It used to be that you could tell the status of a relationship by spending time with the couple. A combination of the high school rumor mill and firsthand observations could definitively establish a pair as "in a relationship." But since the advent of social networking sites, most notably Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr, teen romances have manifested themselves online. They usually follow a pattern:

Phase One: Do the flirt

(Craig White/Bradenton Herald/MCT)

Online flirting has one simple rule: quantity over quality. This phase is most evident on Twitter and Facebook. One party becomes interested in another, and gradually the first party will make a move. It might start slowly: "liking" a status, retweeting comments, finding any excuse to write on a wall. Then it builds up -- going back and commenting on old profile pictures, dropping <3's (a symbol for "heart" or "love") on the end of everything, and eventually, friending members of the other party's family. If you are noticing that a disproportionate amount of a friend's social network -- their wall, their profile -- is covered with cute little messages from another person, be warned. Phase One has been initiated.

Phase Two: The relationship

Phase Two is merely a continuation of Phase One, with a few added twists. Oftentimes, the couple will decide to go "f.b.o." or Facebook Official, meaning that one or both people have changed their relationship status on Facebook to reveal that they are either dating the other person or simply "in a relationship." Facebook offers 11 different definitions of a relationship, ranging from "it's complicated" to a civil union to marriage.

Relationship statuses are only the first things to change. Profile pictures are often next. At first, it might be a cute picture of the couple hugging. If the timing works out, they might be dressed up for a dance, or getting ready for an important sports event. A few months later, it might show them kissing.

When I see this, I can't help but wonder who takes the picture. Does the couple hand over the camera and ask a random person to take a picture as soon as the PDA (public display of affection) starts? But if the two want to show they're in a relationship, there's no limit to what type of PDAs can be pictured. The only important thing is that both partners set the same picture as their profile.

Phase Three: Breakdown, breakup

This phase is the shortest, yet often the most entertaining. Once one party has entered this phase, there is no going back. The relationship is done. The malcontented party begins by posting moody pictures, contemplative statuses and snippy little comments on his or her partner's posts. Then, as the problem in the relationship does not improve or gets worse, one person will begin writing, for all his or her friends, family and followers to see, about the tough spot in the relationship.

No proper nouns will be used, only ambiguous pronouns explaining how "being with him hurts, but I can't get enough" or "she frustrates me ... I don't get women." It doesn't matter who is tagged or what hashtags are used. Everybody knows exactly to whom the upset person is referring, and that is exactly what he or she intended.

Eventually, the entire relationship slowly crumbles. Profile pictures begin to change rapidly before they finally are replaced with pictures of the individual with a few of his or her friends rather than the boyfriend or girlfriend. Online contact begins to drop off, and eventually, the couple will break up.

On rare occasions, the breakup will happen online as well. However, this is considered a major faux pas. The most obvious indicator of the breakup is, once again, the relationship status. It will be changed back to single, or whatever it was before the relationship began.

Phase Four: Getting over it

Also known as the closure or erasure, this phase is characterized by an insatiable need to erase any cyberspace evidence of the first three phases. This is the most subjective phase, as some people are capable of dealing with fallout from a breakup better than others. Getting over a relationship often means expunging pictures, deleting comments, and in some extreme cases, defriending or defollowing the ex. Some people even trash talk their ex, using the same vague pronoun rule that worked in Phase Three.

The best cure at this juncture is time, which heals all heartbreak. Or a new partner to start the entire cycle over again.

The Life in Perspective board is made up of teens who write for the features sections. Maya Sweedler is a junior at Los Gatos High School. Reach her at lip@bayareanewsgroup.com