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If you’ve been away from the dating scene for long, you may be surprised to find how much has changed. A nervous phone call has been replaced with an impersonal note or text; a private break-up has become a public spectacle.
There’s no doubt that social media sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, have improved our lives in many ways. It’s free and easy to stay in touch with family and friends, find a job, or boost the visibility of a business, but its impact on the dating world has raised a host of concerns.
#1 Contact Is Easier.
It used to take courage to ask someone out. The pursuer would write notes or practice in the mirror before knocking on the door of their beloved; the pursued would sit nervously by the phone for the long-awaited request for a date. Both had to master key social skills and learn the basics of communication.
Social media makes getting a date (and breaking up with a partner) as simple as the click of a mouse. This can have a number of positive and negative side effects. Because social media sites take away the immediacy of person-to-person contact, men and women are more likely to initiate contact than they once were. Distance, a busy schedule and lack of access to potential partners are no longer barriers to dating.
On the negative side, for those looking for a committed, long-term relationship, social media may be making it too easy to meet people. Easy accessibility to an enormous pool of potential partners may be contributing to serial dating (juggling multiple relationships at one time), promiscuity and infidelity.
Even though we’re able to contact a long list of people, social media sites may not be enabling the deep, long-lasting companionship that many hope to find. Rather than investing in one or two serious relationships, people may find themselves only superficially engaged in a series of short-term interactions.
#2 In-Person Meetings Occur with Virtual Strangers.
You can learn a lot about a person through profiles and blogs before agreeing to meet. If they tweet, you can even find out mundane details about what they had for lunch or who they hung out with after work.
But even with extensive detective work, the truth is you never really know what you’re going to get. While social networking sites attract millions of smart, well-adjusted people, there are just as many people lying about who they are, what they do and how they look. Some are outright dangerous. The truth is you never know which of these individuals will show up looking to take you on a date.
#3 Private Life Is More Public.
Depending on your privacy settings, status updates may allow your entire online social network to see the changes that take place in your personal life. Met a new beau? Great, but now the dilemmas begin: Who changes their Facebook status first? What if the other doesn’t reciprocate?
The complications continue when a relationship ends. Is it cold-hearted to change your status to single right away? What if you’ve been in a committed, long-term relationship with someone and you suddenly see that they changed their status to single? Does that mean the relationship is over?
If you’re not meticulous about deleting records, social networking sites like Facebook make available all of the posts on your page since you first created your profile. This means people can look back at your history and see the start – and potentially embarrassing end – of past relationships. And you can do the same, making it difficult to move on from old flames that fizzled.
#4 Conversations May Be Scripted.
On your first night out your date yells at the waiter and can hardly form a sentence. What happened? He was so polite and eloquent online.
Online we can choose to present ourselves not as who we are but as who we want to be. Your prospective partner may be hiding behind an alternate persona, or you may have created a false image of who you think the person is based on a few comments they made. Our best allies when looking for a partner – instincts and common sense – can become cloudy behind a computer screen.
#5 Interpretation Is Difficult.
As a relatively new medium for dating, there is a lot of unchartered territory on social media sites. Instead of reading body language, tone of voice and other social cues, we get on our Facebook pages looking for signals whether someone is interested or not.
If she posts on your wall five times in one day, is it a red flag that she’s too needy or obsessive? He hasn’t updated his page since your blow-out fight; does that mean he’s hiding his posts from you? Why is she untagging herself from all of the pictures of you as a couple?
For partners who are trying to interpret each other’s cues from behind a computer screen, social media can be rife with misunderstandings and mixed messages. Because it is so easy to do, people may find themselves obsessively checking these sites and stalking their partners or potential partners.
An Obstacle to Healthy Intimacy
Online dating sites have helped thousands of people find love – as many as 120,000 married couples in just one year, according to a 2008 study. Much less reported are the number of unhealthy “hook-ups” and mismatched – even dangerous – pairings that occur each year on social media sites.
While there is a place for social media in our lives, we have to recognize and guard against the challenges it presents. If we’re not careful, getting to know too many people too quickly can break down healthy personal boundaries and become an obstacle to genuine intimacy.
While exchanging messages and virtual flirtations can be the start of a meaningful relationship, it can’t end there. Good old-fashioned togetherness, conversation and mutual affection can be supplemented by social media, but not replaced.