Dating in digital world: social networking sites, cell phones, and other digital media can help your love life–or hurt it

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Would you invite a stranger to the prom via YouTube? That’s what a 17-year-old guy from Las Vegas did last year. He posted YouTube videos asking Arianny Celeste, a well-known model, if she would be his prom date. Surprisingly, she said yes!

You may not be ready for something that extreme, but you probably use technology every day in your romantic life–texting your girlfriend, checking out a crush’s profile, or sending a photo to your boyfriend. Like all things, though, dating in the digital world has good and bad points. The Web and cell phones can help “connect” your love life and make it sweeter, or “disconnect” it and cause problems.

CONNECT: Icebreakers

If no one from school or your neighborhood makes your heart go pitter-patter, the Internet can help. Now, although online dating services are popular with adults, it’s not safe for teens to meet someone they’ve only “met” online. But social networking sites can open up your dating possibilities by letting you connect with people from real life. You can get to know the friend of a friend you met at a party, the guy who transferred from a different school, or that cool girl who babysits for your little cousin.

Social networking and texting make striking up a conversation easier too. Your crush won’t see your nervousness, and you’ll have time to think about what to say (and erase, if needed). You can send a “cute pic!” comment or even ask someone out.

CONNECT: “Tell Me About Yourself”

You may be able to learn even more about someone online than you would in person. Just ask Zara S., 16, of Massachusetts. “When I start talking to guys, I can utilize texting and IMing to get to know them more in-depth,” she says, “and I can learn the basics, such as their favorite color–things that would be too cheesy to ask in person.”

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Viewing your crush’s profile to see how she describes herself and her interests, or how he interacts with others, can also give you a better glimpse. Connor Berge of Colorado is glad he took the time to get to know his crush online before approaching her in person. “I started up a chat with her on Facebook and realized we were complete opposites,” the 18-year-old says. “Instead of wasting my time with her, I found someone (also on Facebook) that I’m totally happy with.”

CONNECT: Closer Than Close

With school, chores, family time, hanging out with friends, extracurricular activities, and homework, finding time to spend with your boyfriend or girlfriend can be hard. Fortunately, cell phones and the Internet can help you keep in frequent contact. Rather than waiting until you’re both in the same place at the same time, you can chat or zap a quick “thinking of you” or “let’s catch a movie this weekend” text to each other. Even if you are able to hang out, newer technology allows you to express yourself in creative ways–think e-cards or YouTube dedications–that can draw you closer.

DISCONNECT: A Whole Wide Web Apart

Though the Web and cell phones can strengthen bonds, they can also cause distance. If you talk to someone online or by text too much, you may not have anything to talk about in person, Zara says. And you may be in for a letdown if someone’s real-life personality doesn’t match up with his or her online persona. You may like a girl because her tweets make her seem outgoing, but in real life she may be shy. Or a guy could have cool status updates but be a total snooze in person.

Digital drama can cause problems too. “Reliance on Facebook updates, tweets, texts, and other forms of nonverbal communication can lead to jealousy and misunderstandings because information is shared without context,” says Stacey Rosenfeld, a clinical psychologist in New York City. Zara and her boyfriend have faced that. Sometimes, she says, “an ex posts something on one of our walls, and the other person kind of gets thrown off track and is a little upset.” They have worked through those problems. But if digital drama is too much, it can bring a relationship to a crashing end.

DISCONNECT: An Open Book

One of the biggest downfalls of dating in the digital world is others knowing your personal business. Through status updates and profile comments, people can tell a lot about your relationship. Then there are breakups, which are hard enough, but even worse when everyone on your friends list witnesses them. “Having that little broken heart go across a Facebook newsfeed can be sad for anyone dealing with a breakup online,” says Adrianna Giuliani, who runs Techromance, a blog that discusses how technology affects relationships.

Also keep in mind that your business could be shared with people you’d prefer to keep out of the loop. “Remember that e-mails can be forwarded, IMs/chats can be cut and pasted, text messages can be sent to groups, and photos can be shared with locker rooms, frenemies, bullies, strangers, parents, school officials, and even the police,” Giuliani says. Her advice? “Engage in safe text–meaning, don’t send anything that could hurt you or someone else.”

By staying safe and dating wisely in this digital world, you can avoid the obstacles that could “disconnect” your love life, and make the right moves to help you “connect” in a happy relationship!

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Think About It

How does technology affect your relationships with friends and family? Which tips from this article would help you manage those relationships?

Text Your Way to a Date

Though breaking up by texting isn’t cool, asking someone out that way is OK. Drew Olanoff, director of community at textPlus, which allows free group texting, offers these suggestions:

* Don’t send a blast text to multiple people in hopes of scoring a date. No one wants to think he or she is one of 15 people you asked to the movies. Personalize it (using the person’s name) to show you’re hoping to date that person only.

* Skip the text shortcuts. Type out full words to make sure the person understands.

* Take a photo of yourself holding a sign that says: “Will you go out with me?” Then send it to your crush.

* If you haven’t heard back in 24 hours, pick up the phone and call.

* If you’re asked out through a text, respond within a few hours.

Key Points

* Modern communication technologies such as social networking sites and cell phones can be both a helper and a hindrance to romantic relationships.

* Teens should avoid meeting and dating people they know only from online interactions.

* Technology can help teens break the ice, learn more about a possible romantic partner, and stay in close touch.

* These technologies can also cause distance and messy situations, as well as expose a relationship’s problems to anyone either member of a couple has friended.

Think and Discuss How does technology affect your relationships with friends and family? Which tips from this article would help you manage those relationships?

Extension Activity

Teens are embracing the communication technologies in the article just at the age when they are learning critical social skills. To help students practice problem solving in relationships, separate the class into groups and have each write a skit about a romantic problem. Ask each group to address the ways technology can exacerbate that problem as well as solve it. Then, have the class act the scenarios out and discuss.

Resources

* The Safe Space: Technology and Abuse

www.thesafespace.org/the-basics/technology-abuse

* A Thin Line: Take Control

www.athinline.org/take-control