The Dating Paradox

Social media has been linked to higher levels of loneliness, envy, anxiety, depression, narcissism and decreased social skills. As a Behavioral Scientist, I wonder what causes this paradox? The narratives we share and portray on social media are all positive and celebratory. It’s a hybridized digital version of “Keeping up with the Joneses”. Meaning for some, sometimes it appears everyone you know are in great relationships, taking 5-star vacations and living your dream life.

However, what is shared only broadcasts the positive aspects of our lives-the highlight reels.

Since we’re only getting people’s highlight reels and comparing it to ourselves, it is natural to have reactions to what we’re watching. How does this impact relationships, dating and our love lives? I conducted in-depth interviews with men and women, ranging from ages 28-73, that are active social media users and found that:

  • 60% of people using social media reported that it has impacted their self-esteem in a negative way
  • 50% reported social media having negative effects on their relationship
  • 80% reported that is easier to deceive others through their social posting

Paradox Effect

It seems that social media is creating a paradox effect: giving off the illusion of many choices, while making it harder to find viable options. Can it be that our highly connected world has now become disconnected? Posting dinners, selfies and vacay photos over human interaction for some is interaction. That IS their interaction. The paradox effect in dating is creating the illusion of having more social engagement, social capital, and popularity, but masking one’s true persona. Since some are interfacing digitally more than physically it is much easier to emotionally manipulate others because they are reliant on what I call “Vanity Validation”. The one you portray on your networks and the true you, for some creates a double consciousness. Your lauded self on social media is constantly seeking more validation through electronic likes, not life. 

Vanity Validation

In the latest Match Singles in America study’s findings on how social media has impacted people’s dating lives, they found that 57% of singles say social media has generated a Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). In my study, 50% reported feeling FOMO when comparing themselves to others on social media, while 60% of millennials reported feeling FOMO. Are we comparing ourselves to other people’s highlight reels? Are we creating a false reality? It seems that we’re only willing to share things that get positive reinforcement. If we’re living through only focusing on the highlight reels, how do we express the negative side of our lives?

If you’re comparing yourself to someone else’s profile, aren’t you discounting yourself? Anything that we share on our streams are things that we’re either excited about or creating some popularity for yourself. Are we supposed to applaud that you eat? Are we supposed to applaud that you are out? Are we supposed to applaud the 100th seflie you took while you were out? Are we beginning to learn to relate to people for immediate gratification only?

Won’t this impact our dating behaviors? If we only broadcast the “look at me”, are we able to deal with the side of rejection, detachment, and non-commitment? Are you surprised when people blow you off or lead you on aka ghost, bench, gaslight or breadcrumb? Yet another paradox. Here we are thinking the world is a positive and reinforcing place, that we are interesting, we’re so popular; then we get ghosted, breadcrumbed, benched.

Another dating trend that doesn’t involve dating: Breadcrumbing

Breadcrumbing, is the latest dating trend and label that replaces stringing along. The New York Times describes it as  “They communicate via sporadic noncommittal, but repeated messages — or breadcrumbs — that are just enough to keep you wondering but not enough to seal the deal (whatever that deal may be). Breadcrumbers check in consistently with a romantic prospect, but never set up a date. They pique your interest, of that prospective job, perhaps, by reminding you repeatedly that it exists, but never set up the interview.”

Basically, you’re keeping your options open while stringing someone else along with the least amount of effort or regard for the other person. Like ghosting, the other person is entertaining them when they reach out. What kind of reaching out you ask? Oh, “liking” a photo on IG or fb is the signal that game is back on. Right. What? It’s probably the saddest and minimal amount of effort to demonstrate interest in someone. I mean, we spend more time liking cat photos.

Urbandictionary.com

For us to accept these behaviors with disregard for how it impacts us emotionally is what the core of what I call, The Millennial Virus, is. What is it doing to our sense of self? Are we becoming more narcissistic? Are we becoming more insecure? Are we accepting sub-optimal relationships just to feel connected to something? Is technology driving dating, sex and emotion? Is it creating a generation that is passive-aggressive in life?

As a Behavioral Scientist, what amazes me is the hypersensitivity we all seem to have about almost all aspects of life EXCEPT relationships. Isn’t it interesting that we stand up against bullying, shaming, or political un-correctness; but with people we have interest in we act with total disregard? Some say it’s technology that’s driving our behavior, some say it’s the lack of employment, or that we are to attached to our devices or the way we are cognitively evolving.

Let’s look at some of the most common types that will most likely breadcrumb:

  1. Stalker types. These are the ones that reach out on your social feeds every now and then, but don’t follow-up with any sentences J They treat you like you are a notification on fb that they forgot they were connected to. If they can’t reach out to you in a text, what makes you think they are interested in having something pop off with you?
  2. Booty call types. These are the “DTF” “WYD” messages you’ll get at night. They aren’t interested in going beyond just the sexual set up you have. If this is acceptable to you, proceed with caution. Because it may not evolve into a
  3. Can’t get over you types. These are the ones that reach out to you months and years after it’s over in hopes of rekindling the relationship. If they failed the first time, chances are they aren’t new and improved. They just realize the error in not having you in their lives and hope that you are going to want to waste time with them again.
  4. Predator types. These types stalk you on your social feeds to keep abreast of the latest going on in your life. Once they notice a difference in posts or photos that indicates your seeing someone or they see that your seeing someone, they all of a sudden find you interesting. If they were on the fence about dating you and only reach out because you are happy in a new relationship, enjoy your new relationship.

In all these types, the underlying issue is not just their non-commitment issues, it’s their ego. Filtering through hundreds of profiles, spamming everyone, and getting rejected is rough on the ego. A way to deal with the rejection ratio is to find any kind of attention.  At the end of the day, people want to feel some level of relevance, importance or their own delusions of grandeur. Some get their rocks off by knowing that they’ve hooked you with a like or that you are still around when they disappear. Their ego is fulfilled when they reach out to you after months and you accepted their previous behavior and continue in a cycle of a dis-satisfactory relationship. Your ego, on the other hand, begins to take a hit to your self-esteem. Now you’re asking yourself questions like: why they reached out if they hadn’t ever planned to follow through, what’s the point of reaching out to me and why not meet up with me and finally why do I continue to attract these bullshit types?