The at-odds couple

One blabs about almost everything online. The other keeps most things private. Why the ‘post’ modern relationship is far from smooth.

By Beth Teitell
Globe Correspondent / February 4, 2010

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When Kendall Quinlan’s boyfriend does something she dislikes, she takes solace in complaining about him on Facebook. ‘‘It’s nice to know the lies are still coming,’’ read one post. ‘‘Is it really worth it?’’ read another.

Quinlan, 22, a customer service representative from Brighton, is careful never to name her longtime beau, but even so, he objects to the semi-public airing of grievances. ‘‘He thinks the whole world knows it’s about him.’’

They probably do, she acknowledged. ‘‘But whatever. It’s my Facebook. I can do whatever I want.’’

As people become increasingly comfortable posting every thought and action on their Facebook or Twitter pages, some couples are finding that what happens within the confines of a relationship doesn’t always stay there — it ends up online. So where does one person’s right to post a status update end, and another’s right not to have his wife’s 240 Facebook friends know he spent Sunday glued to reruns of ‘‘The Tyra Banks Show’’ begin?

Sometimes the lines are stark: one member of a couple wants nothing about his or her private life revealed online, while the other posts everything - from cute pictures of the kids to details about his wife’s recent food poisoning. Other times, the limits are blurred, with both members of a couple revealing some details online, but at odds over what’s fair game.

Therapists say that differing notions of privacy are an age-old relationship issue. But sites like Facebook and Twitter have complicated things, both by broadening the gossip circle to co-workers, casual acquaintances, childhood buddies, and by making it more likely that word will make its way back to the subject.

“It’s almost like everyone has paparazzi problems,’’ said Brenda Della Casa, author of “Cinderella Was a Liar: The Real Reason You Can’t Find (or Keep) a Prince.’’ “People are obsessed with showing what their lives are about. People want to show that it’s good to be them, and their relationships get caught up.’’

That observation doesn’t come as a surprise to Jared Wilk, 28, a real estate developer and broker from Brookline. His girlfriend loves posting pictures to Facebook, a pastime he doesn’t mind, except that it’s gotten him into “trouble’’ with friends and relatives who are surprised to see pictures of him visiting their towns when they had no idea he was in the area.

After his girlfriend uploaded a picture of him running the “Rocky’’ steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art - a lifelong dream - cousins who live in the area, but whom he hadn’t contacted, were “a little disappointed.’’ College buddies in Washington, D.C., were likewise unhappy to see photos of him at the Lincoln Memorial when they didn’t know he was in town.

Wilk takes it all lightly. “I haven’t made any enemies,’’ he said.

But some people feel uncomfortable when others are in on the (formerly) intimate details of life.

Take Leslie DelMonaco, 38, a realtor from Leominster, whose husband doesn’t appreciate having details of their personal life become public knowledge. He “goes a little ballistic,’’ she admitted.

“A woman at his work asks him questions all the time,’’ she explained. For example, after DelMonaco posted about an upcoming movie night, the colleague asked what film they watched. When the co-worker learned on Facebook that he was going to New Jersey for the weekend, she offered to take care of the family’s cat. “He says, ‘How do you know these things?’ ’’

David Sainato, 38, special education teacher and personal care assistant from Wilmington, also encounters acquaintances who are unnervingly familiar with his personal life. “It happens to him all the time,’’ said his wife, Shelley, 39, a loan officer and a realtor.

“What freaks him out is if he’s in a public situation,’’ Sainato said, “and someone comes up and says, ‘I hear Maddie has another ear infection, that must be rough,’ and he’s saying to himself, ‘Why does this person know this about my 3-year-old daughter?’ ’’

At least, that’s what he used to ask himself. Now he knows the reason all too well. While Sainato says he doesn’t mind most of his wife’s postings, safety concerns prompted him to ask her to stop writing about upcoming vacations.

“I don’t think it should be public knowledge about when we’re out of town,’’ he said. “You can’t be too careful in this day in age with certain types of information winding up in the wrong hands.’’ The Sainatos resolved their Facebooking differences, but therapists say that agreeing on what’s acceptable to post can be difficult.

“Some people live their lives online, while their partners don’t,’’ said Susan Giurleo, a therapist with a North Andover practice. Some people like to stay connected by posting everything they’ve eaten, done, or watched, she said, particularly if they are unemployed, self-employed, or home with kids. “That’s their water cooler.’’

“But their spouse, who may have an actual water cooler, is saying, ‘Why did you have to tell the whole world the dog threw up all over our bed?’ They worry about what people will think.’’

Comfort with transparency on the Internet can break down along generational lines, she added, with adults in their early 30s or younger more open than those over 40. “In their 30s, it can go either way,’’ she said.

Privacy recently became an issue for all Facebook users, not just those creeped out by having their lives exposed. In December, the company made controversial changes that critics say push users to share more of their information. Facebook users who want to change their privacy settings back can do so.

But alas, even tighter privacy controls can’t eliminate all relationship friction. The reason: the posts that cause disputes are going out to a circle of friends the poster wants to keep updated.

Consider the case of Megan Kelley Hall, of Swampscott, and her husband. She’s a chatty author of young-adult books and a big social media user who proudly reports that she’s been accused of “oversharing’’ online. But, she says, it’s good for business.

Many of her posts fall into the legitimate social networking category. Indeed, she optioned the film rights to “Sisters of Misery,’’ her debut gothic-suspense novel, to a Hollywood director she met through Facebook. But other posts are rather personal, like this one from last Christmas:

“Megan Kelley Hall wonders if making a Christmas gift list for my husband . . . is really worth it. Then again, when left to his own devices, I’ve received Bic pens, Beanie Babies mugs, Mad Libs, and socks.’’

Her husband is not on Facebook and is very private, she said. Or at least he was. Now he’s the regular target of good-natured ribbing from relatives, neighbors, old college chums, and colleagues at his financial firm, who call or write telling him to get her better gifts, or taking her side in disagreements she’s shared online.

While it’s all good-natured, Hall says, she does understand his desire for privacy. She’s now trying to keep her posts down to five per day. If not for his sake, then for hers.

“When I see out-of-town friends, they already know everything that’s going on in my life,’’ she said. “We have nothing to talk about.’’

Therapists say that differing notions of privacy are an age-old relationship issue. But sites like Facebook and Twitter have complicated things, both by broadening the gossip circle to co-workers, casual acquaintances, childhood buddies, and by making it more likely that word will make its way back to the subject.