The Fall of the Mystery in Dating

Diagram 1 — Facebook Demographics

As of June 30, 2016, Facebook boasted of 1.71 billion monthly active users (Facebook, 2016). 72% of American adults use Facebook. The demographics are vast across age, education, socioeconomic background, and ethnicity (Duggan & Pew Research Center, 2015). The number of active Facebook users lends itself to being the perfect platform for online dating. However, is Facebook a dating blessing or a curse? Is it good that you can stalk your date online before you meet them in person? Or does it take the mystery out of meeting them that first time? What does your social media profile tell others about who you are?

The Facebook Addiction

Picture 1 —Media feed on Facebook (CC).

Facebook is an addiction that is experienced by people of all ages, in particular, college students age 18–21. Students are on laptops and smartphones communicating with their friends on a near continual basis. A recent study asked 200 students to go without technology for 24 hours. They were not allowed to use a laptop, computer, smartphone, or tablet to communicate or receive news. They were technologically cut off from society (Nauert, 2015).

Following the study, students admitted to an ‘extreme addiction’ to technology, specifically social media. They experienced withdrawals, jitters, and anxiety because they were not able to text, or post to friends and family profiles.

In response to this study, Dr. Rick Nauert (2015) concluded, “students were ‘addicted’ to the social ties — friendships and relationships — with others.” While the students thought they were addicted to social media, they were actually addicted to being in community with other people. Technology and social media were the conduits to fuel their addiction.

Another study supports Nauert’s stating, “The pervasive daily use of the Internet and cell phones has made social media an important relational context for youth and young adults” (Reed, Tolman & Safyer, 2015). Table 1 below shows the widespread use of social media among 437 students who participated in this study:

Table 1 — Widespread use of social media among college students.

It is no wonder, given the addiction to relationships and the widespread use of social media, today’s young adults use Facebook and other social media platforms to learn as much as they can about a potential life mate. However, is gaining too much information too fast causing a false sense of intimacy?

Building Intimacy in Relationships

Face-to-face communication was the primary way people developed intimacy in relationships. Now a significant part of starting and maintaining a relationship is done through social media. Through the Internet we are able to learn a lot about a person by following:

  • Status updates
  • Pictures
  • Promoted website links
  • News stories
  • Comments
  • Likes and dislikes

Before social media, you learned a little more about a person each time you went on a date. As shown in Diagram 2 below, building mutual intimacy over time was a private communication process between two people. The exchange of personal information during one-on-one encounters created mutual intimacy (Crystal Jiang & Hancock, 2013). Today, personal information is learned instantaneously on a public platform. Intimacy is no longer a private communication process, nor mutually built over time.

Diagram 2 — Face-to-face Communication Intimacy Diagram (Crystal Jiang & Hancock, 2013)

Going on that first date, a false sense of intimacy may exist, or the feeling may be one-sided. Additionally, knowing a lot about a person before the date could lead to awkward conversations. The person who is sharing familiar information or asking intrusive questions may make the other person feel as though they are being stalked, and end the relationship before it gets started. Becoming too close too quickly is a death sentence for relationships. In addition to expecting immediate and continual communication, constant sharing and searching for personal information blurs digital boundaries between dating partners, putting young adults at risk of problematic digital dating behaviors (Reed, Tolman & Safyer, 2015).

Romantic attachment and social media

All people are hard-wired from infancy to develop romantic attachments in one of two ways: secure or insecure. Individuals who possess the ability to build secure romantic attachments maintain a healthy balance of emotions and boundaries when interacting with their partner and on social media. For example, they do not experience jealousy or other negative emotions over seeing what their partner posts online. People who are insecure in their romantic attachments may be unable to establish healthy relationship boundaries which result in one of two patterns of behavior: anxiety or avoidance (Reed, Tolman & Safyer, 2015).

Diagram 3 — Daily Social Media Use

During times of relational insecurity, the anxiety behavior pattern leads people to spend more time on Facebook and other social media platforms tracking their partner’s activities. This causes anxiety-prone adults to feel jealousy and to act out against their partner by sending angry texts, posting emotional comments, and uploading embarrassing photos. The avoidance behavior pattern leads people to withdraw from social media and their partner so they can self-soothe their insecure emotions. The avoidance-prone adults feel social media is a more negative outlet for maintaining relationships and avoids it during times of relational insecurity. However, Reed, Tolman, & Safyer (2015) states, “Trust in the relationships partially mediated these associations.” Even though a person experienced these patterns of behavior, they trusted their partner enough to rein in their emotions and re-establish a somewhat healthy relationship.

The real problem arises when a secure person is dating an insecure person. The secure person firmly believes they are loved and valued, however, and insecure person struggles with feeling unloved and undervalued by their romantic partners. The insecure person who exhibits the anxiety pattern of behavior falls quickly in love and often worries their partner does not feel the same way. Conversely, the person who shows the avoidance behavior pattern distances themselves to deal with their feelings of depending on another person (Reed, Tolman & Safyer, 2015). Here we can see the difference between secure and insecure romantic attachments. In a stable romantic relationship, the partners know they are loved and valued by the other person. They rarely experience feelings of jealousy or other negative emotions. In a mismatched romantic relationship, there is the ongoing tension of whether or not the feelings between the couple are mutual. According to Reed, Tolman & Safyer (2015), the pressure may eventually lead the insecure person to “monitoring someone’s activities and whereabouts, controlling who they talk to and are friends with, name-calling, threats, and hostility, spreading embarrassing and sexual photos with others, and pressuring for sexual behavior.” The most common form of this behavior is monitoring someone’s activity and whereabouts, known as ‘electronic intrusion.’ A sample of college students revealed 73.5% have experienced electronic intrusion in the past year.

Technology Isn’t the Problem

As we can see, technology isn’t the problem in relationships that were started and maintained through social media, people are the problem.

“At its base, technology is a revolution in logistics, not in psychology or sociology — it gives us better access to the things we already lust after; it doesn’t change the nature of the lust itself” (Speed, 2015)

What Speed is referring to in the quote above is how we bring our preconceived desires and dysfunctions to technology, not the other way around. Technology didn’t create insecure romantic attachments or the resulting anxiety and avoidance patterns of behavior, those were already within us. We brought them with us when we entered the online world of dating. The good news is we can change our patterns of behavior.

One way we can change is to get back to traditional dating and leave social media behind. Get out from behind the screen and put a person’s face in front of you instead. In her article, The Lost Art of Offline Dating, Ashley Strickland (2013) provides sound advice that is worth repeating:

1. Buck the standard: Rather than dinner with a table between you, design a date that is fun and adventurous.
2. Prepare your social self: “Like preparing for a sprint, warm up to a peak social state when you’re going out, day or night. It makes you the person in the room that everyone wants to meet.” Smiling, laughing, and making eye contact are important body language tools for social interactions.
3. Be self-confident and genuine: Be open, honest, and sincere to create an instant connection.
4. Orient yourself: When out in public, put your phone away and listen for opportunities to strike up a conversation with a new person.
5. Take your time: Don’t rush to fall in love, building intimacy takes time.

Most importantly, if insecure feelings remain, stay off of social media and speak to your partner face-to-face. Keep private things private. Establishing and maintaining personal boundaries for who, what, when, and how to use social media will go a long way to helping you curb anxiety and avoidance patterns of behavior. When you feel the need to share emotional statuses or pull away from your partner, refer to your boundaries to keep you on track. In the end, you will grow stronger and more secure in building healthy romantic attachments.

Is building healthy romantic attachments possible with technology? Stay tuned for our next post’s brief study on the rise in long-distance relationships, included in our series on technology’s effect on dating.

References

Crystal Jiang, L., & Hancock, J. T. (2013). Absence Makes the Communication Grow Fonder: Geographic Separation, Interpersonal Media, and Intimacy in Dating Relationships. Journal Of Communication, 63(3), 556–577. doi:10.1111/jcom.12029

Duggan, M., & Pew Research Center. (2015, August 19). The demographics of social media users. Retrieved July 27, 2016, from http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/08/19/the-demographics-of-social-media-users/

Facebook. (2016, February 4). Company Info | Facebook newsroom. Retrieved July 27, 2016, from https://newsroom.fb.com/company-info/

Nauert Ph.D., R. (2015). New College Addiction? Social Media, Facebook or Friends. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 26, 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2010/04/23/new-college-addiction-social-media-facebook-or-friends/13108.html

Reed, L. A., Reed, L. A., Tolman, R. M., & Safyer, P. (09/01/2015). Computers in human behavior: Too close for comfort: Attachment insecurity and electronic intrusion in college students’ dating relationships Elsevier. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2015.03.050

Speed, B. (2015, August 7). Technology isn’t ruining modern dating — humans are. Retrieved July 27, 2016, from http://www.newstatesman.com/sci-tech/2015/08/technology-isnt-ruining-modern-dating-humans

Strickland, A. (2013, February 2). The lost art of offline dating. Retrieved July 28, 2015, from http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/12/living/lost-art-offline-dating/index.html

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