My parents are tech-savvy people. They own iPhones and tablets and digital photo frames. My father owns a goddamn GoPro. But even still, they refuse to adopt a handful of modern technologies. Online banking? Nope. Cloud computing? Not a chance. Hell, it took six years of well-rounded debate before my mother finally created a Facebook account, albeit one with 9 friends and security settings that would send even the strongest members of Anonymous for a loop.
They seem particularly weary of social media. I suspect that they, like a lot of other people, worry that these platforms create too much crossover between what should be made public and what should be kept very much private. They seem firmly intent on keeping the most intimate parts of their lives firmly offline.
Which is why they would NOT be happy about what I’ve been up to.
Yes, it’s true – I’ve dabbled in the world of online dating. What can I say? The prospect of wooing women with my words was a digital wet dream and the experience truthfully exceeded my expectations. But remnants of a fading social stigma still remain, and though my friends never showed any signs of judgment on the matter, I somehow doubt that my parents would get on board as easily.
Online dating is to our generation what hitchhiking was to our parents: something that was socially acceptable at the time, but bat shit crazy to anyone who wasn’t there to live it. The similarities go on; both involve meeting unknown people who are (hopefully) heading in the same direction as you, they’re often a desperate measure, and most importantly, they require you to look at strangers without automatically assuming they’re evil.
Parents have a particularly tough time with that last bit. They’ve been hammering home the terrors of stranger danger since you were a little child, and the media offers little reassurance with their wild tales of Craigslist killers and JDate slayers. It’s only natural for them to dissuade you from something that’s potentially dangerous. But maybe online dating isn’t as bad as they think it is.
After all, hitchhiking wasn’t.
In a recent article for the New York Times, interstate expert Ginger Strand debunked hitchhiking’s sensationalized image as a murderous death wish. She highlighted a 1974 study in California – conducted at the height of hitchhiking paranoia – which revealed that only 0.63 percent of the state’s crimes could be traced back to hitchhiking. Eliminating the practice, they concluded, wouldn’t do much in the way of curbing freeway felonies.
“The real danger was not hitchhiking,” explained crime expert Bill James in an interview on the same topic with Freakonomics author Stephen Levitt, “It was the fact that you had a certain number of random crazy people who will hurt you.”
Yeah, I’ve met a few girls like that.
The argument for online dating is the same as the one for hitchhiking. Sure, there are a few nut jobs out there lurking on the road (including one who told me about her ovarian cysts on our first date), but there are also a lot of incredible people who you’d never get a chance to connect with otherwise. In my own endeavors, I was able to go on some lovely dates, meet some fascinating girls, and even find a woman who, 6 months after the fact, has become one of the most important people in my life. None of it would have happened unless I decided to jump into an unknown vehicle with an absolute stranger, just to see where they’d take me.
I’m not sure my parents would appreciate the same parallels. You say “dating” and they think Steve Carrel rom-coms; add in the “online” descriptor and their thoughts suddenly turn to testicle-chewing axe-murderers. There’s also a discomfort with the way we’re reducing the chemistry of love into a science.
They’re not accustomed to the way we’re digitally accelerating romantic endeavors. But I predict that just like rock n roll, e-book readers, and yes, even hitchhiking, they’ll one day see that online dating isn’t as scary as it seems.
You can’t help but imagine the similar arguments they may have very well had with their own parents years ago.
“You went hitchhiking?” your grandmother probably asked in horror after their little baby spilled the beans, “What are you trying to do? Get yourself killed? You never know who’s going to find you out there!”
“Well, yeah,” your parents likely responded,
“Isn’t that the whole point?”