Ah, the good old days before the introduction of platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook or Instagram into our lives. Can you even remember what things were like prior to notifications of new messages, likes, follows or friend requests? Can you remember what it was like dating or being in a relationship before these things even existed? I certainly can.
Let’s go back 21 years. It’s December of 1998, I’m 14 years old, have just completed my first year of high school and I’m on holiday in the Eastern Cape with extended family who lived there. Just before leaving for this holiday, I’d had my first kiss in the school bathroom after the final assembly of the year. He was two years ahead of me at school, been chasing me for a few weeks and I really liked him. The thought of being gone for a whole month was a harrowing one at the time, but until feelings between us naturally fizzled, we stayed in touch for a couple of weeks via a tiki box. That’s right, a public payphone.
Now let’s imagine this in a worst-case scenario as if it had taken place in 2019: In the lead-up to the school bathroom kiss, I would’ve most likely been harassed non-stop via WhatsApp, we would’ve added one another on Facebook, as well as followed one another on Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. Then, after he’d finally gotten his way and kissed me, there’s a slim chance I might’ve been semi-ghosted because that’s the norm these days due to the constant need for instant gratification and how easily people lose interest without actually investing time in one another.
I would’ve retaliated hard and thirst trapped him with Instagram and Snapchat posts (because that’s what 14-year-olds do these days) about how much fun I was having. He would’ve popped up again when he found out I was spending time with other guys or realised I didn’t care that he wasn’t really interested in me anymore. We would’ve chatted again for a bit and then due to the distance between us over the December holiday, as well as the availability of others, we would’ve ultimately ghosted one another but remained connected on social media, liking posts and watching one another’s stories from afar without saying another word to one another ever again. Good times!
On the flip-side of that social media shit show, let’s fast-forward a couple of years to early 2000. Everyone has survived Y2K, I’m about to turn 16 and I’ve just met someone who would turn my world on its head for the next 18 months. Had social media been around at the time, I would’ve likely worked out for myself or through friends, that I should most definitely stay the hell away from him. Had I ignored all the warning signs and gone ahead with dating him regardless, I would’ve displayed signs through my online behaviour that something was very wrong, and there would’ve been an intervention of sorts.
I’ve used these two stories to highlight the fact that dating and relationships today are incredibly different compared to what they were like before social media existed. There’s a lot of good and there’s a lot worse if you weigh up the pros and cons.
When you meet someone new (and you know or have figured out their last name), what’s the first thing you do? You go on to Facebook and you find their profile. If it isn’t the digital equivalent of Fort Knox, you might be able to access a mass of information that could assist you in profiling them — How many mutual friends do you have? Do they seem fun? What school did they go to? Where do they work? What’s their dating history?
Now before anyone accuses me of being a total stalker, I’m really not, I just know how to use the internet properly. Considering the questionable guys I’ve dated in the past, if this information is freely available on the world wide web I’m definitely going to make use of it for the sake of my own safety, sanity and sanctity of my relationships with people who don’t want to see me get hurt again.
Everyone does it to some extent, some just more than others…
An actual conversation:
Aunt: “Nicola, what happened to that man you went on a date with?”
Me: “Absolutely nothing. We ghosted one another.”
Aunt: *laughing hysterically* “What the HELL does that mean?!”
Not to be confused with ending a connection with someone in a “humane” way, ghosting is a term used when someone goes about doing this suddenly and without any explanation, never communicating with the other person ever again.
I’ve heard so many accounts of this happening to people since I’ve begun exploring this topic, but I’ve realized something — we’ve been ghosting one another since the beginning of time. It’s our ability to access one another that has made it that much more obvious, and it’s our inability to properly detach ourselves that has made it that much easier.
In my last post, I mentioned how shitty ghosting is regardless of whether or not you’re on the giving or receiving end, but there’s another side of this particularly strange behaviour that I need to discuss: What happens if the person who ghosted you is now haunting you?
Back in the day when you ended something with someone, that would usually be it. Sure, you’d probably bump into one another on a random Saturday night in a bar or club, but that would be the extent of it. Chances are these days, the person who you suddenly stopped interacting with is still lurking online in the background somewhere and definitely watching all of your Instagram stories.
Yeah, we see you.
For anyone not familiar with the term, thirst trapping is the act of posting something on social media in an effort to elicit attention (thirst) from friends, followers, and more importantly, the person (or people) you’d like to hook up with.
Being able to broadcast every thought, feeling or belief online definitely opened up an entirely new channel of transparency, but it’s also made it even more possible for people who are looking for attention to put it all out there, and most of the time to their own detriment. Gone are the days of learning about someone through a face to face conversation, but then again, are you the same person in the flesh than the person you portray yourself to be online?
One of the best things I ever did for my anxiety was to disable the “last seen online” function on my WhatsApp. Being left hanging on those dreaded blue ticks is bad enough, but when you can see that someone you’re already unsure about, and who last messaged you 12 hours ago, was last online 5 minutes ago and not bothered to contact you — that’s the real kicker.
So if you already struggle with that kind of thing, figuring out how to tell if someone you’re chatting is continuing to access their dating apps, most likely engaging with others and making sure they’re casting that net as wide as possible, is a recipe for disaster. I, unfortunately, fell into this trap multiple times and it caused my anxiety to unnecessarily skyrocket.
In the days before messaging platforms and dating apps, nobody cared about these things because we didn’t know any better. The whole concept of always being online has created unrealistic expectations of how much we should all be communicating with one another.
IRL (In Real Life)
I recently saw a post by Dylan Farella, someone I’ve started following on Instagram, that really resonated with me. He captioned the below with “Online dating today is nothing more than a glorified Facebook Poke”, and I couldn’t agree more.
Much like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and our desire to endlessly scroll through newsfeeds, update our statuses chasing those dopamine hits, dating apps have begun promoting the same type of behaviour. The problem here is that it makes it impossible to actually meet people if all we’re doing is swiping left, or swiping right and either sparking conversations that go nowhere or just not saying anything at all.
This is where I begin asking myself what the point all of this is when all it’s doing is making it really difficult to form solid relationships with people. While there’s a lot to be said about it being impossible to meet new people these days without the help of technology, is the technology itself making everyone really flaky about dating? And are we hiding behind our phone screens when what we really should be doing is getting out there and going on actual dates?
It’s been a few weeks since I began writing my third and final piece on Dating in 2019, as during that time I’ve completely deleted the dating apps and find myself very happily going on dates with one person in particular. It’s certainly been an interesting past few months figuring out how people do it these days, but if there’s any advice I can give someone trying to figure this all out, it’s to get out there and go on actual dates!
Don’t talk to someone for weeks on end without making a plan to meet, give people a chance, say yes to things, put yourself out there, stop making excuses, make an effort and most importantly, be honest with yourself and the people you’re engaging with.
It might seem scary and overwhelming, and sure, you’ll want to throw in the towel and feel like you’re possibly losing your mind — but you also might find yourself being pleasantly surprised and meet someone amazing.