We’ve all been there before. The scenario: it’s 10:54 p.m. You’re in bed and should be trying to fall asleep. But instead, the blue light of your phone glows into your face. You’re on Facebook, just casually scrolling through my feed, honest! When your finger taps the search bar. You type in the name of him/her because you can’t wait until your first date. You have to know who you’re dealing with. You have to know their hobbies, favorite movies, their 2,346 friends. The image of their last S.O. is printed on your retinas so that you could choose them from a lineup with ease.
You swear you’re not a stalker — but social media makes it so easy to just take a peak.
As our culture becomes increasingly immersed in the digital realms, we have to wonder, what does that mean for dating? For developing a lasting relationship with someone?
Since the landscape of dating is rapidly changing, we decided to speak to three health professionals to help navigate this new terrain. Here’s what they said you should and shouldn’t do when it comes to social media and dating:
Start with you
Before bringing another person into the equation, the experts recommend taking a step back to determine your social media habits and expectations of adding dating to the mix.
“We have to teach our brain that our little electronic devices take us into this place inside our mind and it’s not like, oh here I am at my best. It’s like, here’s what I’m looking at or what I’m reading. You’ve got to sort of pull out of that and begin to have a dialogue about it and begin to really get clear on what’s my relationship with social media,” Frederick-based marriage and family therapist, Julie Hanson, M.S., LMFT, LPC, said.
She recommends keeping track of the amount of time you’re on social media each week and analyzing the return on investment you’re getting; it’s all about finding balance.
Frederick-based marriage therapist Nancy Barnett, LCSW-C, CSS, advises to go into dating and social media knowing exactly what you want. “One thing would be to be really clear with yourself why you’re going on social media to look for romance. I guess maybe that would be asking yourself questions like: do I just want a fling or am I looking for a serious relationship that would lead to love and marriage?” Barnett said.
Once you understand your social media habits and what you want out of adding a romantic aspect, you’ll have a foundation to build upon.
Be proactive, not reactive
Social media, by construct, is reactive. You’re constantly responding to what you see, what you read, likes, favorites, comments. It makes it easy for us to just do and not think.
“[Social media is] also making dating very mindless and exhausting because it’s so easy to swipe through people on apps and social media and review profiles online,” Bethesda-based dating and relationship coach, Rachel Dack, M.S., LCPC, NCC, said.
Instead of letting those reactive, rote actions consume your social media habits, be proactive and reclaim face-to-face connections.
“Without social media and without sort of going down that rabbit hole learning everything you can, you sort of have to back it up a little bit. And when you’re able to back it up a little bit, you’re automatically more responsive than reactive,” Hanson said.
The experts are in agreement that not only do you need to set boundaries to keep your social media habits and posting healthy, but you also need to set boundaries that will stave off any attempts of online “stalking” your crush, date, or newly-minted S.O.
“In general, Facebook and social media stalking prior to meeting somebody in person is a very dangerous habit. Anything like memorizing names of someone’s family or friends or checking up on what they’re doing or spending hours on end stalking your date on the internet are all no-nos. It might feel tempting in the moment but it’s really unhelpful and can actually lead to sabotage,” Dack said.
In regards to posting to your accounts, Hanson said, “I guess that would be my one hard and fast rule is to exercise some mindfulness and to not be impulsive about what you put up. Think before you post.”
As wonderful as social media can feel with its ability to connect us to a vast and diverse number of people, which provides us with plenty of options when it comes to dating (yay!), it can also connect us to untruths —particularly people who wear a social-media-filtered mask.
“[A person] might be on social media looking for someone but it might just be for a fling, a sexual connection or just someone to occupy their time because they’re bored and they really have a spouse or a loved one, that they’re very committed to and attached to. I think that’s a big concern to be very aware of that,” Barnett said.
While you may feel like you’re connecting with someone online, watch out for deceptive behavior. Barnett added, “The person on the other end could be misrepresenting themselves or downright lying. Be careful with your heart.”
Don’t fall for fantasies
Dating and falling in love IRL is complicated, multi-faceted, and filled with many intricacies.
“Through social media, it’s so one or two dimensional – you don’t go through that whole process,” Barnett said.
Social media provides you with a curated version of a person, shown through the lens of a screen. What you aren’t seeing are their mannerisms – the way a person talks or laughs, facial cues, physical gestures. So, you can build up a very different picture of that person than what they are really like.
“When you’re excited to meet somebody, it’s natural to operate on a fantasy of who the person is going to be. But then a lot of times, you end up feeling disappointed when the person isn’t who you imagined,” Dack said.
As you continue to navigate your way through dating in the world of social media, remember to take the time to unplug and nurture your relationships in-person. “You want to remember to slow it down and get to know each other in-person, face-to-face and make sure that you’re unplugging from social media so that you can really be present and get to know the person in-person, in real time,” Dack said, “Because that’s how you’re really going to be able to tell if you’re connecting and if you have chemistry.”
What advice do you follow when using social media to date? Let us know in the comments below!