started his group, "Your relationship doesn't count unless it's posted on Facebook," as a commentary on today's world, he said in an e-mail.

"I decided to start this group to point out what our world has come to and it cracks me up," the University of Oklahoma freshman said.

His group has 468 members.

"People love the group," he said. "One thing everyone says is, 'That's hilarious and true.'"

Samantha Majka wants to let people know a little more about her relationship. Majka, 18, is a sophomore at Towson University in Towson, Maryland.

She created the online group "Facebook relationship status options are insufficient."

The group, which has nearly 2,000 members, boasts ideas for Facebook to add to its lists of options for relationships.

Some of the ideas are "Has [insert name] wrapped around his/her finger," "Is seeing [...] but sssh don't tell" and "Is trying to figure out a way to break up with [...]"

Majka has some ideas of her own.

"I wanted to be able to put multipeople" on the relationship status, she said. "Not for polygamy or anything, but for multiple dating."

She said she started her group for fun after realizing the default statuses listed on Facebook don't fit every relationship. On other social networking Web sites, such as MySpace, users list their significant others and post photos and videos.

"Our generation is much more open with these types of things being on the Internet, Facebook and MySpace," Shinn said. "We don't have any secrets or anything. We don't hide anything. We show everything to each other. Since we don't have any shame in anything, we don't hide it."

Majka said she thinks people are so free with their personal information on Facebook and MySpace because it's a form of self-expression.

"I think it's just wanting to share a part of yourself in life," she said. Users just want other users to know more about them and see who they are, Neal said.

Other people aren't so sure.

"I have no clue why people are so free to be so open on Facebook," Pestinger said.

Shinn is open enough to list her relationship while Pestinger and Majka are listed as married even though neither has tied the knot.

"I have been in the same relationship that it seems like I am married," Pestinger said. "I listed my relationship to show everyone else that I am not single. It lets them know who my significant other is."

Neal and Cooper don't have relationships listed on their profile pages.

"I don't even have single listed on my Facebook," Neal said. "I'm not specifically exclusive to one female. Until I get with one exclusive girl, I won't put it on there."

Cooper said he has listed relationships before on Facebook.

"It was her decision at the time," he said. "She said it'd prevent a lot of issues if we put it on Facebook."

Some issues, Cooper said, include users not listing their relationship and using Facebook to try to meet other people. Facebook has become a way not only to meet people but to stay connected with family and friends, Neal said.

"If you're in college, you kind of need this to keep up with people," Neal said. "I have relatives that I don't even have their phone numbers but I can keep up with them on Facebook."

Shinn said Facebook has helped her keep in contact with all of her friends, including one studying abroad in Scotland.

"We're so busy with school and work that we isolate ourselves," she said. "It's probably a much easier way to keep in touch with people."

Facebook is a good way to stay in contact with people without having to be face-to-face, Majka said.

"Plus if you don't like talking on the phone then it's a good option," she said. Cooper would be lost without Facebook.

"I'm not sure what they did before Facebook," he said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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