High-Tech Dating 101

From the experts, a guide to navigating the digital dating waters — and when it’s time to go off-line and meet your match.

By Kimberly Dawn Neumann

e sends an email, she leaves a voicemail, he counters with a text message, she volleys with an MMS, and he catches her on IM as she’s running out the door, so she continues the conversation on her BlackBerry, and later, he updates his Facebook status with news of their date.

Welcome to dating in the 21st century, where just saying hello may take a degree in computer science, or at least in electronics’ user guides! The reality is that all these digital devices that purportedly
Obviously, the Internet has altered the way singles date and meet.
make communication easier actually introduce a new series of challenges when it comes to making a love connection. No doubt, dating is not what it used to be.

With that in mind, we decided to take a look at what’s cool, what’s not and how high-tech hookups happen.

You’ve got mail
Obviously, the Internet has altered the way singles date and meet. In recent years, online dating sites have proliferated like, well, rabbits. But the commonality of cyberconnecting has also brought some new issues into play. For example, for all the people who successfully find matches online, there is also a subset of those who thwart their own chances at finding love by not being truthful with others or by wasting time online that they could be spending trying to actually meet with one of their matches in person.

“The problems start when people who would normally go out end up staying home to spend three, four, five hours going through 1,000 people on their computer instead of meeting in the real world,” says Steve Fox, a matchmaker in New York. “You may benefit from meeting a match that might never have happened in the non-tech world, but you’re never going to meet if you don’t stay realistic or get out from behind the computer.” Fox emphasizes that you must portray yourself honestly online, and if you’re serious about finding a relationship, don’t spend all your time going after “fantasy” matches. Instead, look for someone with whom you might realistically click and then get out there and meet that person.

Another interesting shift in the tech dating world is that people now give out their email addresses more frequently than their phone numbers. It seems a safer way to connect and perhaps learn a little more about someone without giving away digits. The danger with just sending an email, however, is that it’s also easier to ignore. Or messages can get lost in cyberspace. If you’re working to connect with someone online and haven’t received a response, don’t be afraid to send a follow-up to make sure that your original message didn’t end up in the spam filter. If your inbox remains empty after two attempts, though, don’t become a cyberstalker. Instead, move on to someone who is excited to hear from you.

Ping me
Moving beyond email is an obvious step in a tech-dating relationship’s development. But for some people, the jump from email to phone conversations is first bridged by a brief foray into the land of instant messaging. “I actually prefer IM’ing to email when I’m getting to know someone online,” says Sam, 35. “With IM, it’s instant, it’s in real time, it’s like carrying on a live conversation. In email, one can think and write and manipulate the other person; on IM, the emotions are more transparent.”

Can you carry on a relationship via IM? Only to an extent. At some point, you’re going to want to meet in person, because typing on a keyboard cannot adequately supplant in-person connection. IM can be a viable way to get to know someone better and learn how they think, however.

Use it with care, though: Do not discuss relationship issues over IM. “I actually
Moving beyond email is an obvious step in a tech-dating relationship’s development.
was seeing one guy, and during an IM conversation, he admitted to me that he wasn’t sure whether he saw me as a girlfriend or just a pal,” says Sarene, 31, from Brooklyn, NY. “That was the worst possible venue in which to do that, because I then couldn’t really discuss it with him, and I wound up hurt. Not surprisingly, that relationship ended soon thereafter.” Getting into serious relationship talk should never be done online. Let’s repeat that: Serious relationship talk should NEVER be done online. Got it? It’s just rude.

Smartphones on the move
The BlackBerry/iPhone/Droid smartphone revolution has made it easy for you to keep in touch with others, but it also opens up the door for work to interrupt the rest of your life at any time — even when you’re on a date. “I was recently out on a third date with a guy and though he had told me he had a busy job, he spent the whole night making out with his BlackBerry instead of with me,” says Katie, 36, of New York. “I tried to playfully take it away from him at one point to get his attention, and he went ballistic… and I went home. I mean, come on — if you’re so into your BlackBerry you can’t recognize I’m across the table from you and kissable, then forget it!” Not to mention that kind of behavior can make a date feel insecure (“He’s texting someone… is he bored with me already?”).

“I have actually heard of someone who was texting someone else during a date, which is horrifying, but it unfortunately happens too often,” says Fox, who tells his clients to leave their smartphones out of sight on dates and used only for bona fide emergencies!

Also, if your goal is actually to meet someone, stop using your smartphone as a social crutch (i.e., you don’t know anyone at an event so you pull out your iPhone in order to feel comfy). While this might give you a false sense of security, it will also make you seem busy and unapproachable. It’s your call: Would you rather spend the evening alone with your BlackBerry or next to someone with a different kind of PDA in mind?

It’s highly text-ual
“Texting is so normal that there is nothing wrong with it but if you have a problem with the person or something serious that needs to be said or worked out, don’t use a text to say it,” warns Laurie Puhn, a family lawyer and mediator and the author of Instant Persuasion: How to Change Your Words to Change Your Life. “Texting is not a conversation. It’s a series of statements.”

In the dating world, texting has also become a fave for subtle and even overt flirtations. Consider the advent of the booty text and sex-ting. It’s easier than ever before to float “test” texts into the universe when you’re looking for a hookup and seeing who responds. But unless that’s exactly what you’re seeking, it’s best to think twice. “I never, ever respond to text messages to go to a man’s place or meet at a bar, unless it was prearranged,” says Amy, 33, of Brooklyn, NY. “Guys are inherently lazy — and they’ll be the first to admit this — so as soon as they realize they can get you over to their place with a flick of a text message, you can forget about ever getting a proper date.”

On the positive and playful side, however, a well-timed text in an already established relationship can absolutely make a bond stronger. Using texting as a noninvasive way to let someone know he’s on your mind (or make you hot) can definitely have its advantages — not to mention it can be loads of fun. The same thing goes with MMS. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand phone calls.

The caveat again, however, is to make sure that you don’t try to carry on an entire relationship via text. In other words, would you rather type out LOL or actually be laughing out loud in the presence of a real, live person?

Social networking (Facebook and Twitter)
No doubt “friend me” has become a part of our vernacular. But along with frequent status updates and photo tags comes a whole new wrinkle for the dating world. For example, at what point do you friend a date? Date one, date two, date three (or never)? And do you really want to know what’s going on in his or her FB world — especially if it doesn’t work out? This is a tricky one.

“Social-networking sites can breed unnecessary insecurity in relationships if you fall into the trap of trying to figure out what’s in a person’s heart by who said what on their wall,” says Keysha Whitaker, cofounder of Not to mention that even if you are in a relationship, it can lead to major miscommunication!

“Of course you want to have your significant other on your ‘friends’ list, however, the site can still be an emotional minefield,” says Kirstin, 37, of New York. “When my boyfriend added a bunch of pictures of our trip to Paris together to his wall — but didn’t include any of the two of us together — I was livid! It was like he was trying to ‘play single’ online.” And another friend of Kirstin’s got in trouble with his girlfriend when a female friend posted on his wall that he could stay with her when he came to her hometown for a weekend.

FB and Twitter can be fantastic for reconnecting with friends or staying in touch with people’s day-to-day lives, but be very careful about the personal information you post for public consumption. And a word to the social-networking wise: If you’re in a relationship that has moved beyond the casual-dating stage, consider changing your status from “Single” to “In a relationship” if you want to stay more than just FB friends down the line. It’s called keeping the tech peace.

Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a dating and relationship writer based in New York. She is the author of The Real Reasons Men Commit: Why He Will - or Won’t - Love, Honor and Marry You, and has written for Cosmopolitan, Redbook and Health, among others.
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