The day I got married, I wore a sweatshirt from the boys’ section of the Gap. My 12-year-old best friend and I had just discovered the joys of the Facebook relationship status. Feeling subversive, we’d exchange public wall posts from “wife” to “husband” to amuse ourselves during middle school. It began as a joke, but our Facebook marriage survived almost ten years, well after our lives diverged offline.
When we were in our twenties, she told me she wanted to break up. She had a serious boyfriend, and I’d moved to another continent. I understood, and didn’t think much of it—but when she demoted me back to mere “friend” status, we both sensed the significance of the act, and a sense of loss.
I was reminded of my faux-marriage recently, when a new item appeared on my Facebook newsfeed: the “friendship anniversary.” The feature, globally available as of September, is a special type of post marking how many years it’s been since the the day you became Facebook friends with a particular person. The idea behind it, a Facebook spokesperson told me, is to capture the “meaningful, shared histories” people have had on the site.
The “friend anniversary” algorithm incorporates Facebook interactions like photo tags, likes, and wall posts to decide which of your online friendships are worthy of an anniversary. As a proxy for what friendship actually is and what makes it meaningful, it’s laughably simplistic. And it doesn’t always work properly—I saw someone jokingly post a friend anniversary in which she didn’t appear in any of the automatically compiled photos “of the two of you.”