It's finally back-to school time! (Or end-of-summer-Fridays time, for us senior citizens in the crowd). You know what that means -- buying new books, layering those comfy sweaters, and meeting some new romantic prospects. Your summer fling? Old news already. You're about to have a whole new crop of guys to potentially add to your gaggle.
Techno-Romance -- or the rampant use of technologies to cultivate and explore romantic, sexual and flirtatious interactions -- will undoubtedly play a huge role in your burgeoning relationships this fall. Emailing, texting, Gchatting, tweeting, BlackBerry Messengering... these are only a small fraction of the ways that you're likely to end up communicating with, and getting to know, your potential paramours. And this reliance on technology to engage in modern courtship won't surprise you or the many friends of yours who will be lucky enough to hear every single detail about each and every interaction with that cute guy in your statistics class.
But you know who it will surprise? And confuse? And concern? Your mother. Not that this will stop her from constantly asking for updates on your dating life, or slyly asking if you'll be bringing anyone home for Thanksgiving this year.
Sure, your mother may seem hip and enlightened, with a new and inappropriately active Facebook account to prove it. Sure, she may have finally learned how to text (although she hasn't yet figured out that she doesn't need to sign, "Love, Mom" at the end of every message). And sure, you may get more emails from her -- usually forwarded warnings about rapists and contaminated vegetable recalls -- than from anyone else in your address book. But don't be fooled. She didn't come of age in the post-dating world. Try as she might, she just doesn't quite get it.
Behind her carefully crafted veil of understanding coolness, your mother is still hearing your stories and looking out for the classic signs of romance -- a phone call, a requisite number of hours spent getting to know each other at nice restaurants, a willingness to meet the parents, a ring. Your tales of late-night parties, flirtatious intramural soccer matches and ambiguous group dinners make her head spin. And the most confusing post-dating reality of them all? Techno-Romance.
What exactly is bewildering her? And why shouldn't you feel guilty as you sense her fear that you'll never get married and deliver her beloved grandchildren, even though you told her all about that guy from your study group who has been throwing charming jokes into his emails to you about test schedules and response papers?
Here are 5 Techno-Romance truths that your mother will never understand.
1) That random text message means something!
Have you ever tried to tell your mother the story of the hot guy from your dorm who texted you the previous night, letting you know that he was in a dive bar and dancing to that Ke$ha song that you both (secretly) love? That's a disheartening conversation to have.
While you try to explain that it was a sign of him thinking about you, and that it's so great to have a mutual, fun joke that you're exploring, she'll be stuck wondering why he's hanging out in a bar -- probably cavorting with other women -- instead of taking you out on a candlelit boat cruise. Sigh.
Herein lies one of the big generational misunderstandings about Techno-Romance. Our parents and their cohorts equate texting with hooking up, interpreting a text exchange as an easy way for the young folk to get in touch late at night and do inappropriate things. What they don't realize is that these days, we text like we talk -- constantly, and for many different purposes.
Texts pervade every area of our lives, including romance. Not just sex, but romance. Nowadays, it's just as much a tool for getting to know someone on a real level as it is a way to make that 3 AM booty call happen. So follow your instincts about what that text did or didn't signify, and take your mother's interpretation with a grain of salt.
2) Just because he's your Facebook friend, that doesn't necessarily mean that either of you is interested or justified in asking the other out on a date.
As parents become more and more comfortable with Facebook (make it stop!!), they like to start throwing it around in their day-to-day conversation. So when you're telling your mother about a new guy who may or may not be interested in you, there's a good chance that you'll eventually get asked, "Well, are you two friends on Facebook?" As if a 'yes' or 'no' answer to that question should really clarify things.
What does it mean to be Facebook friends? It could mean a million things. Yes, it could be read as a sign of interest, as I recently found out while interviewing guys about their friend requesting policies for romantic prospects. But it could also signify that you're simply in a class together, or that you met through mutual friends in the dining hall, or that either one of you is the type to go around friend requesting everyone you meet (we all know that person, right?). Facebook may be a cesspool of sexual tension and romantic possibility, but the signals are usually too mixed and unclear to interpret on their own.
So, I'm sorry, mother. But that fact that he Facebook friended me -- along with 17 other of my acquaintances -- is not a sure sign that I should make a move.
3) No one is going to rob you just because you checked in on Foursquare.
Mothers can't help it -- they live in perpetual fear that someone is going to kill you, or at least take all your stuff. Therefore, the idea that you would willingly tell people that you're not at home -- and that, in fact, you're at a concert six blocks away! -- is terrifying to them. I guess this will all make sense once we're mothers...?
Knowing this, you might want to consider refraining from telling a story that begins with, "So his friend checked into this bar on Foursquare, and they saw that my friends were at a diner just a couple streets away, so then we all met up and hung out and the two of us talked and flirted the whole time!" What do you hear in this story? That you met a guy on a group-non-date and now he's in your gaggle. What does your mother hear in this story? That a whole group of boys knew you weren't at home and could've broken into your room and stolen your laptop!!!!
Just don't be surprised when she doesn't see the romantic potential in that scenario. But in the meantime, keep using Foursquare to explore those options and expand your network of prospects.
4) You're not following him on Twitter because you're stalking him and really want to know what he ate for lunch every day.
The idea of expressing any sort of sentiment in 140 characters or less blows most mothers' minds. So a brief mention of, "And then he replied to my tweet," or "Then I emailed him to discuss this really interesting article that he'd retweeted," is just going to confuse the hell out of her.
Unless she's super tech-savvy, she's not going to be able to wrap her head around the idea that you, and everyone else on Twitter -- including that guy -- might actually have something to say and share with the world. She likes to sit around with her friends while they shake their heads at our Millennial generation, wondering why we feel the need to tell everyone and anyone what we had for lunch today.
So trying to convince her that your respective Twitter feeds might truly be a thought-provoking source of conversation and getting-to-know-you banter in the romantic realm? I wouldn't recommend wasting your breath.
5) Signing up for an online dating site is not a sign that you're feeling desperate and unlovable, and are convinced that you'll never meet anyone otherwise.
Your mother may be excited when you sign up for an online dating site -- you're finally getting serious about looking for your future husband, instead of just hooking up with guys she doesn't approve of! -- but she may also get a little worried about you. Have you been feeling desperate and sad lately? Has someone broken your heart? Are you getting nervous that you'll never meet anyone in real life? Is that why you're doing online dating?
What she doesn't realize is that the stigma surrounding online dating is almost gone. Almost. Close enough so that having a profile on Match.com or OkCupid in no way means that you're a big, weird loser. It mostly just means that you're looking to open up your options and meet some interesting new people, in the romantic realm and otherwise. And who doesn't want to do that?
So ignore her hints of concern, and try not to roll your eyes when she just happens to start reminding you of how wonderful and attractive you are and offers again to set you up with her friend Shirley's son -- the nice dentist. You know that you're desirable. You just want to meet other desirable people, easily and often. And that's why you're online dating.
For more on the post-dating world, check out www.WTFIsUpWithMyLoveLife.com.
Follow Jessica Massa on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jessmassa