The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 4.3: The Art of Communication

Invasiveness

I can remember a time when trees were the only large obstruction in the wooded areas between the Interstate and the back of neighbors’ homes. Now it’s hard to drive anywhere without spotting a cell phone tower. The proliferation of these terrestrial behemoths remains a necessary evil to feed the wireless bandwidth demand and ensure every mobile device has sufficient coverage from remote locations. Now people can text and talk during movies or live theater, at their favorite restaurant, the gym, the back of the library, or any other public place. Sure it’s convenient. But we can all do without the disruption to our personal time, not to mention the gory details of someone’s personal problems. When I go online to check my email or update my website, I don’t want to be pinged with instant message requests—especially late at night when I’m trying to squeeze an hour’s worth of writing into a ten-minute sliver of time before I salvage the last few hours of sleep I have left.

Am I alone in this thinking? Or has the world gone nuts with its insatiable desire for instant-access, always-on communications? In many ways, less is more. Or as Dr. Goleman points out, “Being flooded with intermittent messages puts people in a reactive mode, as though they are continually putting out small brush fires. The cumulative effect of the message deluge is chronic distractedness.” This chronic distractedness wastes our time and wreaks havoc on our ability to think constructively and focus on the more important tasks at hand, like working to foster a meaningful and lasting romance.

Complexity

Sometimes I just want my phone to be, well, a phone. With more features than I can use, it’s easy to get lost in the maze of menu options, settings, and preferences associated with the phone’s operating system or the various software applications. Maybe the phone is smarter than I am? Or maybe it’s just not worth the time and aggravation involved. Simple is better. An old-school notion, perhaps, but one that has served countless successful engineering designs. Complex is a relative term. Given enough time, even the most sophisticated process can be broken down into simple steps. Time being the operative word here. So often, the complexities of modern technology cost us more time than they save, despite the onslaught of marketing influences to the contrary. Aside from maybe Apple, when was the last time you found any computing system truly “plug and play?” Technology should serve to simplify our lives, not make them harder.

Online communication requires more passwords and PINs to remember for every site, or service, or account we create. The easier you make your own security credentials to remember, the easier for someone to hack into your personal information. The harder you make passwords and PINs to hack, the more prone you are to forget them. We’re humans not machines. We think in words, not in binary code. To some extent, technology advances have moved us two steps forward and one step back. Software can make life easier when it works, and drive us mad when it doesn’t. I’m not advocating a return to the dark ages of dialup connections and 600 baud modems. I’m saying technology for the sake of technology often serves to impede our progress, not further it. Technology should serve our romantic needs, not govern them. Treat technology like a tool you can use, not a tool that uses you. Remember, you don’t need a sledgehammer to drive thumb tacks—the way you don’t need a smartphone to have intelligent conversations with your romantic partner.

Wasted Time

In many ways, modern communication technology helps us save time. Then again, driving a Lamborghini in rush hour won’t get us there any faster. Instead of checking one email account, I check three to segregate my personal life from my professional obligations or online shopping confirmations that often come with spam attached. Social networking is fun, but it can be a huge time gobbler if we let it. Time spent tracking the personal status of our friends online or constantly updating our Facebook page could be time better spent on the care and feeding of our romantic relationship. Technology rocks when everything works in harmony; not so much when we lose signal strength, the network goes down, our application chokes, the battery dies, or our login fails to authenticate for the third time in two days, prompting another marathon phone call with a help desk person we’re more acquainted with than our spouse.

Technology can rob us of valuable time in other ways as well. Consider phone applications. Some provide valuable time-saving advice, but many play out more like video games. Using a smartphone application to kill time now and then while we’re waiting for an oil change can offer a pleasant distraction. But if we find ourselves consuming hours a day on what amounts to brain candy in a four hundred dollar container, then we’re squandering time better spent on something more productive. Add to this the hours spent at home troubleshooting computer glitches with software patches, malware issues, virus definition updates, wireless router configurations, bad hard drives, phishing attacks, Internet service provider problems, and so on and so forth—all in the name of new technology supposedly designed to make our lives easier and more productive. Be creative in your use of technology, but don’t let it own you.

Health Hazards

I won’t touch the debate about the potential for developing brain tumors from excessive cell phone use or exposure to cancer causing radiation from close proximity to cell phone towers, but talking or texting on your phone while driving is an undisputed hazard. I’ve also seen macho men on big motorcycles text one-handed while they steer with their throttle hand. If you’re on a bike, put the phone away. If you’re in the car, go hands free or put the phone away. The life you save might be your own.

Communication and Online Dating

From its humble beginnings in the early 1990s, when the percentage of couples who met online was negligible, the business of online dating has burgeoned from a niche industry to one shaping the way millions of single men and women socialize with one another. The decade between 1995 and 2005 saw an exponential growth with people who met online. In 2009, the Internet became the third most likely method for heterosexual couples to meet. Around the same time, the research firm Chadwick Martin Bailey, conducted studies to investigate America’s dating behavior. One study, which focused on seven thousand recently married American adults age eighteen or older, revealed that in recent years, one in six married couples met each other from an online dating site. In another study with a sample population of more than two thousand five hundred single American adults age eighteen or over and in newly committed relationships, one out of five dated someone they met online.

Most recently, statistics from the market research organization, IBISWorld, indicate online dating services achieved two billion dollars in revenue for 2012 with a predicted annual growth rate of online dating companies at two percent over the next five years. According to recent census data, the United States boasts nearly one hundred million single men and women age eighteen or older. From this population, roughly forty million have tried online dating.

The proliferation of online dating sites implies a paradigm shift from the traditional dating scene. Where adult men and women once met each other on a college campus, at work, at a local bar, or with friends, many now flock to the Internet, hoping to find a love connection. And there are plenty of sites to discover, with eHarmony, Match, Chemistry, Single Parents, ChristianMingle, Matchmaker, Plenty of Fish, Singlesnet, OKCupid, and more, ready and waiting to enlist your profile. Most of these sites go beyond online personal ads, providing the capability to ingest, analyze, sort, filter, email, text, chat, flirt, and categorize your favorite potential suitors like a pack of online trading cards. Depending on the service you select, you either complete an exhaustive questionnaire designed to target your personality traits and compatibility criteria—or you simply jot a few words about yourself and the type of person you’re hoping to meet. Then you upload a photo—presumably a recent one—throw your credit card number in the mix, and start browsing.

Some sites “deliver your matches” based on their algorithmic selection process, which automatically pairs you with compatible matches and precludes you from surfing random profiles. Other sites display a galley of headshots associated with a pseudonym and a short profile you can read. You have the choice to share as much or as little as you like within your own profile. You can upload multiple pictures to sweeten your own honey pot. You can also stay connected to most of the popular sites from your smartphone and receive real time acknowledgements from potential matches.

The concept of a dating service is nothing new. Boutique companies have been in business for decades, usually catering to a more exclusive subset of the singles population represented by professionals who work long hours and lack the time to socialize and/or prefer to have an agency prescreen potential partners to increase the likelihood of a successful match. However, the cost put the service out of reach of many. With the proliferation of broadband Internet and a PC in almost every home, less expensive online dating companies found their niche in the matchmaking market. Now anyone with access to a PC and a credit card can join the game.

In my opinion, the erosion of America’s work-life balance has spurred demand for online dating services, where those who are gainfully employed spend an inordinate amount of time at work, leaving less time to spend on socializing with members of the opposite sex. Aside from dating colleagues at work, a chance encounter in public, or resorting to the dreaded bar scene, many singles find little time to comingle with other potentially compatible mates.

Online dating may or may not be right for you. But for those who’ve taken the plunge and tried it, the outcomes are mixed, similar to expected results from more conventional dating practices. The pros and cons of online dating abound. On the plus side, online dating provides the most efficient way to meet a large population of mostly educated, attractive single people in a safe, low pressure, no expectation environment. You control who you wish to respond to or not. You can share as much or as little about yourself as you like in your online profile. Online dating lets you check for potential matches from the comfort of your own home any time day or night. You can even browse for free with most sites, which don’t impose a credit card fee until you decide to contact other members. Aside from your picture, your online profile can remain as innocuous or mysterious as you prefer, depending on the user name you select for yourself and how much personal information you decide to share. Your own comfort zone helps dictate how fast or how slow you wish to move through the online dating process. You empower yourself to decide how many or how few people you wish to establish communication with, and when, if at all, to exchange phone numbers.

On the down side, some of the useful attributes associated with online dating can also work to your detriment. For starters, some researchers cite a lack of compelling evidence to support claims of online dating promoting romantic outcomes superior to those fostered by other, more traditional means. And while there are plenty of singles on the market, not everyone you reach out to will share the same desire to connect. Over the course of days or weeks, you might send a dozen emails to various people and receive no response from any of them.

In one nine-month study involving eleven hundred users from a popular dating site, only twenty-six percent of the men replied to messages they received on the site. Worse yet, only sixteen percent of the women replied. In my experience, these figures are high from the women’s perspective, as attractive women tend to be bombarded with a deluge of winks, emails, and instant message requests shortly after posting their profile pictures. Research also indicates women receive far more initial advances from men than vice versa.

Most people will not bother to reply with a polite “no thanks” and will simply ignore your advance. On the other hand, the opposite holds true where you find yourself bombarded—often unexpectedly—from several suitors at once. This can make for a time-consuming, and often exhausting process of weeding through emails and their associated profiles to decide who’s worthy of your attention. One estimate suggests people engaged in online dating spend an average of twelve hours a week in their efforts to find true love, a significant allocation of time perhaps better spent enjoying offline social interactions instead.

At times, you might find several people worthy of your attention, which can lead to numerous email exchanges between yourself and potential matches. Eventually you begin to feel a connection with one or more of your newfound friends, but often these connections are marred by a false sense of intimacy, propagated by a faulty emotional attachment to someone you’ve never met, and in reality, know nothing about other than what they published in their profile or elected to share in their email exchange with you. This façade continues, anchored in a cyberspace illusion, until your match stops emailing you because they met someone else, pulled the plug on their subscription, went on vacation, flew out of town on business, got sick, got bored, got caught by their spouse, or any number of other reasons. Which brings out the dark side of online dating: people lie. Constantly. Women tend to lie about their age, their height, and the number of children they have. Men tend to lie about their height and marital status.

Yet despite the potential downfalls to online dating, the concept remains a viable and thriving alternative to more traditional dating means. Have I met honest, intelligent, attractive, fun-loving women online? Absolutely. But I’ve also met some real oddballs I wouldn’t have spent two seconds with had our paths crossed in person and not in cyberspace. With limited free time and ever-increasing schedule demands, online dating remains an avenue worth exploring in moderation. To this end, I share some relevant observations, encounters, and advice aimed at improving your chances for success with online dating. What follows are examples to illustrate my point of view garnered from my own experience with online dating. But before we jump into the deep end and address the question of whether or not online dating is right for you, let’s review a comprehensive list of online personas you’re likely to encounter on your quest to find true love along the information superhighway.

  • The Friend
  • The Maternity Minded
  • The Browser
  • The Socialite
  • The Timid
  • The Serial Dater
  • The Rookie
  • The Matrimony Minded
  • The Vengeful
  • The Read Deal

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