Tech-no-romance in the online era

In my world, a teasing text message is a real turn-on. An innuendo-loaded Facebook status floats my boat. A frisky email? Totally hot.

As many can relate, this is my twenty-something world of modern dating. Wooing in a technological era.

Techno-romance has always been at the crux of the creation, flourishing and eventual demise of my romantic (and not so romantic) relationships. It’s been with me through the mind-blowingly good, the bad and the way-too-public ugly.

Because I spend an unhealthy portion of my days connected to several communication devices simultaneously, my love life is a far leap from a Jane Austen romance. There’s a slim chance I’ll ever feel butterflies reading a hand-written, wax-sealed love letter, delivered by a knight on a white stallion. Or hear a gentleman dramatise romantic poetry and shower me in rose petals.

Heck, even flirtatious phone calls are passé.

In an era of emotionally void text messages and detached Facebook ‘Likes’, I yearn for hot-blooded passion and old fashioned courting…in the offline world.

Despite unwavering fidelity, my borderline obsessive affair with technology is going through a rough patch. I’m suffering from Facebook-fatigue. I’m considering committing social suicide and de-activating my account (OMG!). But before I do, I must consider: is the Internet and my hyperactive texting thumb making dating easier and increasing my chances in the dating game? Or has it detracted from the romance, thrill and emotions of relationships?

I lost my mobile phone virginity in my first year of high school. Mum handed me the yellow-screened, pink Nokia brick intending to keep me annoyingly accessible at all times. Little did she know, this innocuous gizmo would reign over my romantic life.

My first encounter with flirt-texting was with a devilishly handsome geek from the grade above. He had tight red curls and a speckled face and had a penchant for sailing, card games and information technology. Spotting me in the playground, he valiantly asked my girlfriend for my number.

We skipped verbal conversation, engaging in a flurry of flattering texts, with my raunchiest one hailing the boy as a ‘super spunk’.  Progressing to online chat, we talked in real-time every night. Interspersed with customary LOL’s and winky faces, we swapped ‘witty’ remarks and fantasised about locking lips and sailing into the sunset.

His charming prose made my heart flutter. Our digital relationship was on fire.

Sadly, our real-world bond was not. We snuck glances at each other across the quadrangle. Pretended we didn’t see the other in the corridor. The first and last moment our material worlds collided involved a high pitched ‘hello’ and an awkward, sloppy two second pash.

As I scurried away from the scene, I knew my first notion of an adolescent love affair had fizzled. Physically, emotionally and digitally. Just like many love interests to come.

I wish this mortifying event led to a heroic crusade against all electronically facilitated dating for life. Alas, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg have made it virtually impossible to shun these platforms – for fear of ostracising myself from a social life…and finding mister right.

The result? My phone is almost an appendage, a part of my inner being. Checking Facebook and emails daily is as crucial as putting on clean underwear in the morning. I spend more time grooming my online image than I do showering, blow drying and putting on my face combined, even on leg-shaving days.

Almost daily, I craft witty, succinct and fun statuses, posting updates enough to be seen and heard, but not so much that my 308 Friends assume I don’t have a life. My online albums are a snapshot of me at my best. There’s me sipping champers at the Melbourne Cup, me sun baking in the Cook Islands, me huffing through a fun run and me surrounded by ridiculously good looking men.

Me, me, me. But, it’s not so I can sit back and admire myself. Though, it is quite the ego boost. It’s strategic. My online persona has been created and meticulously maintained with potential mates in mind. Why? Because I have a suspicion that Facebook is one of the first mediums which guys use to sus out potential love interests before hitting the first date.

So I work it, baby (digitally speaking). And…without fail, when a new beau crosses my radar, I indulge in a little online background check. OK, ‘little’ is an understatement. After we’ve met and accepted the Friend request, I will have completed an entire Facebook stalk, Googled his name and checked out his LinkedIn profile. I’ll know where he works, his birthday, every girl who is vying for his attention; and that he fancies iron women and Notting Hill. All within 24 hours of meeting the guy. It’s a nifty way to pick the princes from the frogs.

Well, in theory anyway.

Once the fella gets the e-stalk green light, we engage in light banter between mediums. A text here, a Wall comment there and perhaps, if we’re feeling brave, Facebook chat.  This pre-dating period is a make or break for me. A well-written text, free of typographical errors, does things to me. The perfect foreplay.

One which looks like this: ‘Hi amy, nice whether 2day, wanna slurpie? J xxxx’, will be greeted with an eye-roll. Spell my name right, fool, and it’s weather, not whether. A smiley face? Not very masculine. And WHOAH, slow down, four exes is far too intimate at this stage. Gosh. Talk about digital desperado.

Perfect timing of texts and Wall interaction is essential. If he writes between midday and 5pm, I know he has a life and a job, but is keen enough to contact me before the working day is out. If I receive a 1:00am text on Saturday night, it’s a booty call. Bad news. Especially if my cocktails have started to kick in. Don’t drink and text ladies!

Of course, males only ask me out through written form, usually using private means such as a text or Facebook inbox message. It’s the norm. Perhaps a bit of a cop-out. These days, it’s a rarity I’ll witness the guy develop a nervous twitch as he asks me to coffee. Texting is quick and painless. If I politely decline, the suffering is minimal.

Unless a potential date commits a Facebook faux pas, declaring he’s taking you on a ‘pseudo date’ to a fancy vegetarian restaurant in an exuberant running commentary on your page. This happened to a friend. The guy was marking his territory. A proverbial pee on her Wall to fend off his competition (figuratively speaking). She was horrified at the public display.  R.I.P to that guy’s dreams of pseudo-dating anyone, ever.

I love a good date. It’s real. It’s the first moment I get to experience nerves and excitement and become acquainted with the guy’s offline personality. I think it’s so enjoyable because all the senses are engaged, a pleasant change from glaring text on an LED screen.

Using my digital detective skills, I always mentally prepare questions to lead the guy to talk about his passions. All of which I’ve learned about in his Info section, then Googled to develop a sound knowledge on the subject. Thanks to the net, I’m an excellent conversationalist when it comes to discussing many areas of interest, including (but not limited to) soccer, utes and Christian hardcore screamo music.

However, this technique comes with a warning. You must be careful not to mention things he hasn’t actually told you, but you’ve found out through other sneaky means. Very awkward.

And it works in reverse. Once, a guy asked me whether I would go snorkeling in Fiji again. Problem was, I had not told him of this trip. Facebook stalker alert!  I’m of two minds here. Is it adorable he’s so infatuated that he clicked through each of my fun-filled albums? Or is it creepy he invaded my so-called privacy to snoop on bikini-clad pictures of me?

Then again, I do upload photos for their potential to reel in hotties. Besides, who am I to judge? I’m an online stalking mastermind.

Once things heat up, technology can be a real time-saver. I can do a university assessment, teach flute students, meet up with a friend and get to know my new beau in the space of a day. I’ve been known to shoot a sweaty text to love interests between pump class tracks or even while languishing in a sudsy bath. Of course, I don’t submit the sordid details. My texts always make me sound like superwoman, jumping from one incredible activity to the next. I text to impress.

Then there’s the timing issue. It’s imperative I refrain from sending a text every waking minute or chat to him every time he logs on. I’m not desperate (well, that’s what I want him to think). I always leave at least 20 minutes between replies, so he knows I’m a very important and very busy person. Even if I am just procrastinating on EBay or painting my toenails in old pyjamas.

Here’s the tricky part – when do we know we’re boyfriend and girlfriend?

These days, the only way to certified coupledom is through Facebook. It’s not official until it’s on Facey. The first time the red ‘In a relationship’ heart appeared in my life, it was far from romantic. The request blinked onto my screen and I accepted. I wasn’t even asked in person. Though, the instant gratification from a flood of well wisher comments was slightly heartwarming.

Once the official part is done, I tend to avoid any online public displays of affection. Let’s face it, no one wants to know that we’re snuggling on the couch watching Narnia. But, out of our zillion Facebook Friends, there’s always at least one over-sharing couple who think everyone wants to know about their love life. I mean really, ‘Dames’, ‘Ticky’ and ‘Hun’, I just don’t need to witness your cutesy pet names. I recall when three smitten couples went on a triple date holiday. The ensuing albums of the loved-up pairs feeding each other chocolate dipped strawberries, playing battle of the sexes and posing for beach glamour shots was retch-worthy.

It was way TMI (Too Much Information). Needless to say, I didn’t ‘Like’ it. I detested it.

My sister has also been known to indulge in posting statuses about her sweetheart, tagging the boy’s full name with the obligatory heart symbol. Yes, dear sister, we’re all aware of your relationship. And yes, your public declarations have stirred up relationship envy all over cyberspace.

A close friend, and new Smartphone owner, even posts artfully enhanced Instagrams of her hottest dates. My, what a glamorously romantic life she leads!

These extreme public displays of affection take love and lust to a new level – beamed around the Internet to old flames, your tenth grade teacher and your mother. Most of these Friends don’t need to know that you enjoy having your toes sucked. Although, this piece of information may be welcomed by lurking online voyeurs.

Are these couples really in love, or are they feigning happiness? Do they want to make us jealous? If they’re buried in their iPhone or iPad, how much quality time is really spent with their significant other?

I once convinced a boyfriend to join Facebook during our time together. Big mistake.

At first it was fun, we’d be tagged in happy photos at social gatherings and post flirty comments online. We even engaged in a bit of textual intercourse – you know, sexy talk between mobiles. Hot.

Gradually, technology removed the spark from our relationship. During our ‘quality time’, he became immersed in his laptop, chatting to mates and playing Fantasy League (whatever that is). Not exactly a steamy night in. He would text that he couldn’t visit me because he was too tired. Really, he was petrified to meet my Mother.

But, the real moment of truth was Valentines’ Day – doomsday for relationships on the rocks. We did not have a romantic night together as he was morally obligated to attend a party. OK, fine. The next day however, Facebook revealed more about this little gathering. He was tagged in photos at a singles’ party. The relationship ended shortly after that.

In fact, I was dumped via Facebook chat before I insisted he break up with me in person. Digital dumping – how classy. What happened to romantic dinners on the water and a stroll in the moonlight, clasping hands? What about face-to-face breakups with real, raw emotions and broken photo frames?

Maybe technology isn’t so great.

Post breakup is always bad and communication gadgets make it worse. We can’t just recover from a split simply by avoiding our ex’s favourite haunts, burning pictures and chucking their stuff on the highway: now we have to consider whether to unfriend them and un-tag or delete ourselves from coupley photos.

Thanks to Facebook’s buzzing news feed, even if we do disconnect from a heartbreaker’s life, we can see common Friends interact with them, or worse, see an enlarged photo of them cozying up to a hot, leggy blonde.

Hands up who’s stalked their ex? Thought so.

We all have that innate desire to ‘win’, to be doing better in life than our ex, and Facebook allows us to keep tabs on this. We’ve all witnessed the broken heart symbol on the news feed, followed by months of the ex-lovers vying for the top spot of who’s the hottest, smartest and having the most fun.

I’ve observed a recent messy breakup lead to a status war, with a good friend posting photos of herself in sexy body-con dresses and stilettos and the ex declaring how much fun he’s having at various venues with attractive ladies. It’s exhausting to watch. But, if it helps with the healing process, by all means flaunt it. It seems to work for her, with an influx of new guy Friends and adoring comments on her Wall.

Snooping online turns us crazy. Occasionally, I’ve enjoyed a casual snipe on an ex’s Wall, with a picture of his new ‘man cave’ decked out with his team colours receiving my surly, public judgement: ‘the ultimate lady repellant’. It felt good, instantly. I’ve even indulged in the odd I’m-ridiculously-happy status to show off to past lovers, while hiding behind my Wall scoffing a block of chocolate.

It seems I’m at a communication crossroad.

I couldn’t possibly disconnect from social networking and my beloved phone. They have been vital tools in the dating game. Then again, they often stand between me and my hopes of being wooed with reckless abandon and true, organic love. Can’t date with it, can’t date without it.

Technology, I might not ‘Like’ you, but I will always love you. Please…never leave me.








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