If you’re single today and looking for love, you’re probably all-too familiar with the fact that modern dating is like nothing generations before you have ever experienced. Gone is the era when most singles met their partners the good ol’ fashioned way: face to face. In its place is the Digital Wilderness, a veritable jungle of social media, dating and hook-up apps where men and women can connect with others in the same bar, the same neighborhood, across the country or across the globe. The multitude of choices presented to daters is unprecedented, and concern about the quality of flesh-and-bone interactions being jeopardized by the internet runs rampant; yet research and popular opinion surmising that “more” does not necessarily translate to “better” continues to emerge with every click, poke and snap. Herein lies the the Modern Dater’s predicament: the more we look, the less we find. And when we do “find” and get our shot at that elusive face-to-face encounter, we may continue searching through the digital wild, wondering if there is still something “better” and withholding the chance for magic to happen with what we’ve already found.
Let me be clear I’m not advocating for you to just accept whatever interest first comes along, close down the expedition and accept what the wilderness put in your path. The last thing I want is for you to continue dating someone you don’t really like, aren’t attracted to, who doesn’t share your values, makes you feel small, fill in the blank. What I am advocating for is that you get really clear with yourself about what you want in the dating experience, both on and off the screen:
Who do you want to be as an individual human being?
How do you want to be in relationship to another?
Why do these things matter to you?
My hope is that the answers to these questions become part of a treasure map to help guide you through the brave, new wilderness of modern relationships. The choices available to you are still plentiful, but shifting the focus inward and being honest with yourself about yourSELF helps to root the process of choosing in what you really care about and thwarts the overwhelm that comes with too many options. If you notice that any of your answers to the above questions are threatened by someone (including yourself!), perhaps it’s time to take up the map and move along. But if you discover yourself honoring what matters to you even in the face of another, stop and rest awhile.
The wilderness isn’t going anywhere.
Generations of singletons today are dating in the midst of a new sociosexual paradigm: The Hookup Culture. Whether they are high school, college-aged, never been married or newly divorced, a growing majority of women and men across North America are opting for casual sexual relationships in lieu of a single partner commitment. Pair this with the equally unprecedented rise in social networking and texting to the top of communication mediums and we have something new to consider: If consent is what defines a mutually agreed-upon sexual encounter between partners, how does consent fit into virtual communication?
In my clinical practice I have met with women who have experienced the discomfort of receiving messages from people they had given their number, and later decided they had no interest in dating or hooking up with. What did these women do with those messages? They ignored them. They “hoped” they would stop if they didn’t respond. And if they did respond, it was with something crafted just vague enough so as not to hurt the other person’s feelings or be perceived as “mean”… reflecting the fact that so many women today still struggle against the broad social discourse that tells them holding boundaries and saying no makes them a “bitch.”
The challenge lies in that holding boundaries and reading social cues is generally made much more difficult by the fact that the receiving person isn’t standing in front of you. He or she is tucked behind an electronic device regardless of being miles away or sitting somewhere in the same bar. How many times have you misinterpreted a text or message, whether personal or professional, simply because you didn’t have the advantage of tone, facial expression and body language that would have otherwise accompanied the words? When it comes to genuinely representing human response, the Emoji keyboard has an incredibly long way to go.
So what affect does all of this conversation about consent in casual sex have on giving and receiving consent in virtual messages? If someone I have given my number to messages me in a way that that I do not want to continue, I have the opportunity to tell him/her, without any veil of ambiguity, and especially because I do not have the advantage of tone and body language, that I do not give my consent for those messages to continue. It is also important to consider that the person on the receiving end of my message might very well be influenced by ideas that tell him/her to believe sexually loaded content is the new normative for dating and hookup communication—because with regard to the current culture of casual sex, it IS. Think of it this way: If the message had come from someone I was attracted to and interested in hooking up with, I may have welcomed it and responded in such a way that gives my consent.
With each generation, women are finding more courage to talk publicly about their celebration of hooking up and are thusly cracking long-held assumptions about casual sex wide open. And with new social networking and dating apps being born what seems like seconds apart, it is of vital importance to bring a spotlight to the messages we’re sending each other when we’re screen to screen, as well as face to face. Even in a text, no means No. Full Stop.