Why Internet Dating Still Freaks Me Out
I am 23 and in a relationship. This makes me a bit of an outcast amongst other 20-somethings, an age group generally characterized by incessant sexual adventurousness and change. And though I am happy where I am, I frequently find myself wondering what I would do if I were back in the “dating scene.” I met my current boyfriend at summer camp when I was 14, so it wouldn’t be very practical to attempt to date that way. Would I rely on my friends to introduce me to someone? Would I hang around in bars, waiting to attract a mate? Would I flirt with co-workers? Go speed dating? I thought I had exhausted every outlet until my roommate reminded me of an ever-growing, already-got-beat-talking-about-it, can’t-even-call-it-a-trend-because-it’s-the-norm: Internet Dating.
I always thought internet dating was for those who were too scared or lazy to talk to anyone in person, and thus left their eternal happiness in the hands of logarithmic formulae that would most likely set them up with other agoraphobics or just plain perverts. I knew there were success stories, but for a long time it seemed like everyone I knew who tried it just confirmed the parlous nature of the whole thing. One woman I knew moved in with a complete jerk six weeks after “meeting” him. Another guy fell in love with a girl on MySpace, only to finally meet her a year and a half later and find out she had lied about pretty much everything (including being legal.)
But these incidents were about five years ago, and between then and now something has changed. Now, an entire generation comfortable with putting their lives on Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare is all dating online. And this time, it’s actually working. My boyfriend’s sister met her fiancee on JDate, and they’re one of he happiest couples I’ve ever seen. A cousin of mine met his wife on a dating site specifically for Indian people. A bunch of friends of mine have been going on dates they found on OkCupid, and even though they don’t all work out, the guys seem nice and normal and are who they say they are on the internet. It seems like a perfectly normal thing to do if you’re single and in your 20s.
So why am I so creeped out by it?
I was born in 1986. I didn’t get a cell phone until I was in high school, and I couldn’t text until college. I remember the day my dad got the internet; I created my first screen name (chunkycat86…don’t ask) and signed on to the EEEKEEEEKEEEEEK of our dial-up connection into a world of “You’ve got mail!” and “a/s/l?”. I was born in a generation on the cusp of lifestyles, and while there are others in my generation who tweet and post and update all day long, fully embracing the world we’ve entered, I am not one of them. I’m on Facebook, but haven’t updated photos in about a year. I use Twitter for journalistic self-promotion only, and even then only sporadically because the whole site really bothers me. I flat out don’t get Foursquare. I am a Neo-Luddite in a blogger’s office chair.
Therefore, it’s only natural that online dating freaks me out. It’s just one more step on the path that’s turning our generation into a mass of people unable to keep anything to themselves. But what, really, is scary about it? It’s only been recent that any notion of privacy or fate has entered our idea of dating. My great-grandmother was married off when she was 13, mostly likely arranged by either her parents or a town matchmaker. It’s only been in the era of the 3-months salary diamond ring that marriage was really thought of much than a good financial investment, or at least a way to make sure property inheritance went smoothly. Of course this brings us into a different topic entirely, but the point is there. Dating has never been a private activity.
During a long drive this weekend, I brought up my fears about technology to my cousin. “We’re turning into a society that has no common culture,” I mused, assuming I sounded intelligent. “The internet is making it so everyone can have their little niche and no one will be able to interact with each other, but everything will be public.” “That’s bullshit,” said my cousin. “The people attracted to that kind of public life and putting themselves in niches are, like, baby boomers who treat the whole thing like a new toy. They don’t have the skills to know what to do on the internet. We’re the ones who grew up with it. We know better.” I sat ashamed. I didn’t know if he was right or not, but I hoped he was. If he was right, society is fine, and I just have bad internet skills. And if that’s the case, I’m really glad I have a boyfriend.
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