Wednesday, October 6, 2010

You're Online Dating & You Don't Even Know It!

Is there still a stigma associated with online dating? Many of you say yes, while others are convinced that the decision to plug your personal stats into eHarmony,, and their ilk is now as socially acceptable as sending a tweet or checking into Foursquare.

Even for those of us who haven't yet embraced the ever-increasing trend towards formalized online dating, the truth is that we're sort of kidding ourselves. We may be holding out against the implication that we need to sign up for one of these sites in order to find love, but almost all of us are romantically engaging with someone online via the least stigmatized social media outlet out there - Facebook.

Although Facebook revolves around the presupposition of "friendship," insisting on calling everyone from your mother, to your high school math teacher, to that guy you met at a bar your "friend," your Facebook friendships are no less ambiguous than many of your off-line relationships. Facebook is essentially one big online party, rife with flirtations, mixed signals, behavioral assumptions, and outright Jersey Shore-style creeping.

So, since Facebook is practically an unavoidable player in our love lives these days, how exactly does it factor into our day-to-day romances? In what ways does its functionality compare to those of more explicit online dating sites? In what ways are you in denial that you're already online dating? Let's break it down, feature-by-feature.

The Friend Request - Sending a friend request to someone you've just met, romantically-motivated or not, can send a surprisingly clear signal of interest. You basically are asking for an invite to know all the details about them - friends, family, job, likes, relationship status, photos... Clearly, it's a next step forward in any burgeoning friendship, professional relationship, or flirtation.

The Poke - Poking someone on Facebook is roughly the equivalent of winking at someone on OkCupid. Who knows what the hell it means? Consider it a way of jumping on a "friend's" radar without actually needing to have something interesting to say. It can be used to communicate, "I can't think of a cute thing to write, so maybe this'll get your attention," or "Let's face it, I'm a little creepy and I'm staring at your picture right now." It can mean whatever you want, and take the place of personalized flirtation or interaction. Just another option to flirt with your new - or old - "friend."

The Message - Writing an individualized, private message is a way to establish contact without allowing the entire Facebook community to see it. It's equivalent to, well, writing a private message on a dating site. Want to reconnect with a blast from your past? Sending a message is a great way to initiate an actual e-conversation without having to worry that you'll be publicly ignored or rejected. And somehow, it still feels like less of a "big deal" than sending an actual email.

The Wall Post - We now come to the wall post - possibly the most charged of the Facebook flirtations. If you want to flirt with someone, then you send them a message. But if you want everyone on Facebook to know that you're flirting with someone, then you write on their wall. Being overtly flirtatious on someone's wall turns up the heat and presents a challenge to other "friends" who may be flirting with him or her as well. You're basically marking your territory. Most dating sites don't seem to have an equivalent option, perhaps because it can create a romantically competitive - as opposed to open - dynamic. Careful with that one.

The Status Update - Here's a way for people to casually check in on each other without appearing overly eager or invested (sort of a "It's not like I was thinking about you, but then your status popped up in my news feed and I just had to comment!" vibe). It's an opportunity to flirt, to subtly remind someone that you exist, and to bond over shared interests and witticisms. Become a regular commenter, and you'll soon feel like you know each other and are actually a part of each others' lives! Strange, right?

The Photos - Does it look like they're dating someone? Are they actually as good-looking as they appear in their main photo? What are their friends like? Are they big partiers? Are they awkward? The secrets of the Photos tab - and the questions that it can answer - are neverending, and much more expansive and revealing than the three or four carefully selected photos that you might find on OkCupid. Facebook certainly wins for comprehensiveness in this category.

Mutual friends - You don't even need to be Facebook friends with someone to see who your mutual friends are! Score. Want some dirt on that guy or girl you just met? Wondering if they're single? Hoping someone can hook you up, or put in a good word for you? Now you instantly know who to ask.

Facebook Places - In some ways, Facebook Places has the most potential to turn us all into psycho stalkers of our new romantic prospects. The best use of this new feature is to find out what kinds of places your "friend" likes to frequent, simply as a way to get to know someone better. The worst use? To find out where he or she is and just "happen" to show up there as well. Really, please, don't do that.

So all of us who think we're too cool for online dating, let's say it together: we are engaging in Techno-Romance, even if we're supposedly opposed to dragging our love lives online. We're not any more sophisticated, or any wiser, than our friends. We just prefer the ambiguity of the post-dating world to the explicitness of more traditional modes of romantic "dating" interactions - even when it's all taking place online.

No surprises there.

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