Before you log onto Facebook to check in with your honey, brace yourself for comments, exchanges and pictures that can bring out the green-eyed monster in you, prompt you to spend more time on Facebook and lead to addictive behavior as you pursue evidence of competition for your beloved's affections.
Never mind the perils of cyber-stalking, cyber-bullying and posting photos that could endanger your future job prospects: Facebook could be ruining your relationship and driving you toward compulsively jealous behavior.
The risk that an innocent peek at Facebook could set in motion this cycle of events is suggested by a new survey of college students described in the journal CyberPsychology & Behavior. * Social psychologists from the University of Guelph in Canada queried college students who were in romantic relationships about their Facebook use. Their preliminary findings, presented in the journal's "Rapid Communication" section, suggest that rather than enhancing communication between romantic partners, Facebook use may be fueling wild flights of jealous investigation, as users in relationships perceive hints of potential infidelity and then scramble to find evidence of a partner's unfaithful thoughts or behavior.
Invariably, it seems, they end up feeling more jealous.
And where does this lead? For some participants in the study, these investigations led to searching behavior they described as "addictive." And the bouts of escalating jealousy, say the researchers, cannot be good for a relationship.
While the survey was of college students, the researchers surmised that Facebook might unleash the same dynamics in adult relationships. Certainly, they noted, it's worth further research.
The research team responsible for the latest survey has previously found that young adults' need for popularity led them to disclose far more personal information on Facebook than they would reveal in the course of ordinary social contact.
Here's your chance to add to researchers' collection of observations: has an overly friendly comment from a partner's "friend" or a posted photo depicting overly friendly friendship caused you to embark on a cyber-hunt for alleged infidelity? Did you "unfriend" a love interest as a result?
-- Melissa Healy
* An earlier version of this story misspelled the word "peek."