WRITTEN BY STEPHEN ROBINSON | INTERACTIVE MEDIA BY HAILEY MCADAMS
Fifteen years ago, well before Kim Kardashian “broke the internet”, I knew what it meant to date. I was young and naive back then, but even notwithstanding my age, I had a fairly clear sense of what dating was and how it worked. I was 12 years old, but still I knew that certain steps had to be taken to navigate from point A (loneliness) to point B (happily ever after). Those steps were known to vary somewhat depending on where you were from and what culture you identified with, but by and large there wasn’t a huge amount of disagreement in terms of how you were supposed to ask someone out, how you were supposed to get asked out, and what you were supposed to do when Robbie– the star quarterback and your not-so-secret crush– finally made it known that he ‘sort of’ liked you and ‘sort of’ wanted to make out with you after school.
Then came smartphones, online dating, and apps like Tinder. Now, thanks to Mark Zuckerberg and other billionaires like him, things are more complicated. Gone are the days of actually talking to people on the telephone, and dawned is a new age of unrelenting awkwardness, commitment phobia, and social anxiety. For most of human history before “swiping”, being direct and plain-spoken earned you respect; now, as far as I can tell, it makes you a pyschopath.
Dating in this new age of social media is entertaining, but also, in my own personal experience, confusing. Make a typo or accidentally put a period at the end of your text message and ‘boom’– there goes your chance of ever finding love or even a companion to watch Love Actually with (nothing quite says aggressive these days like proper punctuation and grammar).
Equally devastating is a genuine, only moderately-vain personality. Unless you want to be alone forever, it’s imperative that you be shallow, narcissistic, and also utterly self-absorbed to the point that your Instagram profile only consists of your amateur modelling attempts and mirror selfies. Sure, you might have a great personality in “real life”. So what? What matters is not what you’re really like in person– it’s how you appear, what other people think of you, and how many people get serious lifestyle envy when they watch your latest Instagram story.
It’s not just me. My personality makes me especially prone to awkward dating experiences, but these days, because of how dating apps work, routine periods of confusion and self-loathing are inevitable. Just this week popular dating website Match.com published its annual Singles in America survey for 2016. Among other shocking things, it found that 34% of Millennials have had sex before a first date, that 42% of Millennials judge their dates by their social media posts, and that cracked phone screens are a major turn-off.
Helen Fisher is a biological anthropologist and chief scientific adviser to Match, and helped develop the Singles in America survey. In a USA Today article three days ago she explained:
“Singles don’t like people who have a cracked phone, or an old phone or those who use a clicking sound when typing… I think we will see more of these taboos as singles are leading the way in expressing new forms of politeness in the technological era.”
Fisher’s observations are amusing, but also, if you’re single and looking for love, disturbing. With Valentine’s day less than a week away, they lead me to wonder: Has the internet ruined us?
Three months ago Rolling Stone Magazine published a piece titled, “Inside the Awkward World of Millennial Dating”. It’s author, Elisabeth Sherman, argues that Millennials are struggling because they’re torn between life before social media (i.e. their childhoods) and life after it (i.e. now).
“Millennials want to live in that in-between space, where our addiction to social media doesn’t exclude personal intimacy, but we haven’t mastered how to balance our needs yet… Millennials live in two worlds: one that didn’t need the internet to fall in love, and one that almost requires it.”
OK, but where does that actually leave us? If people don’t date anymore (“talking” is, apparently, the new dating), and it’s really true that sex now comes before a relationship, how am I meant to approach girls (or, if you’re so inclined, guys) and what am I supposed to say to them when I do? Do I just stalk attractive people on Instagram and then, after a few weeks of liking their photos, coyly slide into their DM? What should that first message say? Something old-fashioned like ‘hi’ or something more appropriate to our times like ‘You hear that new Frank Ocean track? Lit af”?
Clear, definite answers are hard to come by. I’ve asked around, and no one– not my therapist, not any of my over-achieving friends, and not a single one of the b-list celebs that I follow on twitter– seems to have the faintest idea where this decked-out looney train is headed. Which doesn’t bode well on the one hand, but also, on the other hand, is comforting because it proves that many other people have no idea what the hell is going on either. The only sensible way forward, it seems, is to acknowledge that fact and blindly stagger onwards to whatever awaits us on the other side of this weird in-between phase.
In the meantime, until humanity goes extinct or someone comes forward and clarifies what the new rules are, I have just one piece of advice: don’t be a jerk and don’t creepily send people nudes without being asked to– both are bad, unflattering colours on everyone.