Love in the Time of Technology – Part I

It started as an innocuous curiosity. After having dabbled in a few online dating sites before moving onto the mobile dating landscape, I was itching for a new way to get to know more of New York’s host of colourful characters. Tinder was intimidating, CoffeeMeetsBagel and HowAboutWe had been messy and less appealing user experiences, but I wasn’t yet entirely discouraged.

A friend exclaimed one Friday night that she had a date with a guy she met off Hinge the next evening. I was intrigued. She whipped out her phone, opened the little blue and white icon, and a few seconds later a list of male prospects and their details loaded the screen.

Given that the recommendations are friends of friends within your Facebook network, Hinge felt like Tinder’s distant and less creepy cousin. There wasn’t much to lose, so I signed up that weekend and proceeded to await my first batch of mid-day recommendations.

The first few weeks of use were uneventful. A few right swipes a day with a majority of recommendations getting the nay-say. Details most often included employer, university, height, and some fun preset interests like “beer snob” and “early bird,” all accompanied by a series of profile photos. Some more dedicated individuals populated their ‘About Me’ sections with witty quotes or descriptions of what kinds of relationships they were seeking.

I kept my own profile to a minimum. I was curious, but preferred to maintain a more laissez faire approach to my mobile dating activities. From time to time, I’d respond to a handful of conversations initiated by mutual matches, but most of the conversations fell flat. A match meant both parties had mutually identified the other as attractive and interesting enough for a deeper perusal. The problem was that once a conversation began, an incompatible conversational aptitude made it quickly evident that nothing would come of the match.

While some people were truly trying to find their partners in a city that can be overwhelming for whom bars and small-talk are less comfortable, my use remained primarily tangential. Of course, that changed when I agreed to take one virtual conversation into reality.

Finding Love in the Me, Me, Me Generation

College dating is hard in any generation (aptly put by this Cosmopolitan article) – it’s an incredibly selfish time where we have little inhibition and an overflow of freedom. Today, however, college dating has reached a new level of perplexity. With the advent of social media and the prevalence of text messaging, many twenty something year olds have no clue on how to connect romantically, and we blame everyone else but ourselves for failing to find love.

Let’s take a Thursday night. You get a text message that reads, “Hey, are you coming out to the bars tonight?” from a guy you danced with a week or two ago. You make some half hearted jokes defending your choice to stay in for the evening, and when it becomes clear that his insistence isn’t going to get him anywhere, the conversation comes to a close. This happens several times over the course of a few weeks, and while he appears to have no qualms about asking you to spend the night, his response to a suggestion that he properly ask you to lunch or coffee is lukewarm at best. You’re not heartbroken or jaded; neither of you really knew each other, and you were well aware of what he was asking of you. As Millenials, our generation has inexplicably accepted the disappearance of old-fashioned courtship when it comes to dating. We’ve embraced hookup culture and eschewed traditional gender roles leading to the demise of chivalry and a general sense of confusion on how to find love.

There exists a misogynistic myth that assumes girls are obsessed with finding romantic partners while guys see women as casual sexual partners. A few decades ago, this may have been true; many women did go to college and find husbands and while the stereotype may still be true of some women, current statistics on the overwhelming number of women versus men in college would demonstrate otherwise. Casual sex is also no longer a domain solely for men, and our generation’s general acceptance for greater sexual freedom allows for both women and men to engage in stringless sexual experimentation. Ironically, this newfound freedom has only made it more confusing for both men and women when it comes to romance because no one is as forthcoming about wanting to truly pursue anything beyond the physical.

The lack of forthrightness and general passivity breed grounds for a dangerous perception of misguided feminism. Women view sexual liberation as an opportunity to reject traditionally feminine characteristics such as being overly sensitive or emotional to instead embrace the devil-may-care attitudes more traditional of men. This makes it hard for everyone in the dating pool because it perpetuates the all-too-familiar need to act cool.

We’ve seen it happen before, if not been guilty of it ourselves: the silent competition between two people in a relationship for who can care less. Girls agonize over text messages in an effort to sound interested but never too interested while guys make sweeping vague statements that mask their desire for commitment. Wanting more became uncool, so everyone tries so hard to not care. And even worse, somehow we believe the person who cares less has the upper hand in a relationship, so everyone tries even harder to appear aloof.

Then there is our baffling aversion to labels. If you start hanging out with a guy regularly, when does it go from a thing to something more? If you never define your commitment levels to each other, are you bound to the other person or is it more of a open relationship? When we avoid labels, we further complicate college dating by making it acceptable for people to treat others with indecent respect. And by labels, I don’t mean that every person has to be your boyfriend or girlfriend. Simply being honest and respectable about where each individual’s intentions lie would clarify potential misunderstandings. When we treat the dating scene as a commitment-less game, we fail to hold ourselves accountable for making someone else happy or being responsible for how they feel.

Ultimately, our generation is failing to find love because we are so busy acting cool. We see vulnerability as a vice, so we make efforts to protect ourselves against rejection. Coincidentally, that means putting up walls and being vague about our intentions and desires and caring less as a means of emotional security. In doing so, we won’t get hurt, but it also means we may miss out on truly connecting with someone. If we don’t allow ourselves to be honest and let our guard down, we may never find that emotional intimacy we are looking for with another person. Navigating the winding path that is the college dating scene would be far less complicated if we all decided to stop pretending not to care. Instead of waiting on someone else to read our minds and hand us our happiness, it’s our responsibility to communicate candidly about what we want. Playing emotional games is a waste of time for anyone in any kind of relationship, and we all deserve more respect than that.

In Defense of Dating

Being single can be simultaneously liberating and downright confusing. Some days, it’s great to revel in your freedom during which you can stroll through a museum, watch hours of Girls in bed, and spend time doing the things you love at your own pace. Other days, you can’t help but want a cuddle-buddy, a dinner partner, or someone who simply wants to be a part of your life. These are very opposite desires of the heart: one is completely at peace with independence while the other craves a more intimate partnership. One way we try to remedy this tension is by finding someone new and jumping into relationships, only to make a quick exit when we realize there’s little substance beyond initial curiosity and attraction.

As a Millennial I’m part of a generation that is accustomed to instant gratification. Most of what we want and need are at our fingertips, thanks to the likes of Facebook, Amazon, and Netflix. I’m also part of a generation that doesn’t handle being alone very well. When you couple the two traits together, you end up with what is often called “hookup culture.” Granted “hooking up” has an ambiguous definition, but whether it is for physical satisfaction or emotional fulfillment, it feels as though such a trend has made it harder for dating to take place. Nowadays, most of my friends say they’re “seeing someone” or “hooking up” or that they’re “a thing.” Rarely does anyone use the word dating to describe two people getting to know each other. Too many times I see one-night stands turn into casual flings which turn into relationships. Call me old fashioned, but I miss when college-aged people used to actually date.

Dating. It’s an archaic word, and some would say its meaning is also rather antiquated. Dating is a form of courtship, referring to two people engaging in activities together to see if they’re compatible as a precursor to a potential romantic relationship. Historically speaking, it is a relatively recent phenomenon (think of all those arranged marriages and staid formal courtships complete with chaperones in every Jane Austen novel!). Dating offers a newfound freedom to explore and determine the qualities you value in a significant other.

As a college student, it’s rare to find peers that understand, much less partake in the act of dating. Logically speaking, dating does require a lot more effort and with hookup culture abound, it’s less likely that a twentysomething-year old would prefer to take someone out on a date over a Friday night with a friend with benefits. Because it requires patience and a willingness to be vulnerable for another person, dating can be a lot harder and definitely a bit scarier. However as a twenty-one year old, it just might be the most valuable thing I can do for myself.

Throughout our late teens and early twenties, we do a lot of growing up. I’m definitely not the same wide-eyed freshman I was at age eighteen, but I’m no wise sage when it comes to life. Despite plenty of aspirations and ideas of what I want in the future, I’m open to exploring what else may come my way. So when it comes to romance, I’m a big proponent of dating because it offers the chance to really flesh out what attracts us to another person. Instead of caving into an initial physical attraction, there’s a lot more to be gained by getting to know that person. We all have this mental checklist of the qualities we think we want in the ideal significant other: tall, a sense of humour, soulful eyes, athletic, etc. However, those qualities may evolve with time as we change, and going on dates with different people is a great way to determine whether or not those characteristics remain invaluable. We eschew from dating because we see it as something formal and stuffy when they don’t have to be. A conversation over coffee with an interesting classmate or an afternoon rock climbing with someone you were recently introduced to constitute dates. As we get older and leave behind our adolescence, knowing what we want versus what we don’t want is vital and empowering. So don’t be afraid to date. Along the way you might make a special connection, but even if you don’t, it will still provide an opportunity to learn more about what you want for yourself and in a partner. 

The Root of Chivalry’s Demise

It’s a Saturday morning. You’re at brunch with your girlfriends recounting the scandalous events of the previous evening. With mimosas in hand and a slew of hazy memories, we vow to forget about the guy who never called the morning after and harden our hearts against another potential relationship mishap. These days, it feels like women are often bemoaning the belief that chivalry is dead. Moreover, we tend to blame its demise on men, all the while failing to see the unfortunate truth that men did not kill chivalry; women did.

When it comes to dating, chivalry stumbled to myth as we women lowered the standards for both ourselves and the men we date. It’s one thing to don a miniskirt to feel sexy and powerful for yourself, but an entirely different thing to wear that miniskirt in hopes of attracting attention from a future one-night-stand. By dressing provocatively with that intent, we invite men to stare at our assets and objectify us. When we forget that we have genuine personalities, aspirations, and thoughtful opinions, our conversations at the bar revolve around what drink we’re having and how pretty we look. Adopting a vapid and meaningless persona only invites conversations devoid of much substance. Such actions convey to women that it’s okay to be indecent or air-headed in order to get men while sending men the message that we are easy. If we don’t uphold ourselves as worthy recipients of gentlemanly behavior, then is it fair to expect such behavior from the men we desire? Chivalry isn’t dead; women killed it when we collectively decided to act as if we aren’t deserving of it.

However, chivalry’s demise isn’t just unfortunate for women, it poses a catch-22 for men too. If a guy spies a girl at the bar and everything about her screams come hither, it isn’t out of the question that he’ll approach her. His first tactic may be of the sensible, polite variety. Perhaps a, “Hi, I’m (insert name here). Can I buy you a drink?” or a, “Hey, how’s it going?” Perfectly reasonable and fairly gentlemanly, but for some reason, she’s not buying it. At this point another guy, one with a little more swagger and far less inhibition, approaches the same girl and this time, she’s met with, “Hey, babe. You look hot tonight. Let me buy you a drink.” To him, the girl smiles and nods only to leave her first suitor incredulous and dumbfounded. Now the nice guy is convinced that the only surefire way to pick up a girl at the bar is to become an ultra-alpha male and assert himself onto a woman. Thing is, most men are capable of chivalry, but this sort of interaction understandably confuses them. If approaching a woman with etiquette and courteous curiosity leads to rejection while a slightly misogynistic and tactless manner helps you score, then it further solidifies the male belief that boorish tendencies are more successful in attracting a woman.

By settling for men without chivalry, women behave with all the provocation and inhibition that is underserving of chivalry, convincing men that we can be wooed without it. And in turn, when men behave gracelessly, it only reaffirms the female belief that men are incapable of chivalry. Now this is beginning to feel a lot like a “which came first, the chicken or the egg” paradigm. Alas, all hope is not lost. Chivalry may feel like its dead, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Chivalry isn’t meant to exist because women always expect chocolates and flowers and for men to always pay for dinner. As gender roles shifted to create more equitable and balanced relationships, chivalry faced a similar evolution. It is no longer about catering to every woman’s whim or fulfilling archaic expectations; it’s more a notion that involves mutual respect and courtesy. In order for women to see chivalry’s revival, we need to learn to treat ourselves with self-respect. Once we do that, men will recognize that not all women can be won with trite compliments or superficial admiration. Admittedly, this sounds like a lot more effort for both parties. But that’s the point. Chivalry demands patience, confidence, and a healthy regard for both the self and the other person, and until we roll up our sleeves and own up to putting in the work to resurrect it, chivalry will remain dead.

Stop Stalking, Start Talking

We live in an age where face-to-face communication has been replaced by email and texting conversations. Social media and the Internet, albeit a great resource to stay in touch with long-lost friends or family far away, fuels our need for instant correspondence and inevitably affects our abilities to partake in a true, in person conversation.

Ironically, all our technology savvy makes getting to know someone that much harder. The use of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and countless other social media outlets allows us to gain intimate insight into the lives of basically anyone we are “friends with” or “follow,” yet simultaneously poses a veneer of impenetrability. It also makes us prone to some stalker-like tendencies. That cute guy you saw at the bars last weekend? Give it a few clicks and you’ll know which high school he attended, what he’s doing now, and who his friends are all before you’ve even introduced yourself.

These habits feed our incessant need for control and instant gratification; we want to know where that person of interest is from and what he’s up to because we’re trying to figure out if he fits our criterion for that all elusive “ideal person.” Problem is, by judging an individual from his online presence, we cheat ourselves from actually getting to know someone and learning of their interests, passions, and backgrounds.

As a self-proclaimed control freak, I’m guilty of this habit. I tend to want to know all these details about someone I’m interested in even before I’ve expressed any sort of interest in him. It’s understandable; the information is readily available and we want to know if that person fits the bill and would be “worth” our time. And sure, becoming Facebook friends with your crush can give you a glimpse into snippets of his life: that summer trip to China, Christmas with his grandparents, or his older sister’s college graduation. But that’s all they are – snippets.  In order to see if there is a genuine connection, it’s important to have conversations and build a rapport. That way, when it is time to decide whether or not your person of interest is someone worth investing your emotions into, you can be confident in your decision. So as terrifying as it may be to suggest coffee with the guy whose only correspondence with you has been through text, one face-to-face conversation can tell you more about where your relationship (or non-relationship) is headed than a hundred text messages.