Memes, hashtags and viral videos. If you’re living most of your life staring into your phone and flicking your thumb across the screen, you’ve probably already – proudly, somewhat ironically – described yourself as being ‘terminally online’.
In the past few years, our social media obsession has become kind of something of an illness. Many of us reach for our phones before our first cup of coffee in the morning and, in the evening, we stare into the blue light before shoving the device under our pillows for the night.
But some of us are more ‘online’ than others. Journalist Jenna Mahale notes in a recent piece in The Atlantic that we share our culture with our romantic partners – even the cultural identity we get from being online. “The internet provides an almost limitless pool of references to draw from — including silly memes and inside jokes, but also serious ideas and conversations,” she writes. “It’s a beautiful world to share with another person.”
But does this really work in practice? Can a hyper online girl really find common ground with a resolutely offline boy? How is our culture’s increasing ‘onlineness’ actually affecting our dating lives?
“At first, I was just using it for work. It was good for finding jobs and making connections – but pretty soon I was on it, like, all the time.”
Claire*, a 28-year-old Londoner, was in a three year relationship when she caught the Twitter bug. A year later, her relationship came to an end.
“At the time, I just didn’t really know what had happened. He kept saying we’d drifted apart,” she says. “But looking back, I realise that having an online presence was a big part of it. It had changed me.”
For Claire, constantly scrolling through Twitter gave her a whole new set of phrases – a whole new method of communication. “It kind of changed the way I spoke and interacted with him – I was talking to him in Twitterspeak and he obviously didn’t get it,” she says. “For someone who isn’t always online, talking about things like ‘the vibe shift’ or ‘my feminine urges’ just made no sense.”
Alex, a 23-year-old in Manchester, is also a self-proclaimed ‘online person’. For her, the dating world has become hard to break into.
“I just want someone who will laugh when I do my ‘We’re just normal men’ impression,” she jokes. “Is that too much to ask!” For Alex, finding common ground has become increasingly difficult. “I almost feel like I need to only date people who are also on Twitter all the time. But also that feels like it could be a huge mistake,” she smiles.
Once, Alex was called out after tweeting about a date. “I really didn’t think he’d see it. Like, a new boyfriend finding me online is now my worst nightmare. But at the same time, it’s my community and it’s where I get to voice my thoughts, so I’m not about to start censoring myself.”
Finding common references and a shared language is important in any romantic relationship. “It may well be that your new date doesn’t spend as much time online as you, or even isn’t online at all, which can certainly stilt the conversation if TikTok or Instagram is your passion and they have no idea what you’re talking about or, worse still, they find it irritating,” explains Kristina Morton, Head of Matching at Ignite Dating.
But even if they are also very online, you might still run into communication problems. “It’s difficult to have a meaningful conversation when you’re both constantly engrossed on your phones for example,” she continues. “And of course, when your dating life is open to comments and opinions from the rest of the world, it can seriously damage any relationship you may hope to develop, as well as undermine your self-confidence.”
On the other hand, spending too much time on social media can also give you a skewed version of reality. You may find yourself second guessing your partner because of what you see on your timeline. “Online representations of life are often very different from reality,” Morton says. “We see couples through a soft focus and picturesque lens. The problem with this is that we don’t see the full picture and expect our dating and relationship experiences to match up towards essentially an unachievable dream.”
But not everyone is suffering from their online-ness. Rae, 22, is a terminally online person – and she’s not worried about how this could affect her dating life.
“It kind of annoys me when people say that social media is ruining their ‘real lives’,” she says. “For me, social media is an important part of my life – and it’s no less real. I actually met my current boyfriend on Twitter and I think we have a pretty great relationship. We do talk about stuff we’ve come across online, of course, but isn’t that just part of living in the modern world?”
“Would you ever be able to date someone who wasn’t online?” I ask her.
“Yeah, of course, if I liked them and got along with them,” she says after a minute. “I just think that because I enjoy the online culture, it makes sense that I would end up with someone else who is the same.”
Ultimately, says Morton, there’s nothing inherently wrong about spending time on social media. After all, it’s a wonderful way to stay connected, learn new things and be entertained. But when it comes to dating, it’s important to have some balance. “Living in the online world is fine, as long as you don’t take it too seriously,” she says. “Remember: keep a firm grip of your true personality and value your relationships in real life above likes and followers.”