High-Tech Dating… Good Or Bad?

One woman wonders whether cell phones, IMs and text messages are helping or harming our love lives. See if you agree.

By Heather Maidat

ecently a guy was asking me out over the phone when I heard a “bling” coming from his end. “Are you IM’ing?” I asked. He didn’t answer. I heard it again: “bling.” This was the aural equivalent of people who pick their nose in the car and think they can’t be seen. “I can do two things at once,” he said, but when I brought it up again after the next several “blings,” he replied, “I’m listening. Why do you need my full attention?” I was taken aback, as if two people focusing on only each other implies high-maintenance.

Later I told a friend, who said I’d better get used to it because everyone’s doing it. This
I couldn’t figure out why the guy’s pants started vibrating.
wasn’t peer-pressure; instead, it was a warning that when it comes to dating and technology, I was about to be virtually left behind.

Can circuitry overload a date?
Of course, that wasn’t the first time I’d witnessed someone choosing to disconnect romantically in favor of the digital world. That happened 10 years ago, during a goodnight kiss. Cell phones were relatively new, so I couldn’t figure out why the guy’s pants started vibrating. Did he have some sort of implant? Was this for my benefit? He reached in his pocket and took the call. From his mother.

It wasn’t long before a vibrating cell phone seemed like a minor intrusion compared to the technology that followed. Later I dated a guy named Jack, who liked to communicate by sending texts to my landline, which would then be translated by a computer robot voice. That relationship ended when he/it yelled at me because I was late and he was “HUN-GRY!”

It’s not that I was averse to technology—after all, I had an Internet connection, an email account, and even got myself contractually committed to a cell phone for two years. I just didn’t want those things interfering with actual romantic — or even, human — connection.

Can text-messages replace talking?
Far be it from me to understand whether a text rather than a call was a sign of intensity or minimal interest. And when men asked me out over email, things felt as disengaged as if they’d sent me a postcard. One guy didn’t even use any capital letters. Was he too cool to press the shift key? (OK, I was reading into it, but what else can a girl do when so much of romance has been reduced to reading?)

I tried telling dates early on that I wasn’t ready for texting and that it was too soon to email but they looked at me as if I said I couldn’t kiss a guy until we were married. Apparently, I’d become the millennium equivalent of old-fashioned.

Until I met Mark. He was a texter but I acquiesced because I liked him, and besides, his texts were magnificent. He took good care with capital letters and punctuation, and he never abbreviated. With our landlines, cell phones, voicemails, Caller IDs, call-waiting, emails and texting, we courted non-stop but, ridiculously, the only
He was a texter but I accepted that because I liked him.
thing we couldn’t do was get in contact. He’d call my home when I was calling his cell. If his cell didn’t go right to voicemail, I figured he chose to not answer because he’d lost interest. If I didn’t text back quickly he assumed I’d lost interest. Sometimes I wouldn’t call because I didn’t want to have to leave a message if he didn’t pick up. Thanks a lot, Caller ID!

Soon he wasn’t capitalizing anymore, and after my last text I didn’t hear back. Months later, I ran into him. He said he never got the text, and it was a case of miscommunication. I couldn’t believe it: We had nine times the ability to communicate than we might have had 10 years ago, yet with these techno-obstacles we didn’t even get to the level where we could misunderstand each other like a normal dating couple.

Where the blame really lies…
I was so frustrated that I wanted to chuck technology altogether, but then, I admit, I texted someone I was too shy to call. Of course, since I was the one in the hot seat, modern technology seemed like a dating necessity—until our urgent, textual relationship peaked and ended all in my Inbox. It went from feverishly quick responses and allowing ourselves the spontaneity to write things we’d never have to hear ourselves say out loud, to silence after I texted, “uh oh did that make U uncomfortable?” Hey, where’d he go?

Then it hit me, something IT techs have known all along: It’s not the technology, it’s how we use it. See, I thought I was using technology as a tool to ease into communication, but instead I ended up uneasily rushing things along. With dating and technology, more communication didn’t necessarily mean better communication. So next time, while I’ll probably always enjoy exchanging flirtatious emails, I’m going to make sure that we go on an actual date before our BlackBerrys get to know each other better than we do. My only rule? Cell phones off during dinner.

Heather Maidat is a screenwriter and essayist who has performed her work in Toronto, New York, and Los Angeles. Her work has been published online in The Huffington Post, Girlcomic and Freshyarn, and she has written comedy on over 10 television shows.
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