It's complicated: dating and social media

AOL chat rooms were once considered a revolutionary communication tool, connecting people next door and countries apart. Two decades after the AOL onslaught, the Internet has skyrocketed to one of our primary communication tools, with endless ways to meet and connect with people. You might find a long-lost elementary school friend. You can apply for a job. You can even find love. Along with our communication, our perceptions of dating have also evolved thanks to the ease and anonymity of the Internet.

The traditional idea of a date is a romantic, specified appointment between two people. Now, many 20-somethings feel this idea has faded.

"We don’t court as people used to back in the day,” said journalism junior Irma Garcia. “Yes, we still go to dinner and whatnot, but it’s really rare.”

Courting, defined as an engagement in social activities leading to marriage, is a term that may belong in the Stone Age.

“Courtship is kind of scary because it leads to marriage and I’m definitely not ready,” said Garcia. 

For many young singles, courtship or dating has serious connotations. Dating in the millennium has snapped the focus to the present, looking for someone that meets needs for now, but not always with a lot of thought about what comes next. This has reduced the need for the traditional, burgers-and-milkshake dates.

Paul Eastwick, an assistant professor in human ecology, said dating has now evolved into informal hangouts in mixed company. Young people are more likely to get to know romantic interests in larger groups; something that is largely the norm in countries like France. 

“These days, men and women hang out in mixed groups, and it’s not clear whether it’s a bad thing,” said Eastwick.

He credits the shift in dating to the advancement of social media. Suitors can hide behind computer screens, where rejection is a much softer blow. With the click of a button, you could get a weekend date or something more, but the dread of asking someone out face-to-face is eliminated completely. 

Meeting on social networks makes getting to know someone a one-stop shop. A Facebook profile has a profile picture, education, birthday, hometown and occupation all conveniently listed under the profile’s information tab. With a mouse scroll you can learn a first date’s worth of information without even meeting a person  an idea that was unimaginable a decade ago. 

“People court through technology: calling, texting and social media,” Garcia said. “That’s why I believe guys don’t go up to girls as much anymore.”

Many share Garcia’s sentiment; social media pads one of our biggest fears — rejection. A foiled plan for a date is much less painful via Facebook or Twitter, making it easier to ask — and be rejected — for guys and girls. But it also often takes a toll on the rest of the relationship. Affection and adoration are sent through a computer screen or smartphone; butterflies come from an emoji icon instead of tender handholding or a warm embrace.  

To combat the trend, Eastwick suggests expressing blatant displeasure with behaviors associated with millennium dating. Reject a group outing for a one-on-one encounter and you may get better results. It may not be meeting up for a milkshake at the burger shack, but it may start with a coffee date and eventually turn into more.