Digital Get Down: The Worst Things about Dating in the Digital Age

April 10, 2014 / by / 25 Comments

Do you remember the days when you could meet someone in a respectable bar or at a mutual friend’s party and ask that person on a date without digital technology playing a role? Pepperidge Farm remembers – but that’s about it.

Over the course of the past few years, dating has become more and more of a digitized experience. From serious dating networks like Match.com and eHarmony to more casual dating sites like OKCupid to dating/hook-up apps like Tinder and Grindr – the prevalence of digital dating sites and apps has expanded rapidly in recent years.

There is definitely some good in that. People are now able to reach outside of their standard social circles and presumed geographic limitations to find potential romantic partners with whom they could share a connection. Also, with the specific assumptions affiliated with different sites and the ability to set dating preferences, people can be clear about their intentions to pursue long-term relationships, short-term dating, or casual hook-ups from the beginning, versus having complicated “what do you want out of this talks.”

However, there is certainly a lot of bad looming as well. It’s hard to find a site discussing online dating without hearing horror stories of false identities, creepy encounters, and painfully awkward experiences. While these are all things to fear, they’re definitely on the less common end of the dating spectrum. There are, however, some legitimate issues that do come with digital dating (online or app-based).

Here are the three worst parts about dating in the digital age:

1. The Myth of Meeting

One of the biggest fears people have when approaching digital dating is a concern about what will happen when they actually meet the person on the other end of the Wi-Fi connection. “What if he’s a serial killer?” “What if she has that vagina-teeth condition?” “What if he has one of those weird beauty marks on his face and at first it’s endearing but then as he gets older it gets bigger and bigger and eventually starts talking?”

Perhaps it’s because of these fears that the worst part of digital dating occurs: people rarely meet (or at least meet less than someone might expect). Yes, for all of the worries about who people are talking to within online dating sites and apps, it’s not uncommon for a person to go out with a small percentage of the people with whom they spend extended amounts of time talking.1 Whether you’ve spent minutes, hours, or days conversing with someone over a digital dating platform, you’ll find that a surprising amount of people using digital dating sites can’t seem to get over that fear of actually meeting up with someone they know little to nothing about. This is obviously a very human response and certainly founded in some legitimate concerns. However, it does mean that anyone approaching online dating or dating apps as a means of finding people to get to know through dates may have to adjust their expectations — regardless of how much of the early “getting to know you” process happens online. This places a much more serious weight on the type of information you put into your profiles, which in itself is a truly daunting process.

However, if you do happen to get past this initial point and go on a date with the person, you’ll likely encounter this next terrible occurrence:

2. Social Media Mayhem

You don’t have to spend more than ten minutes scrolling the Internet to find some columnist rambling on about how “social media has forever altered human interaction and we live in an ever-shrinking world and bullshit bullshit whatever.” However, there are a couple of ways that the digital age has forever fucked with dating, both through dating sites/apps and beyond:

Date One Person, Face the Judgment of Everyone

Once a person has gone on one or two fine dates with someone else, one of those two will likely friend the other on Facebook. This is where the real fun begins, because now you don’t have to just worry about what he or she thinks about you, but also the thoughts of his or her five to ten closest friends. It’s open season on your life. In a matter of moments, you can go from “Jeff, that nice guy who took me out for Chinese food” to “Jeff, that weirdo who likes Jeff Dunham – how fucking immature. Puppets are so dumb.” Or from “Sarah, that cute girl who I shared a shake with” to “That girl? The one who liked the page for happiness? Everyone likes happiness. Do you really need to put that on your Facebook? Those people are the worst.”

Before the widespread use of social media, the opinions of friends of someone you dated (dated meaning went on dates with) were typically informed by the statements of the person with whom you actually spent time with. Now, well, good luck with making it past date three without a group of strangers being uncomfortably familiar with whatever music you “liked” in high school and college.

Social Media Smorgasbord

Another phenomenon has arisen with the rise of social media and digital dating sites/apps: the “too many options” problem.

While many people would consider the multitude of possible romantic interests on dating sites and dating apps an exciting thing, research has shown us that people presented with an excess of options are: 1. Less likely to choose anything and 2. More likely to be disappointed with their choices. This has some heavy implications when it comes to something as personal as dating. People who conceive of online dating and dating apps as unlimited bounties of potential partners will be less likely to make the decision to go on a date with someone for fear that they’ll miss out on going out with someone better, or for fear that they didn’t spend enough time considering their options. Worse, if they get over that initial hump of choice paralysis, they’ll judge their date against the (apparently) limitless other dating options. This isn’t much fun for anyone.

This issue becomes even worse when people start considering their non-dating social networks as pools of potential partners instead of means of interacting with friends and family (if you don’t believe this happens, ask literally any friend if they ever use Facebook to check out people they hardly know).

When people think they can choose from anything, they want nothing. It’s like trying to find the perfect song on Spotify (or iTunes, for everyone still living in 2009). When you have a seemingly endless selection to choose from, it’s almost impossible to “settle” on one. And once you’ve found something you enjoy, it’s even harder to not flip to another song 30 seconds later because THERE ARE SO MANY SONGS.

3. The Big Fade

So you’ve made it past the initial meeting and passed the social media barrier. It’s all over, right? This means the digital world is no longer a role in your dating life, yeah? Nope.

All dating has two potential paths: 1. It becomes a relationship and then marriage and then you die together or 2. It ends. And if the dating manages to end before it reaches the “official” relationship stage, it will likely end with “The Big Fade.”

For those unfamiliar with The Big Fade, it goes like this: as time passes, whether brief or extended, the person you’ve been talking with or dating begins corresponding with you less frequently. Intervals between texts become longer, more Facebook messages have read receipts, but no replies — all of that good stuff. Eventually, that person has slowly but surely disappeared from your existence. That’s The Big Fade.

Now obviously The Big Fade has been possible for as long as communication has existed. However, with the rise of social media and digital interaction, it has become the reaction that feels the most natural. Because so much interaction occurs through digital platforms, it does not feel as uncomfortable to stop responding to messages the same way it would to stop showing up to meeting places with no explanation. Increasing dependence on low-value interaction has made it so that not responding to texts feels as adequate as explaining that you’re no longer interested in someone. Here’s the thing though: if you’re on the receiving end, it doesn’t feel the same way.

In its initial stages, The Big Fade is aggravating at best and terribly confusing at worst. As it continues, it prolongs the disconnect process more uncomfortably than a simple “hey, I’m not interested in you the same way you’re interested in me” would. And while the receiving party likely understands what’s going on, there lacks the sort of closure that a simple explanation would provide, which makes the whole thing potentially more painful and certainly a lot more annoying.

The digital age didn’t create The Big Fade, but it has certainly made it all the more prevalent, and that sucks for dating and interaction as a whole.

Where Do We Go From Here?

There you have it. The worst parts about dating in the digital age. These things don’t mean that online dating is awful, or that you should spend innumerable hours considering every single possible issue or area of judgment you may face. No, they simply mean that the digital age has provided some additional complications to dating that we should all be aware of — whether we’re involved in digital dating platforms or not.

Remember, all of the negative consequences of these things can be avoided if you simply treat others how you would like to be treated and stop depending on digital platforms for all your communication needs. Dating is a fundamentally human experience, and if you always remember that, you should have no problem navigating the romantic world.