It feels like in every relationship and romantic near miss I have had since moving to Chicago, the internet has played an essential role. This has left me wondering about our growing use of it in modern relationships and the ways in which it may be changing how we go about romance. I decide to have a discussion about it with my friend Kathy J., who manages social media as part of her job and is an on again/off again online dater. She is also very crafty.
My first question which I have so far asked everyone I have interviewed so far, it doesn’t have to be too detailed but if you want to talk about a little bit in general about your romantic past or what kind of person you have been in the past romantically.
Only internet related or…?
No, in general. We will talk about the internet a little more specifically. My other interviews have been about being a sucker and successful relationships and I ended up asking in the past in order to provide a context.
Totally. So, I was a late bloomer. I still feel like that is how I feel about myself. I feel like I got a late start and I live my life trying to catch up ever since. To what, I am not sure.
I remember very clearly my first kiss was not until I was sixteen and maybe three-quarters or even just shy of turning seventeen. I remember being frantic about it and there is this guy I was hanging out with. He use to date one of my close friends from school so I was a total dog. We were bonding and I was like, “All right, guess this is it. The train is leaving the station.” The late bloomer thing was in part because I was a total prude. I was super judgmental about sex. Very opinionated about things I had no experience with at all. I just remember sixteen and three-quarters, full braces, and just lunging at this dude. This is going to happen. He was like, “Wow, wow, wow. I thought that you were the conservative one of the group.”
At that point, I wasn’t even close to ready for sex cause I hadn’t done anything, anything. Not even, like, summer camp, twelve years old pecks that mean nothing. That man, ah, boy, I ended up dating for four and a half years. So I gained experience pretty quickly as it quickly turned serious. Sexually, technically I was right back on track. I made up for lost time but I have never been able to shake that feeling that I was a little behind the eight ball on that.
Maybe just now I finally am. Now that my friends that first got married are getting divorced, I am like, “All right, maybe I need to chill the fuck out about this cause it is not a race to the chapel or the synagogue.” Finding someone nice might feel good.
Right, I had that long long first boyfriend where I got a lot of experience but not a great breath of experience. Then in senior year of college broke out a bit again when time ticking. I was like, ‘I only have one semester, college is when you are suppose to be having crazy sexcades. I better hurry this up.” Sure enough, I got a couple under my belt. Just a lot of panic and urgency characterized that. That still to some extend characterizes my romantic relationships.
I guess then after that, you are suppose to be collecting all these dating in the city experiences. Which, like, my first job was pretty intense in Baltimore city, not around a lot of people in my peer group in inner city Baltimore. So, yeah, I had to learn how to date. I had no idea how to date. Just crazy expectations for people. Bold actions followed up by sheepish ones.
I gave a guy my number in the bill fold after a dinner we had with my parents where he was our waiter. And, like, that is pretty bold, right? Followed by not having any idea what I was doing and having my heart broken constantly because I didn’t know where to place my expectations.
Yeah, in Baltimore, because I felt like I had such a dearth of options. I guess it always feels that way whether that is accurate or not. I went on JDate for the first time at age twenty-two and I felt like I was way too young for the market. You know, people go on JDate not to meet hotties to have fun dates with. They are there to find women they can have children with. So, I was very out of my element there and got very few messages back. I was like, “The Jews hate me.” [laughter]
At the end of that crazy year, where I also did a lot of dancin’, I met this one guy. He was kind of a weirdo. This is one pivotal, life changy story. Where I just decided it would be life changy because I decided I needed a change because my dating rhythms just were not working. I had met this guy and he wasn’t great but he was forward. That happens to shy girls. You end up not meeting great guys, just meeting forward guys. Its like, “Hey, he’s talking to me.”
We went on one date, a lunch that was kind of ambiguous. I was like, “Hey, why don’t we meet back at this club where we met the first time.” It was kind of the dawn of hipsterdom in Baltimore. Where they were playing all this new wave. Characteristic songs would include New Order, Franz Ferdinand, and maybe some MIA and that kind of thing. I felt like it was changing my world. We had set up a meet and I was running late. I walk into the club and my friends meet me and they are like, “That guy you met last time, are you meeting him?” I was like, “Oh yeah, yeah he is suppose to meet me here.” They were like, “He was hanging out with out other girl and they were making out.” I was all like, “oooooooh.”
It was a moment where I was like I could either add this to my list of reasons I am romantically challenged and will never find a man and never be happy. Or I could be like, fuck him, be a strong woman, and demand better for myself. Sure enough, I went dancing with a vengeance, found a cutest boy in there I thought, danced up on him. He was kind of weird, not feeling it. I was like, that is fine. Found another cute boy, super bold and went after the shy boy. He was up against a wall, I went up and introduced myself. Did a little dancing, I said I liked his hip printed t-shirt. I forget what was on it but I remember liking it. He was awkward and I was awkward and it was a match. I was super forward, he didn’t ask for my number but I gave it to him anyway. He called me and we dated for four months until I had to go to San Fransisco. As soon as it was clear that I had hit it off with this other guy, the first one kept eying me and was all jealous. I was like, “That is what you get, that is what you get!”
Despite that triumph, I wasn’t able to fully shake my victim-hood in that realm. I work in the arts, which is mostly women and gay men so I have trouble, I have always had trouble meeting people. I tried Okcupid once I moved to San Fransisco. I was like all right, this is a real city, this is going to catch me something. That was when I tried it the first time and I had lots of, mostly uniformly disappointing dating experiences.
Is there a commonality in how they have been disappointing or has it been unique per experience?
Just this notion of dating, having started out with such a long term relationship, still is not something I fully get. Where you are dating multiple people and you have no expectations. You feeling them out and see how it goes without feeling like needing to get physical too quickly. I feel like dating only works if you don’t need them for shit, and you keep it really stoic for a long time. Well, at least while you are not being fully exclusive, but you can’t be afraid to ask if it is going to hurt you. I don’t know, I was feeling like I had to built up, harden my heart and that isn’t a way to get to know anyone. That was really tough.
Guys that would just pursue me not online, it was this vulnerability game. I met a guy at a coffee shop once. He was older, I was like 23 and he was 32. I was like, “your ancient.” I felt like I had all the cards and I didn’t really have any interest in him but I had a little interest in him being interested in me. I felt an obligation to him and having fun playing around but there was no way it was going anywhere. For people I was actually interested in, I could not keep that aloofness while slowly opening up like one does while dating.
I kept having three date patterns where we would go on three dates and then I would never hear from them again. It is not long enough, I guess, to merit a break up even though I would be like, “Hey! What to do this?,” and I just wouldn’t hear anything. That just kept happening and it was incredibly disappointing and frustrating. It just seems like men…they couldn’t even give me a, “This is not what I am looking for.” It was just silence and that was really traumatizing when you don’t know what is going on and you are, “What is wrong with me? What did I do?” I would have much preferred, “I don’t think it is really a match. All the best.” Never have I gotten that on online dating.
It is weird because I’m always in the position of…it is kind of like I feel it petering out and then I reach out extra hard. I am not even considering, “Am I in to them? Is this going somewhere?” I’m like, “Don’t leave me. Don’t do this. Be a human.” Usually I just want to keep dating. Three dates isn’t enough for me to figure it out and they just disappear. It happens if I get physical with them quickly or if I don’t. Sometimes I’m like, “I didn’t get physical with them quickly enough.” And sometimes I’m like, “I got physical too quickly.” So, I don’t know, it has been incredibly difficult. I try to balance.
Do you find that unique to online dating? In my experience, people would rather take the easy way out rather than a confrontational way out. Even though there may not be a big deal to be straight forward, there may not be any conflict, people instead choice just to not talk to them because it will be easier. They do that in life in general, besides dating.
Yeah, people take the easy way out. Or the way that is easy for them.
But not for the other person.
That makes me angry.
Currently, I know that you aren’t using anything [online dating sites] but you have repeating keep on trying it out again. What makes you do that?
Oh, yes. I want to get it right. I think every time my heart hardens a little bit and that maybe I am finally in a position to do it right this time. I am tough enough, this time I am more confident. I am not going to let it get to me. I am just going to have fun. Meet some people. I don’t really want anything serious anyway. I will go into it with that and I will still end off my…my expectations, I guess, are someplace that I’m not being completely honest about where they are or what I want.
Do you think that is the only way to go about internet dating, to not be serious? It seems like that there lots of different types of people that are on there. Do you think a more casual way is the only way to do it successfully?
I mean I know people who have done it successfully. That was because they were looking for the same thing. There has to be a clarity of…you get better at figuring out who is in it for what you are in it for. You have to learn to read profiles better. You have to stop being super optimistic and assuming that the guy you are most attracted to is going to be the one that is looking for the same thing you are. Every time I have had a little more success reading things but then you get some x factors.
You know, a guy who is leaving the country for three months shortly after we started dating and he didn’t tell me and I thought that was shitty. I found out when we ran into his friend at the park. His friend brought it up and he was like, “Oh, yeah…” And I was like, “Oh, that’s cool. Yeah, that sounds really fun.” You know, being cool rolling with it but it was a breach of trust. And this was a guy I wasn’t sleeping with. If I had slept with a guy and then had that…oh god.
I’m a modern lady, I know that sex ain’t a contract but ah…I just require a gentlemen’s approach that most men are not capable of. I shouldn’t put myself in positions where I am vulnerable before people have proven themselves.
I kind of have a problem of with that, of making myself vulnerable and I kind of can’t help myself. Part of me thinks that not doing that creates hurdles. I am pretty big into being honest with your feelings and if you are having to make yourself not be vulnerable than you are not being honest about how you feel.
Yeah, and then you have no chance.
To kind of switch topics a little bit, you’ve used the Internet a little for dating, to find dates and stuff like that. What kind of role does it play just in your relationships period?
Gchat, bro, gchat.
Yeah, that all the time?
Yeah. So, I’m seeing a guy now. We have been friends for ages and had a couple of moments when we hooked up but the timing wasn’t right. We weren’t in the right place but now we are or so it feels. So, he called me all formal like. Right, yeah, he called me and my impression was like, “Oh, fancy pants with the calling.” But I need a lot of check ins. I’m realizing that I can not see you for a couple of days but I want a guy to be accessible when and if I need him. That’s all. I’m like low maintenance, high maintenance. I mean, I am very capable of entertaining myself. I don’t need to see you every weekend night but I want to be able to log in and even just see you there and bug you. Be like, “Hey asshole!” or whatever. I don’t know. And the internet allows that kind of surveillance and the at work check in which is nice.
Do you e-mail very much or is it mostly like chatting?
Yeah, gmail makes the e-mailing and chatting pretty close, almost seamless. So, sometimes I will message him and he’s not there. That will turn into an e-mail. Then he writes back and it is am e-mail. I’ll respond when he is back on and its a chat. So, it goes back and forth.
Do you think you communicate differently that way? There is the obvious thing where you can’t intonate with your words. Do you think that there are other ways it changes how you communicate that way versus another mode of communication?
Yeah. Well, some people are not good at writing. Some people are not good at the writing that is the internet kind of writing. The guy I am seeing now is excellent at expressing a tone with a high degree of nuance in e-mail so he will be like, “Kaaaaathy !,”with many a’s in my name, extra vowels and stretching words. There is some playfulness and some people aren’t as good at that. Their tone is just poor. I mean I think it works for us in part because we are so sensitive to digital writing style choices.
The guy before that. Oh god, this is…oh yeah, I have not been thinking about that. So, the last guy I dated was this intense tumultuous relationship. He was thirty-four when we dated and a painter so he lives in kind of an analog art hole. I got him on to gmail and introduced him to the notion of this constant check-in. He abused them and Facebook became a huge source of anxiety for him. Every time someone posted on my wall, he would become suspicious. If they stopped posting with the same regularity, he would think that I was blocking him because he was looking for patterns. He does not understand the medium at all. It was a huge strain on our relationship.
I didn’t want to say that we were in a relationship on Facebook. This is a big question for a lot of people. I think it is gauche. I hate it. Especially because he and I, we dated for eight months so at the six month mark this started to become a big issue. He wanted me to proclaim to everyone in my life through Facebook that we were seeing each other. No other point in history would this be the case. In no other point in history would you be declaring this to all of our ex’s, to all of your family members, and allowing them access to the information of this other person that you are dating.
There was some sensitivity there. Some people, I would like to break it to them gently that I am seeing someone. It is not like it was a big deal or that I owed them anything. I knew that maybe they would see that and be like, “oh.” The same way that I have done that however many times Also, we weren’t on the steadiest territory so it was the fucking worst thing in the world. You see people who are listed in a relationship then go to being listed as single and you see people who are not their very good friends saying, “I’m sorry. What happened?” That kind of conversation should by no means be taking place publicly. I have such an aversion to it. Because I managed social media, he…the fact that I would be so internety yet I would not want to express myself in this internety way. Every aspect of myself in this internety way. He just had no room for nuance with that.
I kept telling him, “I don’t like Facebook that much.” But he’s like, “But you do it for a living.” It’s like, “No, I am not interested in it. I like art, which is what I write about. It is just a medium.” He was so fucking dense about it. I know that it was like a digital native versus a mid-stream adopter divide.
Yeah, it became such a problem and he turned into a stalker. He just used it in such an inappropriate way. Including, he went on Okcupid and he messaged, “Hello,” to , like, my best friend out here. No, that is not okay. That is not how you use Okcupid to connect with people you know in real life. Like, I could see that there was some innocence there but he was doing fucking creepy things like that. He kept admitting everything that was completely innocent, like with that or with whatever. He kept backtracking and I felt like since he was such a clumsy user of it his true intentions were revealed just because he wasn’t using it well. If you are not a good liar, then don’t bother to use the medium because you are going to botch it. Actually, that’s is probably recently when the internet factored most into a relationship in a conscious way. Right now, I am dating a guy I met at google who is super tech savvy but is similarly, “It is good for some things but it is also not as fun as old fashioned story telling and like reading.”
Old fashioned what?
I don’t know, just storytelling. We listen to a lot of radio and read books but then we will also look at cat videos. So, I don’t know.
Are you a googler? If you start seeing someone, do you google them?
Ah, I have a good story, well it isn’t a good story but it is a story. It’s not even really a story. It is a scenario where, yeah, totally, there is a guy, a big digital guy. Kind of like I admired him professionally and I was going to use his experience type stuff. I googled him because he had a very strong web presence and I left his name in the search bar. He came over and logged into my computer to look something up and saw his name in my search bar. I was mortified. He was like, “Yeah, I’m surprised it took you this long.’ But this is a guy who had a folder on his computer dedicated to every woman he had ever dated and that is where he filed every little piece of digital ephemera away about them. So, like, photos I sent him of myself. Drawings that I maybe scanned or drawings I made that he scanned. It was an archivist project. Something separate to his connection to the girl. Oh god, when I caught glimpse of that, of how I was just one of so many folders I just felt so dirty. Terrible. [laughter]
Yeah, something else that is interesting is how the internet archives relationships.
I don’t use gchat a whole lot, so I don’t know if it does the same thing but now Facebook records all of your chats and saves them. So between having recording chats and messages and e-mails and stuff ,that can be a huge bulk of your communication with someone that isn’t gone. Rather than “what did that person say?” or “how did I say that?” or “did I imagine that?,” you can go back and read not just letters but conversations.
The guy I dated with the anger problem and who was tech phobic and clumsy with it, he would say all sorts of terrible things and I had the proof. It use to be that male anger, maybe your neighbors would here it screamed through the walls but now there is documentation. My brother is currently in entangled in this terrible situation with a girl who is writing and sending him very threatening text messages and e-mail saying things like how she wants to ruin his life. He has those documented too which he can use against her in a court of law should it come to that.
Do you think it changes relationships in other ways to have that much accessibility to a record of the relationship?
Yeah, I think an interesting question that you should ask your folks is “alright, what is your cleansing ritual after a relationship.” Do you need…some people need to destroy the records of the relationship but I am too sentimental for that so I always keep those things. I keep them, you know you have that box that you store away and maybe somewhere down the line you destroy them or you lose them or you just don’t think about them anymore. Like the first card he gave me, the sweet note he left on my bed, that kind of stuff.
Some people need to go through their gchat and they need to delete it. Archiving is kind of one level but how do you protect yourself from yourself which is like this challenging adult skill. But it means defriending them on Facebook, it means not going to his Facebook page because you know that you are going to find something that will make you queasy for the rest of the day, no matter what. Sometimes it means you can’t even have the chats present in your inbox. So, right, I don’t know. It varies from person to person.
I think that archiving is the closest to putting it in that box that you put up in the attic or somewhere that is not part of your daily life but still is the testament to the fact that it happened and does not need to be looked at all the time. Yeah, I don’t know how people deal with that. I want to have one, an archive that is locked down for like a six to eight month mourning period. Where this is only going to hurt you. Everyone knows themselves the best but I would like sometimes to be able to do this for my friends who I feel like I know very well, like, you need to not look at this for the next six months. I am going to take it away from you. If it was physical, I would be like put it in this box and I’ll hold on to this. I am going to take it away from you out of your reach. That would be nice.
There are some models of tech stuff that do that, that lock away. There is this thing called 10Q. What it is, it is like the ten days of Teshuvah, like reflection, it is a Jewish thing, from between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. They ask you a question every day and they lock it up and put it in a vault. So you can’t touch it, you can’t edit it. It becomes a digital time capsule. It was who you were that year and then they send it to you…you can’t access it in any way until they send it to you the next year. And then you have that fresh sense of this was who I was a year ago, who am I now? Which of these did I actually accomplish or address and which of these are things I still need to do in my life? There are also digital wills online where you can write something, lock it away, and then it only become available (I’m not sure what the mechanism is) but after you are dead. Which is, like, weird but interesting. But, yeah, sometimes I wish that there was something like that for relationships too.
Regardless of if you have met someone online or not, have you think that your experiences with the internet have affected how you approach romance and relationships in general?
Maybe the internet helps to offsets some of the anonymity of urban dating that makes it so disconnected that you have to be human accountable to people (which is what I attribute not calling back too). If I was someone that their best friend had set them up with, there would be no way they would have treated me like that because that would upset their social circle. They feel like they owe something to their friend so they would treat me better but because cities are big, people don’t know people necessarily there can be some of that anonymous cruelty so maybe this abundance of information is offsetting that. You can figure out who knows who. Yeah, I’m not sure.
I think, the guy I’m dating know I met the old fashioned way just through work. A pivotal interaction because things got really awkward because he was really into me and I was not feeling it at the time. He was younger than me. Still, when I wanted to apologize for some behavior I sent him a letter. I sent him a letter with some stuff in it. He sent me back a letter, apparently, though I never got it. I still use these old fashiony things. It is a big question. They are just more tools and more necessity for self control, I think.
Yeah, I don’t know. I think I will have to chew on this some more.