Dating in the Age of Social Media
By: Caitlin Caviness
It is early November. Snow drifts down lazily from an inky, starless sky. I can smell hints of pepper and garlic, remnants from the dinner my mother is preparing upstairs. And I am sitting on the floor of my bathroom stalking my boyfriend’s ex on Facebook.
I’d just like to take a brief moment to declare that I am not crazy. Sure, I’ve been known to shout (in true Gandalf style), “You shall not pass!” at pedestrians who do not abide by clearly important crosswalk etiquette. But haven’t we all done that at some point? My excuse for this slightly obsessive behavior (and subsequently why I am wrapped in a towel/fervently scrolling through pictures/praying that there is a bottle of wine upstairs) is that I have grown up in an age of dating anxiety.
Let me be the first to admit that I deeply enjoy social media for many reasons. I love the aesthetics of my photos lined up against one another on Instagram. I love being able to reconnect with old friends on Facebook. And above all, I take immense pleasure in discussing my love for cheese on Twitter. But when it comes to relationships, social media can make everything pretty complicated. I know that I’m not alone in feeling a constant sense of anxiety when it comes to dating in this age of social media: Should we become “Facebook” official? How do I even broach this topic? Is it too soon to even ask? Should I delete old Instagram photos of my ex and me? Is it weird if I ask him to delete old pictures?... It all makes me nostalgic for the days of the dating “check yes or no” notes we are all guilty have having written. They weren’t very eloquent, but at least we could burn the evidence.
The worst part is that this anxiety persists even after the relationship ends. The moment that you and your significant other break up, every one knows. Every one. My grandmother can barely even use Facebook, and she knows. Former teachers, parents, fourth cousins, and the guy who used to make my gin and tonics at my favorite bar knows. And you are constantly in danger of being reminded of that old relationship, because social media laughs in the face of true closure. Your ex is bound to end up tagged in photos, statuses, etc. You will see them. You will freak out, cry in a King Sooper’s frozen pizza aisle, cut thirteen inches off of your hair, and vow to never get on the internet again.
So back to the scene in my bathroom: You’d think that it was miracle that I found this girl. I know nothing but her first name and where she works, but alas… I do find her: She is pretty. I immediately jump up to look in the mirror, comparing the lines of her face and mine. Her boobs seem slightly bigger than my B cups and I silently pray that this is the work of an insanely good bra. I flip through the photos and imagine my boyfriend, the man I love, sleeping next to her and laughing at the things she says. Seeing her face, her likes and dislikes, the music she listens to… It all makes her real. She is no longer the hideous, kitten-hating, probably evil human being that I had so comfortingly made up in my mind.
Here’s the bottom line: I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with documenting your love life via social media, but it shouldn’t become a constant source of stress. Only you can decide what you are comfortable with, and what is right for your relationship. Social media links us in ways that we have never been connected before, and for many reasons, this is a good thing. But it can also create unwelcome apprehension. I am torn between an urge to document my life and feel connected to those around me, and the anxiety that comes along when mixing dating in with all of this.
But as I continued to flip through this girl’s profile, it dawned on me that I have to accept the fact that she is probably a nice human being. I have to accept the fact that my boyfriend dated her. I have to accept the fact that my boobs aren’t likely to get any bigger. But all of this is okay, because being a human being means that you will (at some point) have a life-altering epiphany while half naked in your bathroom: Just because I can spend hours looking at pictures of my boyfriend’s ex, doesn’t mean I have to. It’s a different kind of self-control that I am still learning how to navigate. Let me put this in terms we can all understand and appreciate: dessert. I mean, I can eat half of a chocolate cake in one sitting, but I’m probably not going to feel very good afterwards. I have to remind myself that I am the one in control here. We all are. Social media may have a myriad of shortcomings, but we truly can manage (for the most part) how much we let it stress us out. As much as we may all love Instagram, Facebook, etc., these mediums don’t define our lives or our romantic relationships.
So I (finally) get dressed. I eat dinner. I sit on the couch next to my boyfriend knowing that there have been other women in his life. But I also know that I don’t have to seek them out. I don’t need to know everything about them. I set my phone aside and focus on what Sylvia Plath describes as the secret of true happiness: “the devout worship of the moment.”