Featured on the front page of The Vancouver Sun. Article originally on The Vancouver Sun and reposted below.
Amy Chan felt an almost instant connection with this guy. It was their first date and it seemed like he shared all of her deepest feelings on life and love.
“He would say things that were pretty much word for word some of my theories,” she said later. “I was like, holy, this guy gets me. We totally think the same way.”
It would take a few more dates before Chan, a writer, realized the truth: His ideas sounded just like her ideas because they were, well, her ideas.
“He actually did read my work and he did quote me back at me,” she said. “It really was to create this great connection with me.”
Marketer by day, relationship columnist at JustMyType.ca by night, Chan has a heavy social media presence, making connections and promoting her work on social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Like most people who are paying attention, she’s learned that the wealth of information and plethora of new ways to connect online can be both a blessing and a curse.
The charming creep who memorized her writing represents the dark side of the social media age, but there are brighter bits as well.
Take this second story from Chan about someone close to her who noticed an intriguing profile among another friend’s Facebook acquaintances. She announced to all of her girlfriends that this stranger was destined to be her future husband.
“We thought she was crazy,” Chan said.
But lo and behold, the two eventually met at a dinner party thrown by the mutual friend and hit it off. Now, they’re married with a kid.
The rise of social media has been a double-edged sword for singles, according to Vancouver dating coach Deanna Cobden.
“On the one hand, it really opens you up to finding people that you wouldn’t normally meet in your social circle, you wouldn’t meet at work, you wouldn’t meet in your neighbourhood or your day-to-day life,” she said.
But sometimes there are just so many ways to meet new people that daters can get overwhelmed by the choices.
“It kind of gives people this grass-is-greener mentality, where they’re always searching for the next person — the next person is going to be the best person.”
So how do singles navigate the search for love in the social media age? And for that matter, how can established couples keep the home fires burning without letting Facebook or Twitter tear them apart?
At least one company is attempting to fuse social media with online dating in an attempt to eliminate the unpredictable, unknown and occasionally unreal “randos” that singles tend to get hooked up with through Tinder and sites like PlentyOfFish. The mobile app Hinge only matches people who share Facebook friends, adding a degree of comfort to a dating scene that can sometimes feel like trying to find a hamburger joint on Mars.
“You can at least see mutual friends. You can ask your friends about the person,” Chan said.
“The thing with online dating is that filtering is a very time-consuming thing. Tinder is just horrible. You can spend hours swiping left: No, no, no. It’s just a time suck because everyone and anyone is on there.”
But even without specialized dating apps, single people are getting creative about using social media to hook up.
One prolific Vancouver dater, who asked not to be named to protect her dignity, has tried using Facebook to lure an interesting prospect through jealousy.
“Recently, I made out with a friend I’ve known for almost 20 years. I don’t really know where we stand now so, on Facebook, I posted pics of flowers I got (from my boss) à la Cher from Clueless just to make it seem like I was in demand. Sigh,” she wrote in an email.
The ruse did not produce an immediate result.
The same woman has also experienced some of the embarrassing dangers of online cruising.
“I was creeping a crush’s photos and I noticed a girl coming up in a few of them. Of course, I went to her profile to see exactly who she was and mistakenly clicked on ‘Add friend.’ I took it back right away, but still, super awkward.”
It is possible to meet someone great through social media. Just like in real life, “like-minded people are probably going to spend time in places they like,” Chan said.
A friend of hers likes to look for interesting prospects using Instagram by searching for people who’ve visited his favourite restaurants. Other people may join Facebook groups dedicated to a favourite hobby or band, or follow prolific tweeters with similar political views.
If you do meet someone you like through social media, it’s best to keep the flirting private to avoid embarrassment.
“Don’t post it on their page or tweet it. Send them a direct message. Just casual — ‘Are you free to have a drink?’” Cobden said.
“Definitely do not make these things public, because everyone’s reading them. There’ll be people that you’ve never met in your life that are suddenly paying attention.”
It’s also important to keep in mind that your online profile could play a big role in what that enticing cutie thinks of you. If you’ve got a public social media presence, consider what prospective suitors might think.
Both Chan and Cobden caution heterosexual men against posting too many photos of themselves with sexy bikini models, and suggest that too many drunk party photos aren’t a great idea for anyone.
Another tip from Cobden: “Are you super negative? If you’re really negative, and someone comes (online) and sees you, then that’s a huge turnoff.”
On the flip side, Chan recommends against doing too much Facebook stalking before going on a date. The danger is that you may write them off before giving them a real chance — or even get swept up in someone’s carefully curated public persona and place them on a pedestal, setting yourself up for a big disappointment when it turns out the date is just another human being.
“When I date I really try to not let them see my website or anything of me online,” she said.
“Because I’m in branding and I’m very aware of every single thing that I put out there; it’s a crafted image. But that’s just a part of me, it’s not actually who I am. I want someone who’s meeting me to really get to know my quirks and all those things.”
If you’re lucky and a few dates magically transform into something a little more permanent, there’s a whole new set of things to worry about, and it starts at the very beginning of a new love.
Everyone knows that you’re not really going steady until you’ve made it Facebook official. So when do you take the big step and change your relationship status?
Cobden’s advice is simple: “If you aren’t calling that person your boyfriend in real life, or if you aren’t introducing them to your friends as your boyfriend, do not change your status.”
Chan believes that any status change should be approached with extreme caution.
“I think any time you put some sort of a title on a relationship or use words like ‘I love you,’ they come with a commitment and a promise. I’m very selective of when I use it,” she said.
She points out that many couples — even married ones — leave their relationship statuses blank.
“People put so much meaning on these things that are so trivial and I think what people need to do is look at the root of what that insecurity is,” she said.
Cobden recommends that couples sit down and have a serious talk about how they’re going handle the merging of their social media lives.
“I think that you have to have almost a social media contract with your partner — how are we going to interact with people?”
That means discussing issues like commenting on attractive friends’ Facebook photos, flirting with strangers on Twitter — even whether you should remain “friends” with your exes.
Without that conversation, Facebook can become a big problem for some couples. It allows insecure people to track every photo their partners are liking, every public comment they make, every friend they’ve ever had.
“There’s now this whole other universe of ways to be extremely jealous,” Chan said.
“Now you can see (who) your boyfriend is interacting with at all times. I could see that would probably be problematic.”
She believes social media can also mess with relationships indirectly because couples are able to compare their lives with those of everyone they’ve ever known. The problem is that people use social media to present carefully curated versions of their daily lives — in effect, it’s a happiness highlight reel.
“Say, 20 years ago, you had your ideas about what happy couples were based on: your neighbours and things like that. But now, it’s like every moment you see roses are being sent to this person or they’re on a romantic vacation,” she said.
“You can’t help but find yourself in a state of comparison, and I think this is problematic for couples because it slants your idea of what reality is and what normal is.”
The modern relationship accumulates social media debris remarkably quickly: Instagrams from your anniversary dinner, Facebook updates about engagements, photo after photo of the happy couple together.
Decades ago, mementoes of love could be stored away in a shoebox or burned in a backyard bonfire after a breakup. Today, when every step of your relationship is documented online, how do you deal with the remnants after your heart is broken? Should you unfriend your ex? Delete every photo of the two of you together?
Chan says empathy is ultimately key in deciding whether to unfriend an ex or otherwise erase them from your social media history. Unless the breakup is extremely bitter, she suggests taking some time to think it over.
“You also have to ask yourself, why you feel the need to do it right away?” she said.
“You don’t have to be so abrupt, because when you do the Facebook unfriending, it’s a statement you’re making. It’s a big f**k-you statement.”
But once you’re ready to open up your heart and begin dating again, Cobden recommends doing a “purge” — removing exes from your Facebook friends, Instagram feed, and even your cellphone contacts.
“Hope is the first thing to enter a relationship and the last thing to leave. Holding on to all these little things can hold you back,” she said.