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Love in the Time of Social Media

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I have a confession to make: I’m an online dater.

There. I said it. For some reason, dating online still has a stigma about it. For some reason, it’s still perceived as a weird or creepy way to meet other people but going out to a club and  grinding with strangers while sipping $12 beers is perfectly okay.

But I digress.

The real reason I wanted to talk about this topic today is not so I can defend online dating, but rather so I can talk about how social media, blogs, video content, podcasts, and other online media are creating this brave new world of dating. And while it isn’t always pretty, it is definitely interesting.

What better topic to open for discussion on Valentine’s Day?

We talk a lot about “controlling the message” about ourselves online in a professional way…but the online world is becoming increasingly personal as well.

Online Dating: Be the Person You Want to Be

At BlogWorld 2010, one of the pieces of advice that stuck with me was from Copyblogger’s Brian Clark who said in response to a question about authenticity (and I’m paraphrasing), “Be the best you possible.” Online, we have the ability to mold our brand, to show the pieces of us that make sense for our audience and hide the “nasty bits” as Lisa Barone called them at BlogWorld LA 2011. It doesn’t make you a less authentic blogger or a dishonest blogger to pick and choose the pieces of yourself you feel comfortable revealing.

But I wonder, sometimes, if this mentality is spilling over into the online dating world…and not in a good way.

When you first meet someone, it takes a while to get to know one another. I’m not going to divulge all of my secrets on a first date, share my embarrassing stories until forced to do so by a trip to introduce you to the parents, or blurt out my bad habits in hopes that my honesty will make you swoon. No, I’m going to present the best possible version of Allison.

Online, though, it’s much easier to hide the bad things about yourself, and even someone with the best BS radar in the world can be fooled with a well written profile and a ten-year-old picture showing a full head of hair and wearing pants that haven’t fit in years. We’re crafting stories about ourselves that aren’t telling the whole truth, and it makes it much harder to have successful face-to-face first dates. I should know. I’ve never once had a bad time on a date with someone I met for the first time in a public setting. I’ve had some hilariously bad dates with people I’ve met online, simply because they put too much spin on the profile they presented.

Are our everyday online existences teaching us to be more guarded with the information we share in a potential romantic or even friendship situation? Maybe. It’s hard to say, “Here I am, World! Take me or leave me!” when it is so easy and even second nature to hide the things about ourselves that we don’t like.

The Online Mirror

Yet, the ability to hid aspects of ourselves online can also help us reflect upon ourselves in profound ways. Online dating has changed the way I think about the content I publish. When I’m blogging, tweeting, etc. I have less of a filter because if you don’t like my content, it doesn’t really feel like a personal rejection. It’s just business. But when someone doesn’t like my online dating profile? Well, that’s a harder hit. Deep down, we all want to be liked.

So it’s been an interesting experiment for me, creating online dating profiles. Without thinking about it, there are things I naturally hid about myself in order to present what I thought was the best possible me to potential dates. It created a clearer mirror about the qualities I have that I need to work on in all aspects of my online life. Why should I subject my readers to *insert quality here* when I’m not willing to talk about those qualities on an online dating profile?

A good example: I’m not afraid to curse on my blog or even my social media accounts. However, on a popular dating website (OKCupid), I was filling out some of their survey questions and it asked “How often do you curse?” Although “like a sailor” was probably the most honest answer, there was no way that was the type of impression I wanted to give off to people visiting my profile! While I still do curse when I feel like a strong word is needed, I realized that having an unnecessary potty mouth was not the type of person I wanted to be online. So I’m working to break myself of this habit.

The New Stalker

I think the most curious and interesting part of online dating, however, is that it has created a whole new class of stalkers. At one time, creepy stalkers sat outside your house in a car, watching your every move. Today, stalkers sit on Google, watching your every move. And it’s not only creeps who participate. I’ve definitely googled someone before a first date. It’s not about being creepy. It’s about being curious and having a wealth of information at my fingertips, if only I have the courage to take a peek.

What happens when you google your name? What about when you google any screen names you use? You might not like the information that pops up about you, especially if you not only date online, but also work online like I do. Someone interesting in a date with you is going to make a mental snapshot in his/her mind based on the content you’re putting out there (or things other people are saying about you). Do you control this message?

Friend Me!

IN closing, let me share a somewhat embarrassing story about myself when on an Atlantic City trip about a year ago. We were there for one of my best friend’s bachelorette parties, so I’m not ashamed to say I had more than a few drinks. Someone I met at the last bar we visited had bought me a few drinks. As we were leaving he tried to get my number, but I wasn’t really interested in giving it to him (not my style). Still, he had been very nice to me, and I always feel bad rejecting people, so my response to his insistence as I walked out the door was, “Are you on  Facebook? Friend me!”

Nevermind that he was probably too drunk to even remember my first name (and I certainly hadn’t given him my last night or even told him where I was from). For some reason, my rum-filled mind went directly to social media. I remember thinking that if he really wanted to get to know me, not just call me later in the hopes that I’d come to his hotel room, he’d friend me on Facebook. Needless to say, my friends cracked up at me telling him to friend me on Facebook rather than giving him my number.

The point to my story, and to this entire post really, is that we’re all content creators, and not just in a professional way, and more and more, people are going to look at the “profile” you’ve created for yourself online. Whether you run an online business or not, your presence on social media and other online properties is going to seep into your personal life. What information is out there about you? Would you want to date yourself?

Allison Boyer freelance writer and content marketing consultant. She also runs the food blog The PinterTest Kitchen with her mom and sister. You can follow her shenanigans on Twitter (@allison_boyer) or contact her at allisonmboyer@gmail.com.


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