“Hey sexy,” sent DICK LICKER over Grindr.
And people say the age of romance is dead. Technology has equipped us millennials with a myriad of platforms and social media outlets to court, flirt or cruise in ways our older peers couldn’t dream of. With the ease provided by these new forms of communication comes an equally large set of concerns: at what point do I make the transition from Facebook Messenger to iMessage? How many pictures is just the right number for a Tinder profile? Am I more likely to find my type on Grindr, Scruff or Grubhub? What the fuck is Bumble? If you have the time to waste, you can come up with enough questions that the larger concern is no longer how to answer each of them, but rather how to manage all these queries at once. Sometimes, I feel as though I’m 7 years old at the dinner table again, and my mother is barking a seemingly endless stream of instructions about how to hold a spoon properly, except that instead of ending up with a stain on the tablecloth, there’s one on my sheets when I fail to balance my computer in bed. In other words, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by these considerations to the point of dysfunction. And so I’ve been asking myself, is our sexual and romantic success bound to our online etiquette?
I’d assume the answer is yes. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, but it must be something because I’ve heard the phrase “not interested” from boys on Facebook more often than I have from internship employers. I’ve been turned down on social media so many times I’m worried my account will be suspended for spam. I’ve been turned down enough times that I empathize with Anita XXX Arrizola’s loneliness, a regular of my junk inbox who calls on me to be her “groovy pussy sensei.” I’ve been rejected politely, jokingly then “no but seriously,” after the first date, before I even made a move. My bad streak, of course, stretches beyond Facebook. It took me a few months longer than most to learn “Tinder match” really meant “ego boost.” Similarly, there are few feelings like opening Grindr after a night of heavy drinking to see a string of unrequited “hey”s, each a tally mark on the walls of my cell as I count down the men until I’ve officially drunkenly asked everybody to sleep with me. However, I am inclined to believe I’m not that much less successful than average, and like to think of myself as mediocre at worst. Call me conceited if you must. If this is the case, and I’m not alone in this conundrum, then there must be something truly frightening about technology and relationships: how is it we can get turned down so many times? Surely, somebody wouldn’t mind me watching them drink coffee and then calling it a day?
I’d suggest it has something to do with the refracted medium of communication: individuals are much more honest behind their computers, even without a screen of anonymity. Take the following situation. You meet Bruce one evening at a social function amongst others, speak briefly and don’t think much about it again. A month later, you run into Bruce on a shuttle and although you don’t interact formally, he repeatedly catches your eye. You’re amused, remember said earlier social function, and decide to invite Bruce to grab a meal, with no expectations and no assumptions. Out of ease you send a facebook message. Would you have been so ready to do so had you needed to interact in person? Perhaps not, but it wouldn’t have been the end of the world had he said no. But do you think that Bruce, in all his wisdom, would have had the guts to refuse to grab a meal with me in person? I doubt that. Not that I’m particularly charming face to face (my hair usually looks a lot worse than I hope and if you catch me at the wrong time I’ll reek of stale cigarettes, weak coffee and disappointment), but the subtlety of real-life interaction makes the offer feel more genuine; intentions are clearer to read on someone’s face. If somebody friendly comes up to you and strikes up a conversation, it has a lot more character than the 3 letter, 200-odd pixel “sup” accompanied by a jolly popping sound. Of course, it’s just as likely that I’m just unappealing, or that Bruce himself is a bit odd.
Actually, I take that back. Bruce was definitely kinda weird, not that it matters. Why didn’t he just ignore me? The beauty of technology is that we all work under the false assumption of its unreliability: sorry professor, my computer was acting up, sorry group partner, I genuinely did not see your message. Had Bruce just ignored me, we would never have spoken again, and I probably would have forgotten him. Calling him out in person would have been awful etiquette. Instead, by actively rejecting me, he completely messed up one of those considerations I began my article with: now that he’s explicitly refused to plan to see me in person, do I need to avoid him? If I strike up a conversation because we stood next to each other, am I infringing on a sacred boundary established on the web? At this point, worrying feels silly.
In a way, I’m reassured: if Bruce’s manners were completely off but he’s the one who rejected me, my own shortcomings aren’t leading to my impressive track record. I guess this just adds another to the plethora of opportunities the net provides: turning to your friend next to you, showing your phone and asking: “isn’t this a dick move?”