Dating with cell phones

Text messages, Instagram likes and snapchats are turning the act of asking someone out into a game. Is it worth playing?


Graphic by Fani Hsieh
Graphic by Fani Hsieh

In 1980, as Todd punched in the number from his address book, took a deep breath and hoped the father of his prospective date didn’t pick up the house phone, the future of dating crossed his mind. He later brought up the topic to Mary on their first date, that Saturday, at the local diner. Over two milkshakes they agreed. “Those computers will probably be able to create perfect matches.”

As an inhabitant of the year 2016, I think it’s safe to say we haven’t gotten there. Despite all our accomplishments, we’re still just as perplexed about romance, love and dating. In fact, it often seems dating has gotten even more confusing.

So, let’s start with a definition of what dating means: “An appointment to meet at a specified time; especially a social engagement between two persons that often has a romantic character.”

That “appointment” part of dating has definitely changed. Yeah, you’re able to warn someone you’ll be late. You can even cancel last minute and not feel like a complete asshole. Yet, these plastic and glass rectangles you tap and swipe have impacted more than just scheduling flexibility.

Firstly, the significance of the appointment has decreased. Without cell phones, a concrete plan was necessary.

You’d spend the upcoming days thinking about the date. Contemplation would fuel anticipation and the date would become a bigger deal.

Today, the date is never locked in place. Cell phones have become doorstoppers, always leaving possibilities open. As the value of a date has decreased and our awareness of other events has increased, there’s just a different level of commitment. One that’s so obviously different than how we deal with family, friends and those we feel obligated to not disappoint. To me, it makes no sense that unwritten rules about flopping no longer apply when phones get involved.   

Flopping has been there before cell phones, I get that. Yet, the modern dating scene can be characterized by a fabricated casualness countering our classic assumptions about romance.

In that sense, Todd asking Mary on a date meant something different than it does now. It makes sense that asking someone out is a signal of emotional and sexual curiosity. There’s no shame in wanting to explore attraction.

Today there tends to be so many steps before that point. God forbid you meet in person, without three Instagram likes, two Snapchats and two weeks of staggered text conversation. Despite all the interconnectivity, it seems like a genuine face-to-face connection is a leap of faith people are scared to take.

Therefore, while an actual date may have lost its former value, the act of asking someone out has so much more significance. In the world of text where so much is typed, but so little is said, asking someone on a date is revealing your hand.

A risky display of emotion that stands out compared to all the other ambiguous micro-attractions that surround it.

Being asked out in 1980: They’re attracted to you, they want to get to know you.

In 2016: “OMG lol! They like you so much!”

After being asked out, unfortunately the whole situation is hardly ever resolved with a simple “I’m down,” even if that’s what the person is thinking. Over texts we have the time to analyze, discuss and carefully edit our response. In the past we would contemplate the upcoming date, but now we contemplate the response leading to it.

What happens is a power dynamic that often leads to days, weeks and sometimes months of occasional texts devoid of any commitment, only the teasing possibility that something could happen. The result: “We’ll see,” “Maybe,” “We’ll figure it out!”

Comedian Aziz Ansari’s take is, “It’s like you’re a secretary for this really shoddy organization, scheduling the dumbest shit with the flakiest people ever.”

Ansari touches on a key point. It seems we are all secretaries to the foyer of our personal selves, scared to let people through the office doors and talk to the CEO upstairs. Instead, we opt to go through a long screening process that never ends up going anywhere. Romance enters a realm of business professionalism; you weigh the costs and benefits, hoping to get a return on your investment.

Whether it’s 1980 or 2016, romance has always been appreciated as the epitome of human expression and connection. Texting often feels like a game of who can do the least of those things.

So shout out to the people that don’t play by the current age’s nonsensical rules. Walk up to that girl and ask her out. Call that guy and organize a dinner. Life is too temporary to spend so much time in the weird world of texting.

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