The age-old question of “Will they call?” is transforming into “Will they text, Facebook, tweet, Gchat or Skype me?”
Is This Thing On?, or ITTO, is our Wednesday column showing how everyday people use technology in unexpected ways.
From texting to social media to e-mail, singles are easily muddled by the proliferation of communication avenues in today’s dating scene. Those “out there” are often left scratching their heads over a perceived lack of communication, or are going blind from re-reading every quick text message in order to decipher hidden messages and meanings from potential partners.
The New Hierarchy of Communication
Part of the digital-dating debate was nicely framed last Sunday night in HBO’s new series, “Girls.” The Lena Dunham-created, Judd Apatow-produced series presents itself as a window into a generation of 20-something women, versed in social media, struggling in a stumbling economy and facing the disconnect between university life and reality.
In the first fifteen minutes, one of the main characters explains the “totem of chat” to her friend, who is puzzling over the lack of text messages from her sometime boyfriend.
“The lowest, that would be Facebook, followed by Gchat, then texting, then email then phone. Face-to-face is of course ideal, but is not of this time,” she replies, placing benign resignation on the “not of this time” phrase.
The digital age ushered in new online dating services like Match.com and eHarmony, and a corresponding slew of apps now help people find and connect to others with similar interests.
Mobile technology can even complement traditional ways of meeting people, by providing the quick ability to “google” a new acquaintance. And once in an established relationship, technology tricks measure compatibility and ensure a partner’s faithfulness.
“Should I Call?” is Now “Should I Text?”
But what about where it all begins: that uncomfortable, prone-to-misunderstanding, initial phase of courtship? Do the promising new digital tools like Facebook, Twitter and text messaging make that easier or do they complicate the already complex, age-old dance of dating and mating?
Part of the problem with the intersection of new technology with dating is how constant connectedness and speed can create much anxiety in a society increasingly expectant of instant gratification. When there is a communication delay between an outing with someone or in response to a message, it causes single women especially to overanalyze, exemplified in the “totem of chat” and other dating obsessions.
“Generally, it makes sense,” said Julie Spira, cyber-relations and netiquette expert, on the idea of a totem of chats rating system. “But not all the time.”
The author of “The Rules of Netiquette: How to Mind Your Manners on the Web” points out that some singles just might be inclined to use Gchat or text because that is how they operate at work and with their friends. The fact they don’t call, for example, may not negatively reflect a potential partner’s value, but rather indicate a personal preference.
Also, Spira stresses slowing down the clock a bit. Daters should provide 24 hours for a response, or as long as 48, depending on whether the date was on a weekend or if there are extenuating circumstances travelling for work.
… Just Relax, Already
For those who are falling for a prospect who isn’t hitting the totem of chat satisfactorily, the cyber-dating coach advises two things: lighten up and communicate.
However lowly the effort may seem, the author says, “Appreciate the effort and let the person know your preference.” Spira recommends saying something like, “I was glad to get see your text message on where we were meeting, but I’d like to hear to your voice. Can you call me next time?” might cut the problem off at the pass.
“Men in particular want to be a hero,” Spira maintains, so acknowledging the effort and asserting a preference might be a solid way to clarify the situation. If several subtle attempts to get the dating communication to a preferred level don’t work, however, it may mean the partner hears the message but isn’t respecting it.
Finally, if the problem is moving the relationship from flirting on texts to face-to-face dates, the issue may have less to do with communication and more to do with realizing what is actually going on.
“If the only interaction is coming from behind a device, you are digital pen pals,” Spira noted.
Viewers will watch to see if the “Girls” character Hannah can make the leap from digital pen pal and occasional hook-up to fledgling coupledom, while at the same time trying to navigate and comprehend their own digital dating adventures. Who said it was great to be young?