Recently I found myself saying, “He hasn’t been liking as many skanky pictures on Instagram, so he must like me.” I realized how ridiculous that sounded even before I finished saying it. In our modern age of social media, a device designed to make communication easier, there seems to be a disconnect. Many of us born into the so-called millennial age have been on a social networking site of some kind since high school. We’ve also been dating or sexually active since high school. It’s safe to assume social media has inadvertently shaped the people we become in relationships because we’ve lived most of our adult lives in a very public forum.
While practical communication has excelled, personal communication is at an all-time low. In the old days, you’d sit waiting by the phone for him to call. These days you keep your iPhone in earshot waiting for that familiar tri-tone that says maybe he’s thinking about you. The worst part is that with things like Facebook chat, you can actually tell if he’s read your message and is choosing not to respond.
Online dating used to be somewhat taboo, but these days it’s common, if not more prevalent among twenty-somethings. Websites like OKCupid and apps like Grindr are supposed to increase the odds of meeting the next great love or lover of your life, but the problem with these dating mills is the anonymity you have when creating profiles. You don’t include your real name (for obvious reasons) and you could essentially make up personal details about yourself. I believe fewer people out-and-out lie so much as they sugar coat or truncate the unpleasantries of their lives, after all, you want to seem impressive to a potential mate.
The idea is that you connect on these sites and begin a dialogue in order to get to know one another better and if you feel comfortable, a physical date. I’ve had the irritating experience more than once in which you have a great time chatting and then eventually someone asks someone out, and suddenly all communication ceases without any explanation. What is the point of all that exhausting chit-chat if you never intended to meet? I’d never be crazy enough to actually ask someone for a reason, again.
I’ve also had the experience where OKCupid tells you that you’re a 95% match with a really attractive guy. You have great chats and decide to go on that date. You get to the date, and he’s not necessarily unlike how he was online, but something’s certainly different. Suddenly all those things you aren’t supposed to put on a dating profile came flooding out of his mouth. Maybe it was the ten drinks he had, or the thrill of shocking me with the details of his cocaine use and exorbitant number of sexual partners, but either way, he was not as well adjusted as he portrayed himself on OkCupid.
For whatever reason, I decided I liked him — despite the fact that he told me he was giving his sperm to his sister so she could have a baby. He told me we’d never be friends on Facebook and I felt like that seemed reasonable. A person’s Facebook is very personal with timelines full of irreverent internet findings and inside jokes with friends. Sometimes Facebooking with a boyfriend can make things needlessly awkward, especially when you break up.
I started following him on Instagram and Twitter only to find out he had an entirely different persona on social media than he did on OkCupid and real life. The alter-ego he displayed on these sites came off as a sex-crazed pervert who had a definite type. As Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert lusts after honey-hued nymphets, this guy lusted after skinny young guys who scantly looked old enough to vote, and who also seemed to cultivate distinct online identities. There was no way all these characters actually knew one another in real life.
Social media lends itself really well to the obsessive mindset, and this is no good when you have unlimited access to a person’s online interaction. For those familiar with Instagram, there’s a feature that allows you to see what other people “like.” What I found was that this guy spent a lot of time liking riskay photos of half-naked boys or artless pictures of feet with dozens of hashtags like #gay #gayboy #instagay. For some reason this really bothered me. Sure, we had only been on a few dates, and it wasn’t the idea of infidelity that bothered me, it was that I was nothing like the guys in these pictures. Taking photos like that isn’t my personal style, so why was he going on dates with me? When I finally got the nerve to ask him about his online pals, he simply said, “I normally go for dumb sluts.”
Needless to say, that relationship did not work out. I wish I could say that this was an isolated incident, but I find that nearly all the guys I go out with (and subsequently follow on social media) do the same thing. I turn into a stalker pouring over guys on Instagram who get these “likes” and comparing myself to them solely based on physical appearance — and then getting really frustrated with the people I date.
Perhaps I’m reading too much into the casual way in which we interact online, but it all plays into this idea that the internet is actually becoming the unwanted member of a polyamorous relationship. It’s a problem without a simple answer. On one hand we should strive to get to know the person we’re dating, but on the other hand, if someone isn’t actually acting on these anonymous lusts, do we really want to know? How much stock should you put in a “like?” When it comes down to it, no matter who you’re dating, your self-respect is always on the line — and nobody should make you feel like you don’t live up to a fantasy.