Don’t Ask, Just Tell

The Internets is killing your game. Behold, the following romantic scenarios:

Dating, five years ago
Boy meets girl. Boy waits the requisite 3 days to call girl (which even though the girl knows, still drives her nuts) and a date ensues. They discuss work, what they did that week, and what they’re up to the following weekend while on said date. Date ends (however it ends) and, should there have been a spark, the relationship progresses as it should; either they continue to talk, hang out, and eventually date, or perhaps it wasn’t a love connection and they remove themselves from each other’s lives. (Perhaps) Happily Ever After, (Perhaps) Not, but no harm, no foul. The End.

Now, fast forward to today.

Boy meets girl. Actually, he doesn’t really meet her; instead, he finds her on Facebook or follows her on Twitter or favorites her photos on Flickr. By the time he meets her in person, there’s no need for extensive emails back and forth since he already knows she loves sushi and hates pizza, so choosing a restaurant close to her house (he also knows this from her Brightkite check-ins) is easy.  Dinner conversation is strained – who needs to talk anyway? Twitter already told him that she had a crappy day at work and she’s well aware of his weekend plans to go surfing, so instead they fill the time by chugging their microbrews and end up going back to her house because really, it’s easier to make out than it is to have a non-electronic conversation. Texting and direct Twitter messaging ensue if they’re interested; eventually, the outcome is the same – they date if there’s a connection beyond the fact that they’re both avid Mac users and Digg fans, but if not, c’est la vie. That is, until she sees via Twitter that he’s flirting with some other girl and he gets her Dodgeball check-ins to discover that she’s at the movies with that guy he never liked anyway.  Then he de-friends her on Dodgeball, and in retaliation she blocks him from Twitter and what once could have faded out gracefully ends in a electronically communicated clusterfuck for the ages, Facebook broken heart and all.

I exaggerate – only slightly – but does anybody besides me realize that we’re entering into precarious, uncharted territory that abolishes anonymity even if you do your best to control what YOU put out into the ether of the Internets? You may not be broadcasting your actions, but your friend’s Qik cam may be outing your secret rendezvous with your ex. That bit o’ gossip you IMd your friend in confidence is fast-tracking it way to three other pals, because – let’s face it – nothing but face-to-face communication (and sometimes not even that) is considered sacred. We’re turning into a Don’t Ask, Just Tell society that’s affecting both our friendships and our romantic relationships at a startling pace. And I, for one, am sick of the unintentional pain that is being caused by it all.

That doesn’t even factor in the paranoia – why is your crush dedicating “Total Eclipse of the Heart” to that girl on Facebook? What does that cryptic Twitter mean – your two friends seem to be @-ing each other a ton…is something going on? It’s so easy to jump to conclusions when nobody TALKS TO EACH OTHER ANYMORE and the de facto standard has become ungrounded assumptions. True, the rise of electronic communication has increased productivity and international business and all that nonsense, but it’s also put a HUGE crimp in our game. I’m not suggesting we return to the days of dance cards or even do something so inane as following a set of Rules, but there’s something to be said for the phrase “Less is more.” A little mystery goes a long way, and I, for one, think that the best accoutrement to my Poppy Jasper is some witty banter and sparkling conversation – with our iPhones turned OFF.

23 thoughts on “Don’t Ask, Just Tell

  1. Great write up! I think it depends…if you are someone that wants to cast a wide net and date a bunch of people, then broadcasting your life in anyway possible is a great way to get attention. However, once you actually are with someone then I think it makes sense to keep certain things private and that conversation needs to happen with your SO. This approach has been successful so far – having guidelines as to what is OK/not OK to tweet/BK/Flickr/Dodgeball/FB to the world.

  2. 1. Thank God, I dont date people who are in the Tech/PR Silicon Valley/SF industry. It’ll be boring and well kinda incestuous.
    And if so, I try to not talk shop at all around my friends or dates. I really dont care about one’s twitter status or debates over bkite v. dodgeball.
    I’d rather hear an interesting story about one’s childhood or why one decided to go to Aruba instead of Croatia for vacation. Or her thoughts on having children (I want ~3 kids).
    2. I choose to *not* disclose too much about myself on Facebook, Twitter, whatever else. I have a private Twitter for my good friends, but some woman I just met will only have access to the santize public stuff: LinkedIn and my public “clean version” Twitter.
    3. I absolutely see your point Aubrey, but I think it’s correctable. Disclose less, date people who are not in the same circle-jerk-scene that is the Web2.0 scene of SF (or if you do, ban any talk of what was on boingboing, facebook etc).
    San Francisco is an odd city for single folks.

  3. One more point…
    “conversation is strained – who needs to talk anyway? Twitter already told him that she had a crappy day at work and she’s well aware of his weekend plans to go surfing, so instead they fill the time by chugging their microbrews and end up going back to her house because really, it’s easier to make out than it is to have a non-electronic conversation”
    Ultimately, I talk to my girlfriend because I want to connect with her emotionally. Reading her twitter update of “Too many powerpoints to do today” does not replace that. I’d still ask her how her day went. (Actually, she doesn’t twitter, but she updates her GTalk status often.)
    If anything, I would hope those twitter/facebook/linkedin/plaxo/friendster/myspace/web2ohnoes! status updates will help bring more conversation. “So I saw you say you really want a mod dress that you saw today. What as it? And when am I taking you shopping, my dear?”.

  4. Way to go! This is a great post, and I completely agree with you. It’s gotten to the point where I will think to tell my girlfriend about something exciting that happened earlier that day, and I pause and think “oh maybe she read that on twitter” … instead of being excited to tell her what ever it was!

  5. I totally agree, I met my current girlfriend on twitter. Believe it or not, and its actually been a great experience and we’ve been lucky enough to find a balance between living out our relationship online and offline. But I do agree that dating in the digital age is a night and day difference from dating of yesteryear. The old rules don’t apply anymore and a boy can win a girl’s heart with x’s, o’s and a cleverly organized combination of tweets. 🙂

  6. oh lady aubs. we are entering a world where the rules of the game are changing before we’ve even figured out how win.
    and i think, ultimately, what makes the the fascinating, exciting, and emotionally overloaded world of social media so chaotically unknown is that we are no longer sharing information, opening up, and becoming vulnerable based on the aforementioned rules of the game: give and take.
    we are subjecting ourselves to vulnerability without the ‘other’ validating us throughout the process. then, all of a sudden, we become awkwardly and uncomfortably aware of our vulnerability, and want to blame someone… but can blame no other than ourselves.
    such a life we’ve created, yea?
    ❤ s

  7. Aubrey, I read this and wondered whether it was my own mind being written! You’ve put down everything that i’ve thought for the past 5 years since a myspace message caused a relationship breakup for me.
    However, my current relationship has been long distance for over a year now and without our constant use of internet sites like Twitter and Facebook, and our BlackBerry phones, there’s no way i would have been able to cope with the distance. So really the internet has been a sort of enabler to me, even though some paranoia still remains. If there weren’t any ways of communicating with my boyfriend on the internet, I’m sure I wouldn’t still have one.

  8. @Buster:
    In general? For being in dating, I think it hurts. People have too much data about each other but that’s little substitute for being informed and emotionally connected. People need to get that. Until then, I’m not dating a fellow techie/web2.0 person.
    But for flirting, I think it helps. Flirty responses back and forth via GTalk status, flickr photos, etc.

  9. OMG! What you wrote is so very true. I feel kinda sad about it but for the time being dating is all about personal contact. You have to look him/her in the eyes in order to feel.
    Back to my web cam in quest of the true love :p

  10. Aubrey, loved the post. I’m now married but I use to be a flame to men’s inner moth. Here’s my 0.02.
    New media is like someone handing you their resume. They’re looking for a relationship and you hold the power. Maybe you are looking for a relationship too but lets face it, you’re not going to saddle up next to a stud just because he has good teeth. Take the information he has provided through social media and use that to get to know him more. Who knows, you could find a long lost tweet providing an inkling to his hatred for PETA. If you don’t do your research and ask questions you could end up 2 years down the road asking for a cat and he says “But, what would you wear it with?”. Anywho…you are a bright, charismatic, fun-loving, social person (My first impression when we’ve met briefly). Preparation, research, and self-love are the keys to your power-o-love. IMHO 😉
    All the best,
    Sally Strebel

  11. I actually have no problems life streaming and keeping things secret. I mean, it takes a little effort but it’s doable.
    Two other points;
    1) I think there’s something innately noble in our generation’s life streaming habits, that many of us sense intuitively: pushing transparency and honesty, living lives openly and proudly. I’ve been thinking on this a while and haven’t quite managed to verbalize it perfectly yet, but I do have a hunch many of us feel we’re doing something brave that works toward improving things in some small way
    (of course, that conflicts with my comment above it, but…)
    and 2) I also think the flirt is still pretty fun. We now have the ability to rapidly realize someone’s compatible with us, and there are fewer surprises, and when it all works there’s a nice opportunity for a rapid flush of excitement and giddiness at making a connection so thoroughly so quickly.

  12. Just came across your blog today – great piece! So true and so funny! (Perhaps I mean it’s funny because it’s true.) And hardly limited to SF – it’s the evolution and it isn’t reversing itself.

  13. AMEN! This is why i don’t date people who ARE on twitter. TOO MUCH DRAMA, and revealing too much, way too soon. also, so i can twitter about my dates! hahaha. Great post, Aubrey.

  14. funny post, it give me an insight how Social media is affecting peeps and their relationships in USA, very few people in the Arab world use Twitter or freindfeed, so it is different. there is watwet a Jordanian clone of Twitter, they have not gone main stream yet, i wrote about them on my blog.

  15. You’ve captured the thoughts I’ve been chewing on in my mind perfectly. Can we be too social?
    I just added live streaming video to my site, and I’m wondering if that’s the end for me. Honestly, how much more can I safely put out there for people to see before I can creep myself out?
    If you don’t mind… I’m quoting you on my site.

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