Romantic Relations in a Digital Age

Love can be characterized by a wide gamut of emotions. Love can be anything from incredibly beautiful to vicious and violent. And then there is this whole other kind of love known as young love. These are the first few relationships early on that teach us the real meaning of love and why finding love so important in life. Young loves commonly used to last lifetimes, high school sweethearts were sometimes known to stay together until the end. But what does love mean in a social media age? Has the definition changed as social media networking sites have come into popularity and become an essential element of teenagers everyday lives.

Awhhhh that's pretty cute!

Awhhhh that’s pretty cute!

While no one is to say that sort of love does not still happen for todays teenagers, I’m sure it certainly does, the relative frequency in which it does seems to be declining dramatically. Relationships encompasses different and new elements, they can be identified and defined by different things. In a recent Vanity Fair article entitled Friends Without Benefits by Nancy Jo Sales, Sales examines how social media networking sites are transforming the definition of a romantic relationship for teenagers and even young adults.

Wow now thats a lot to choose from!

Wow now thats a lot to choose from!

The sheer amount of social media networking sites that young adults have access is dizzying. There are the main social media networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram which have arguably been domesticated into our culture. Domestication as Nancy K. Baym writes about in her book Personal Connections in the Digital Age is when any type of new technology comes to be used widespread in everyday life and therefore ceases to be defined as technology (25). A good example of this in a nonsocial media sense is the telephone in the United States. Today, telephones are such an integral part of everyday life that they are no longer thought of as technology. While social media networking sites may not necessarily be considered to be domesticated by the general population in the United States, it could certainly be argued that this domestication process has taken place for young adults. “If you’re between 8 and 18, you spend more than 11 hours a day plugged into an electronic device. The average American teen now spends nearly every waking moment on a smart phone or computer or watching TV” (Friends without Benefits). Since teenagers are now spending so much time interacting online they are turning to online interaction to further their romantic relationships as well as find new romantic partners all together.

On almost all social media networking sites each individual has a profile, a space that is their own to present the many facets of themselves to the friends, perceived audience, or even in many instances the world. Due to the fact that what an individual is putting out there is the fodder their “friends” will use to judge and form opinions of who they are, what one puts on their profile is incredibly important. In the article  “Social Network Profiles as Taste Performance”Hugo Liu describes how an individuals choice of what traits and interests to display on their online profiles reflects who they are, as well as who they want to be perceived by “friends” as being. While many of the younger users of social media may not be conscious of this concept as explained by Liu, they certainly actively engage in it.

“You can know their likes and dislikes,” Greta said. “‘Oh, they like this band.’ So you can, like, casually wear that band’s T-shirt and have them, like, fall in love with you or something. Or you can be like, ‘Oh, they listen to that music? Ew. Go away.’” (Friends without Benefits)

The ability to do a little “stalking” (the term used to describe checking out someones online profile) can help initially facilitate conversation and interaction, it also creates a somewhat fictitious connection. Nancy Baym, has defined this concept as disembodiment. Baym describes disembodiment as the relationship an individual has between both their online and offline personas. Online we craft our posts, we  deliberately choose to feature certain likes and certain pictures. While this disembodiment allows an individual to branch out and explore their personality and identity, it also ensures a level of inauthenticity and even deception as it is seen by some. Baym stresses the practice of viewing every online profile as a performance of self as the person we are online is more of our “best self” then who we actually are in real life.

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Romantic relationships are hard in all stages of life, especially during the teen years. Therefore it is hard to blame young girls and guys for stalking to gain a competitive edge in a relationship but with sites such as Tindr, Grindr the stakes are higher.

“So she downloaded the app and started swiping through the pictures of boys in her area. She “hearted” his picture, and within a few minutes he had hearted hers, and then they were instantly texting” (Friends without Benefits).

Sales, with her real life examples demonstrates how easy it is for young adults to access thousands of completely unknown people. She demonstrates how they are relying entirely on that individuals performance of self to determine whether to meet that person and almost exclusively these meet ups are hook-ups. The article makes abundantly clear that these types of practices are becoming increasingly more common, and are starting to be defined as a type of relationship. In the end there is very little that can be done to shield young adults from these kind of online opportunities on a global scale, they are out there and teens will find them. It is easy to deny that these impersonal and even dangerous ways are a part of everyday life, but Sales presentation illistrates perfectly the hard truth. It is our responsibility to do our best to arm them with knowledge, but there is little more we can do.

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