DATING IN THE DIGITAL AGE: SOME THOUGHTS

Oh how I love the topic of tech... As people close to me know, this is one of my favorite things to talk about. Perhaps because I am always so intrigued by both relationships and technology as topics on their own, but even more so together. As a therapist, I present to children, parents and other service providers on internet safety. As a blogger, I am obviously very grateful for the opportunities I've been afforded in pursuing my creative outlets online. 

However, the internet has also created a lot of not so beautiful things for us all. It's made itself so important that we often rely on it too much and it has the power to consume us in unprecedented ways that can only lead us to question our ability to live safely within it. This is the core question I am always asking, because the internet isn't going anywhere, so how can we navigate it in a way that helps us more than it hinders us? This is a topic I am constantly evolving within and I am eager to start sharing about it on this platform. But today I want to hone in specifically on dating. As you may know, I met my husband on a dating app (shout out to Jswipe) and so full disclosure, I had mostly positive experiences, therefore I am a bit biased. But my success was not just about meeting my life partner, it was also about doing it in a safe and meaningful way. So when we talk about dating online, let's start with the most important thing; safety! 





So what is safety, really? I want to just start off with the idea that dating has had it's safety concerns well before the internet came along. It's important to recognize that technology is simply a medium created by people. Meaning that people being terrible online is not because of the internet, it's because they are capable of doing terrible things in general, even if technology makes it simpler or helps people disconnect from the gravity of their actions. There is certainly literature to support the idea that empathy can decrease with higher levels of internet use, but we need to continue to hold people accountable for both their behavior on and offline. So, how do we connect online safely? After my initial start to using these apps, I quickly realized that it was hard to tell who was actually worth meeting in person. I also didn't want to jeopardize my safety or standards so I set some boundaries. To be clear this is not one size-fits-all advice, these are just some of the things that worked for me. 



Assess before you invest: A cheesy phrase, but it's quite sensible. After spending enough first dates wishing I was still at home, watching Bravo in my sweatpants, I finally decided to be more particular about my precious time. So whenever someone asked to go on a first date, I'd suggest they give me a call first to make a plan. Then we both would have a chance to talk a little and get a sense of one another before committing to a date. Most of my friends like to cringe at this one and I realize we are living in a time where people just aren't as comfortable talking on the phone as they used to be. I actually had a friend freak out when a guy called her that she was communicating with only via text message and I'll admit it was hard for me too. But I just don't know why I'd choose to physically meet someone in person, if I wasn't comfortable talking to them first over the phone. So this became a HUGE dealbreaker for me. 

That simple request for them to call was a game changer and honestly helped me weed out a lot of people I knew I didn't want to date. If a potential partner wasn't willing to set aside some time to call me and make a plan, then I knew he also wouldn't wake up for a baby at 2am or scour my Pinterest board before my birthday. (Still unsure if my husband even knows what Pinterest is come to think about it, but he would certainly wake up for a baby, given his commitment to our little Pierre). Not everyone online is looking for a serious relationship, but I was, and I wanted any person I would consider dating to feel the same. But even if you aren't looking for a serious relationship, getting a sense of who a person is before meeting them in person is always a good idea, especially when you are connecting first online. As for the pre-date phone call, I wouldn't necessarily talk for longer than 10-15 minutes, but you would be surprised how much information you can get in that short of time. People can't craft perfect messages as easily over the phone and more importantly it takes a certain amount of vulnerability that is typically lost over text. And I also believe it changed the dynamic between myself and that person, because they were able to see that I cared about myself and my safety, that my time was important, all via one simple request. This was such a minimal thing to do, but set such a a strong foundation for any relationship. 

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Meeting in person: It's probably not a great idea to give out your address to someone you don't know. No judgement if you do this, but don't we all deserve to be safe? Meeting someone in a public place and having people who care about you know where you are helps increase safety dramatically. It also gives you a way out if you feel uncomfortable to leave the situation with ease. I heard somewhere that there is even a cocktail you can order from a bartender that is code for help, called the Angel Drink. I also think you could just ask someone who works at the establishment to assist you if you feel uncomfortable or need help leaving a situation. 

Time spent: Another major thing for me was differentiating how I valued my time. Going on dates was important because finding a partner was important to me, however, I was never willing to sacrifice my life outside of dating or time with my friends and family. So I set limits on when and how many nights I was willing to go on dates. I typically wouldn't meet someone for the first, second, even third or fourth time, during the weekend because I chose to reserve that time for myself and the people I had already built meaningful relationships with. Some weeks were really busy due to having engagements with friends, for my blog, for my work; but I did my very best to prioritize my nights off so that I could be more present for the nights out. This ties in again to the general premise that our relationship with ourself should come first, before we create ones with other people. Even though I can't imagine my life without Arthur, I will never only be a half of a relationship; I felt whole before I met him and still feel whole as an individual. This is something I have struggled with before and I learned to look inward first, to value myself as an individual, before expecting anyone else to validate me in a relationship. 

Ongoing Communication: If I have anything to say about dating specifically in the digital age, this is it. Ignoring the chatter technology creates was helpful for me. The chatter being all the random, unexplained behavior we interpret as important, for example the likes on social media, the emojis that replace words, anything that replaces substance online, is not meant to be taken seriously offline. Just because someone watches your Instagram stories, or "leaves you unread" or God forbid pokes you on FB (if someone does this, say thank you, because it's the clearest sign you will ever get that this person is NOT for you). I hear time and time again, "Well he hasn't asked me out but he always likes my photos and snapped me a heart eyed emoji after I posted my Miami trip." So many of us tend to think that technology has created confusion for this very reason, but it's not that confusing. If you think about it, indirect communication might mean someone has an interest, but the real question is it that is good enough for you? Does it match what you are looking for? We all know how difficult it can be to put ourselves out there, to be vulnerable and show how we feel to others, but isn't that what love is about? Why spend your time with someone who does the bare minimum: I don't know you, but I do know you deserve better. Do you know that? 



It all comes back to connection: Getting back to connection is key. Especially when you are looking for someone to have an in-person relationship with, you might want to assess how much of your relationship involves the shield of technology. If you start your relationship communicating mostly via text, just keep in mind the new challenges face to face communication may highlight. Perhaps a person appears better or worse online, therefore someone who comes off cool via text and posts great pictures might not necessarily be that way in person. Most of us are all looking for something real, whether it's for one night or forever. So when we think about how we use technology, let's remember that it's merely the introduction point, a medium for simplifying life, not a forever strategy for real connection. And I think we all want real, right?  

-MGN

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