Real, Reality, and Somewhere In-between
I remember sex in 1997. It was so different then.* You met a man at work or at a party, you talked to him for a bit, he wrote your number in his Apple Newton, and a few days later, he called to make plans to see you again. And then, you had sex.
Now, it’s a whole new world. You can’t just loiter in the cooking section of Barnes & Noble hoping the handsome man in the next aisle musters the courage to speak to you because nobody reads cookbooks and your local bookstore closed in 2008. Dating circa 2012 requires a meticulously curated online presence. But once an online profile lures in a potential suitor, things start to get complicated. He Googles her, she Googles him, they message back and forth, and all of this happens without any human contact.
For those of us who remember 1997 and are thrust into social interaction in 2012, it can be confusing. We grew up with one set of societal rules, and now the playbook has changed and is only available as a download to a device without any buttons. We’re learning on the fly, to mixed results. The social cues that used to tell us that a person was interested, or interesting, for that matter, have been removed from the modern mating ritual and replaced by emoticons and camera phone pictures taken with awkwardly extended arms. But is technology an adequate substitute? Can you really know a person without actually knowing them? I’m loud and brazen on the Internet, but in person? Quiet and reserved. And I suspect that I’m not alone — we’re all a slightly different version of our carefully crafted online persona, if not a complete fabrication. And that can lead to some very awkward first dates.
And if you do manage to get past the initial encounter and enter into a real live relationship, or even just a friendship, so much of it still plays out online, where tone is lost and misunderstandings are the norm. (I cannot even count how many times I have defriended and refriended some of you under circumstances that would have never existed had we been communicating over the phone or in person.)
On the other hand, the Internet has brought people together who would have never met back in good ol’ 1997. Maintaining a long distance relationship no longer means racking up massive telephone bills and waiting by the mailbox for a new mix tape. With geographical obstacles removed, the dating pool has expanded considerably. Also, sexting adds a whole new dimension to an intimate relationship. People who may have never whispered such titillating words in the dark are finding themselves perfectly comfortable typing them out with their thumbs. It’s kind of like a digital sexual revolution, and everyone is doing it, from rising political star Anthony Weiner to movie star Scarlett Johansen to New Jersey’s mascot, Snooki.
Just the other day I received a phone call from a friend I hadn’t spoken to in ages, on my land line no less (yes, I still have one of those). After the initial awkwardness, I asked what prompted the phone call. He said that he made a list of fifty friends who he keeps in touch with digitally, but never actually sees in person anymore. Then, he picked up the phone and just started dialing. And now we’re meeting for dinner tomorrow night. So although I have grown perfectly comfortable forming full, rich relationships with people that I never see in the flesh, I greatly appreciated the gentle reminder that the physical world still exists, at least for now.
* Thanks go to Skahammer for providing such a juicy opening line. My apologies for the complete lack of sex in the words that followed.