Digital Dating

Digital Communication

Texting. Chatting. Instagram. The technologies that have evolved in recent years have had a big impact on communication and dating. College students depend heavily on the immediacy of texts, chats, and Instagram to talk with each other. This has produced a generation-wide trend of quick (sometimes impulsive) communicating without fully developed thoughts and emotions. It's also brought a lot of vagueness and confusion. Do you say "bye" to show you're done chatting, or just stop messaging? How long should you wait before responding to a text? Does using a period make your text seem too formal or emphatic? If someone you like sends a text asking to hang out, does that mean they like you too? Does it mean you definitely have plans? It can be really confusing, since the norm is to be brief and casual in digital communication.

Unfortunately, sometimes this casual style results not only in a lack of clarity, but also a lack of respect. Breaking up with someone via text doesn't show a lot of courage or respect, but sadly, it happens a lot. Ignoring someone's message might mean you're busy, not interested, or not sure how to respond. It leaves the sender uncertain about what's going on and unsure about what they should do.

There are ways to try to buck this trend and be more clear in how you communicate. It's not always easy, as people often feel afraid to be direct or vulnerable, but you can choose to be more clear when you want to get a point across. When someone sends you a vague message about "hanging out sometime," respond with a "cool, when?" or "thanks, but I'm not really into it" or "depends--hang as friends or something more?" You can (and perhaps should) speak face-to-face with someone when you have something serious to talk about. Digital communication can make it hard to understand the emotions and nuances in what's going on, and it can be a lot less personal. Say you want to tell someone you like that you want to get more serious, or you need to break up with someone because it's not working out. Although it's scary, having these talks in person makes it more likely that everyone understands what's happening.

There are other benefits to in-person talks: Yes, it's fun to flirt digitally, but flirting in person can be even more fun. It's pretty hard to convey certain things virtually, but a look, a hand on someone's arm, or the raising of an eyebrow can say a lot.

Online Dating

Another phenomenon that didn't exist (or was just getting started) when your parents were young is online dating. When online dating first started becoming a thing, a lot of people felt embarassed to admit they were doing it. Today, it's a lot more common and acceptable (although some people still don't like talking about using these sites and apps). Online dating appeals to people for a variety of reasons. Websites and apps are accessible almost any time or place. Online dating can satisfy that "immediate gratification" part of the brain, as you can often cruise profiles, send a message, and start a conversation right away. Some people are shy and find it easier to "approach" people digitally. Others want to find new ways to meet singles that don't involve parties or bars. Some like the feeling of choice that browsing through a lot of pictures or profiles can give. Still others like the fact that online dating lets you learn a little about someone before you communicate and look for people with certain traits and criteria. Finally, although some people may prefer to meet love interests "organically" (not online), they may still check out online options out of curiosity or just to have more options.

There are a few things that can make the online dating experience go more smoothly. Be honest in creating your profile. Don't pretend to be someone you're not or be deceptive in what you're seeking. Communicate by message or phone before you meet someone in person. This gives you a chance to get a "feel" for them and put your intentions out there, which can make it less awkward in person. Want a hookup? Make that clear so the other person isn't going into the date thinking you want a relationship. Looking for a serious partner? Of course, there are no guarantees a first date will lead to anything more, but if a relationship is your goal, it makes sense to put that possibility out there to weed out those who are seeking something casual. Just feel like chatting and not sure you want to meet in person? Say so to avoid misunderstandings.

Your privacy and safety are important. Be careful what you post online or share with someone when you first communicate. Don't give your address or location. Even if you've left your phone number, address, and personal email out of your dating profile, could it be found on other social media? Up your security settings across the board, and be aware of apps like Foursquare and Instagram that allow you to post your specific location. If you choose to meet someone in person, make your first meeting short, casual, and in a public place like a coffee shop. Make sure your phone is charged so you can call someone if you need to. Meet your date rather than having them pick you up, and make sure you have a safe way to get home. Tell a friend where you're going and who with. You might even arrange some kind of check-in with a friend during the date in case you need an "out" or feel unsafe. For example, you could have a friend call you 30 minutes into the date, and if things aren't going well, you can use the call as an excuse to cut the date short.

Look out for red flags. Does the person's profile only have one photo, which looks like a model headshot? Are their pix just of abs or cleavage, not showing their face? Be careful when somene is pushy or doesn't take any interest in what you say or want. Do they insist on meeting right away or in a private place? Be aware of scammers. Is the person giving you a "sob story" about needing help or money? If someone is asking for financial help or unusual favors (e.g., saying they need you to a meet a friend for them or pick something up on their behalf) or makes big promises (e.g., asking for your address so they can send you expensive jewelry, saying they want to marry you before you've even met), it is probably a scam or at least the sign of a person with some big boundary issues. Not sure whether to trust someone? Go with your gut. You can also do some Googling (who doesn't Google someone before a first date?) or ask a friend to check out the person's profile or read their messages and give you their opinions. Be suspicious if someone's details are vague, their story doesn't stay consistent, or they are reluctant to answer questions you have.