I seem to have taken a left turn away from virginity loss and landed in the middle of modern love. Lets sit here for a moment because I enjoyed the response to my most recent post, in which I mooted the idea that post-digital romance is a tricky proposition. That it’s too easy to blow each other off with a casual text, tweet or email and that longevity, commitment and the old fashioned organic growth of romance that I experienced in the 80’s and 90’s are now in short supply. I admitted I had rose tinted specs on. Like today’s author, I see there are advantages to modern romance too. Blimey, I could write a book about my own online dating experiences. At one point I did, possibly as a form of catharsis as much as anything but via those experiences, and much like today’s writer, I came to a number of conclusions.
Online dating sites allow you to get in front of more people. For the shy amongst you, for those who don’t like hanging around in bars attempting to winkle the wheat from the drunken chaff or for whom working in an office full of un-inspiring suits doesn’t present enough opportunities, online dating can be a gift. If you haven’t been out with anyone for a while, let yourself loose on the online community.
BUT, and it’s a big caveat, don’t have great expectations. Take it as an experience, as grist to the mill, something to help prepare oneself for when the ‘real thing’ comes along. The real thing may present itself online. Who knows? One of my best friends has just produced her second child with her lovely online (I’m pleased to say he also actually exists) man. But in the meantime, treat it as a dry run. Unless you’re prepared to get granular and turn it into a job (I’m thinking about the - possibly mythical - friend of a friend who took things to extremes, went on eight dates a day and pretty much treated the process as job interviews for A Very Important Vacancy i.e. her husband. She succeeded in under ten days), then don’t expect miracles. At the very least, you might have fun. And gather stories to tell your grandchildren. My friends and I still laugh about Under-Floor-Heating Man and Mr Night Night; a man who texted me exactly the same Night Night message at precisely the same time every evening. Which brings me to my digital bête noir. ‘He sucks at keeping in touch between our dates’ says today’s storyteller…. ‘sometimes it upsets me because others do text and call and keep tabs on each other all the time’.
‘Keeping tabs’ on each other is not to be confused with romance. Texting someone twenty times a day and expecting a reply is little to do with love and everything to do with insecurity. The modern world has harnessed our collective paranoia like nothing else. I miss those days when I’d make a date with my man, turn up on the appointed day and have a lovely time without the aid of multiple format communications in between. It doesn’t mean I don’t love him. Just that I’m secure enough in my affection (mostly – I am human) not to need that much reassurance.
Perhaps it is swings and roundabouts in the end. Write a good letter is what I often find myself saying. But email enabled me to write something everyday when a beloved boyfriend was stationed temporarily in the States and I was here in London. The Internet also allows us to communicate in this space where you and I don’t know what each other looks like and we can say exactly as we please.
On this point, today’s storyteller speaks of an issue close to my heart: good mental health. If I could have told my 22 year old self back in the day when the icy cold grip of my first anxiety attack had me in its clutches that I wasn’t, in fact, mad, I would. But I didn’t have the insight or the knowledge and no one talked about that kind of thing back then. If the Internet had existed, a quick Google search would have assured me that I was not on the verge of losing my mind and may still avoid incarnation in the local loony bin, which, as far as I was concerned was exactly where I was headed. The Internet would have enabled me to talk about it in a forum and get, what would have been much appreciated digital comfort. Because back in 1990, I may as well have been Tony Soprano (RIP sir), such was the stigma attached to therapy and the lack of information around quite basic mental health issues.
Time moves on. Today’s story ties all these issues up into one neat tale.
‘I just read on your site your piece about relationships in the technology age. You seemed to think it was less romantic and stopped real connections from happening. Sometimes, perhaps, it does just that. However, sometimes it helps you meet people in a world where you cross paths with so many and yet truly interact with so few.
In my case it is true that I suck at socialising. I am not a fan and get stressed and tired quite easily. I also do not drink, which is what most people do when they 'catch up'. I also feel that I can express myself better when writing. When I speak there are no edits that can be made, not without sounding a fool, and I can get caught up in the heat of the moment. When I write I can double check that I have said what I wanted before I send it off.
And then there is the fact that I had a breakdown some time back and so don't work, although I am slowly building myself up to that again, and for a time I barely left my room. The Internet became the only place I was keeping up to date with other people’s lives and, far more rarely, contributing myself. I wrote on sites where others suffered from similar issues to my own. I chatted on Facebook to people I couldn't talk to in real life without going red-faced and teary. And even more boldly, in time, I went on dating websites.
It is true that some of those interactions on the dating site were frivolous and meant nothing. Sometimes I got hurt and other times I did the hurting. There were times I used guys for therapeutic purposes, you could say. And I know there were times when they used me for whatever reasons they had. However, through all of that, I started to go out in the wide world again.
I went on dates with guys who I considered to be 'better' than ones I met up with just to 'fool around'. The fooling around served its own purposes because I became more confident in certain ways, and then I was able to hold my own instead of feeling a fool in front of the guys I went onto 'real' dates with. Most of the guys I saw once or twice at most, whether they were 'good' guys who wanted a proper relationship or 'bad' boys who just wanted to have fun. And then I met him.
'Him', in this context, is the man I'm with today. The one person I've had a real relationship with. We've been together two years and counting now and it feels so ... normal.
We met online, but we took things slowly the way you described pre-technology. We text sometimes and even more rarely talk on the phone, but in truth he sucks at keeping in touch between our dates or just getting to be together. Sometimes it upsets me because others do text and call and keep tabs on each other all the time, like you said, so in that way your article helped me. It has made me feel better about our relationship - it's just a bit more 'old fashioned'. However, technology is also what brought us together - we would never have met otherwise - and it has helped us many times in planning next dates or changing plans.
So, yes, I agree that people can over-communicate and there can be something lost in all of that. But it can also be infinitely useful and I am forever grateful that I had that medium in my life or I wouldn't be in the loving relationship that I am today.’