As a millennial having grown up in the digital media era, most people my age (myself included) project two versions of themselves: one that exists in real life and the other to serve as a proxy identity within the realm of the internet. We meticulously craft profiles with wittily-captioned overly-filtered photos to impress a flock of online followers. With this online identity comes an online persona; an alter ego who behaves slightly if not vastly different in the comfort of the internet.
We act in ways we couldn’t possibly get away with in real life yet the more time we spend in this warped reality, the more accustomed we grow to such online etiquette. The internet has made it easier than ever to act without having to experience the brunt of our actions. Navigating relationships in a space where social etiquette is loosely defined can be frustrating, awkward and amusing. Drawing inspiration from my own experiences and anecdotes from other equally mystified friends, I have compiled a list of ways dating in the social media age can kill the romance as quickly as it can ignite it.
1. Swiping for love
Tinder has become a paragon of modern dating; an app designed to provide a quick, easy, hassle-free method to finding love (or in most cases, a potential fuck buddy). You can customise your search results based on gender, age and distance and swipe through hundreds of profiles with a single thumb motion. It should come as no surprise that many users are disappointed by the shallow connections they form with the majority of their tinder matches. After all, how can you expect to be treated as a person when you’ve essentially been chosen by the same process of elimination used to sort clothes into a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ pile; does it look good? would I use it? And yet, you can’t help but get a little boost every time “It’s a match!” pops up on your screen. Tinder can give you that daily dose of self-esteem but expecting to find a soulmate after scouring through every lacklustre profile on the app may be a stretch.
As testament to the speed with which all common courtesy goes out the window when using this app, I will narrate a not-so-charming encounter with one of my tinder matches. After we matched, he initiated the conversation with “hey” and I responded with an equally generic, “hi :)”. From here the conversation took an interesting turn as somehow my “hi :)” had been suggestive enough to elicit the response, “send nudes”. I was confused as to what indication I had given Ben, 22, from London that he was entitled to see my genitals. I responded with a “no” to which he replied, “ok bye”, and that marked the end of our budding romance. It took a while to recover from the heartbreak given the depth of the connection we had formed in those moments. But, it made me realise that as impudent as Ben’s request had been, he may not have been entirely at fault. When people are reduced to thumbnails on your screen, it’s easy to forget that there is a person on the other side of that display as opposed to a sexualised robot that exists to obey your commands. To all the Ben’s out there, don’t succumb to the sins of your online alter ego and know that the likelihood of you getting those nudes when you ask with such finesse is close to non-existent.
We have terms such as “ghosting” prop up; a term given to the act of cutting all communication with someone offering no explanation for such absurd conduct. The fact that there is a term for this type of behaviour speaks to the appalling frequency with which it happens. Being on the receiving end of ghosting cuts just a little deeper if you have the Ghoster on multiple social media platforms; when you know there are about six different ways they could possibly contact you and have chosen not to from each one, it is a special kind of rejection. As much as it sucks to be ghosted, perhaps the worst part of the ordeal is to subsequently see the Ghoster revelling in the online sphere.
My friend, who I’ll call Jane, had first-hand experience with this phenomenon. Jane and Seth met on a beach holiday and kept in touch for a couple of months online afterwards. When he came to visit Jane’s hometown, they organised a dinner date at Seth’s request. Just a few hours before the date, Jane confirmed with Seth that the date would still be taking place, and Seth responded with a strong affirmation. Jane got ready and headed to the restaurant where they arranged to meet. After an hour of waiting at the restaurant alone, Jane called Seth’s cousin, Kara, who he had been staying with to check whether Seth had been involved with a horrible accident or was suffering from an immobilising health condition to explain his absence (only kidding of course, Jane politely enquired about Seth’s whereabouts). Kara informed Jane that he had just overslept and would be making his way to the restaurant. Jane waited patiently for Seth to make his highly anticipated grand entrance. He never did. Jane left with a little more disappointment than she had expected to and hoped to receive an explanation from Seth for his disappearing act. On the same night, Jane saw Seth “online” on Facebook for an extended period of time. To this day, Seth has offered Jane no explanation, earning him the title of a classic Ghoster.
In the days before the internet, I imagine being stood up was an unpleasant experience but at least you were spared the agony of seeing your “date’s” online persona prancing around on the internet on the very same night. Possibly the most puzzling part of the aftermath? Seth still likes Jane’s posts on social media. Incidences such as these make you wonder, what would the real-life equivalent of such a series of interactions be? It’s hard to imagine because it would be pretty strange if someone stood you up and came back a week later to say, “I like this picture of you and your niece” with absolutely no other form of communication. Well, we have the internet to thank for making it possible for people like Seth to engage in the tactless art of ghosting.
If you’ve been ghosted, don’t let the questions play at your mind for too long. Chances are, if you can’t find any reason for the sudden vanishing act, there probably isn’t one. Although you’d like to believe there is a perfectly rational explanation.. like maybe they were robbed of their phone, laptop and any other electronic device they could contact you through? Maybe they were kidnapped and are now being held captive so really, you should feel guilty for being angry and file a missing person’s report instead? The harsh truth is there probably was no major life-altering event, your Ghoster is probably just somewhere mindlessly scrolling through their Instagram feed without a care in the world.
3. Instagram stalking doused the spark
If you’ve ever had a crush on someone, there’s always an air of mystery and excitement about it. What’s a sure shot way to kill all that mystery? Stalk them on every social media account they have and browse through all the pictures they’ve posted since 2011. If you claim you’ve never done this, you’re probably lying. And why wouldn’t you engage in a little social media stalk? When there’s a plethora of information about this person you’re interested in… almost like a little book about their life, why wouldn’t you read a few chapters? Although this may temporarily satisfy your curious mind, it may be the least romantic way to get to know someone. Never has it been this easy to view a literal timeline of someone’s life in a matter of minutes. It’s an overload of information with little context.
You may also stumble upon some information you probably shouldn’t know at this stage in your relationship. You scroll back far enough to find loved-up pictures of them with their ex or a status professing their undying love for someone else. It’s impossible to un-know this information and difficult not to let it taint your perception of them. Before your second date, you’re well acquainted with their parents, their dog, their friends and every relationship since their high school prom. You’ve seen all their Bali vacation snaps, know that they’re a hard-core Arsenal fan and that they can’t wait for the next season of Game of Thrones. What’s left to talk about?
At the same time, a peek at their social media profiles may be wise. Some call it stalking, others call it acquiring valuable knowledge. If you find that their last relationship ended just a week before they met you, you might have to face the fact that you’re a rebound. Remember, the image they create on social media is the image they want you and everyone else to see. If you don’t like what you see, you may not like them as much as you thought you would. So, although it may put a damper on the ambiguity, it may also save you some heartache in the long run. If your bae is commenting hearts and fire emojis on pictures of 10 different people, it’s likely they’re not all just “good friends”. I have developed a bittersweet sentiment towards the capacity of social media stalking; although it serves as the perfect tool for a little background check, it takes a lot away from the sexy mysterious element of a new potential relationship.
4. Post break-up protocol
I cannot know for sure but breaking up back in the day sounds like it involved a lot less post-breakup torment. Today, if you and your ex decide to end on “good terms”, blocking each other on social media would contradict the amicable nature of the split, so you continue to exist in each other’s online worlds. You become a part of their daily scroll through Instagram and you continue to tap through each other’s snap stories; your relationship has been reduced from an intimate bond between two people to daily mundane interactions between your online personas.
The post-break up protocol is a lot less clear than it once was. Do you continue liking each other’s pictures? Would it be interpreted as flirting? And eventually, you get to meet the stranger who they have chosen to replace you. You compare yourself to this beautiful stranger and over the next few weeks, attempt to gauge the nature of their relationship through posts and captions. At this point, it may be too late to block them because you wouldn’t want to come across as jealous or bitter (even though you low-key probably are).
So you take to your profile to flaunt your “revenge happiness”; a series of aggressive attempts to convince your ex, yourself and your online followers that you are happier than ever. Social media becomes the battleground of a silent war. At some point, you decide that perhaps you should block this person as the “good terms” arrangement didn’t quite pan out. But if you block them, do you block all their family members too? Their sweet cousin and delightful grandmother? Why should they be casualties in this war? So, you end up blocking your ex but keeping all of his/her family members because what has poor aunt Carol done to deserve such treatment? Then you realise, you’re stuck with an endless supply of family pictures you’ll never be a part of.
As we try to survive in this lawless virtual arena, it’s easy to get bogged down by the Ghosters and Tinder trolls of the world who take refuge under the invisibility cloaks that the internet has so graciously gifted them. But as intimidating as it might be, perhaps leaving the confines of your bedroom and exploring the real world might be the first step to forming authentic connections to rival the artificial ones you’re likely to develop online. Don’t get caught up in the politics of social media or decoding his/her online behavior, because it’s a language that not everyone speaks the same way. Put your phone down and start up a conversation the “old-fashioned” way… a word of advice, don’t start with “send nudes”.