Romance is Dead... and the Internet Killed It

By Megan Hein
The Minstrel

“I asked out a guy once,” my friend tells me one day over spring break.

“Really?” I’m shocked. My friend is one of those painfully shy people whose response to seeing a cute guy in the room is to turn bright red and go running in the opposite direction. Unless of course, she’s drunk.

“Where did you ask him out to?”

“To dinner.”

“And… did he say yes?” I pry.

“He did initially.” She pauses. “And then he cancelled.”

“Wow! I can’t believe you asked someone out. Where did all of that confidence come from?” I wonder.

“Well,” she admits grudgingly, “I did it over Facebook.”

And therein lies the problem: Facebook. Or MySpace. Or AIM. Somewhere over the past 10 years, we’ve slowly been losing one of our most basic human functions: face to face contact.

I’ve had my experience with the online Romeos. Freshman year the words “Hello beautiful” popped up on my computer screen. It’s funny, because beyond being Facebook friends and talking to each other occasionally (only online of course) I’d never had any premonition this guy might be into me. I barely knew him at all.

So I thought it was a little out of line that he called me ‘beautiful’ as if he were my boyfriend.

When I passed by him the next day on campus, he didn’t even look my way.

So we’re flirty friends online but not even casual acquaintances in real life? Sorry but that’s a no-go for me. If you don’t have the guts to say hello to me in real life, then I’m definitely not going to be interested.

Of course I understand talking online really takes the pressure off. No stumbling over your words, no awkward gaps of silence—hey, you can just blame it on your slow computer. Plus, there’s the added benefit that he doesn’t have to see you blush or sweat, or basically look like a nerdy fool. And since you’re not in his physical presence, his good looks aren’t a distraction.

But is typing words on a computer screen while you sit there in your sweats really making a connection?

Today the Internet has become a mask for humanity’s age-old fear: rejection. How terrifying is it to stick your neck out, casually dropping hints that you fancy someone when there is the likely possibility that they do not feel the same?

Surely words on a computer screen rejecting your dinner date are less harsh than being told face-to-face. IMing someone about their weekend is far less stressful than asking them in person.

Feeling someone out via an Internet background check seems to be the common procedure before getting to know them personally. You don’t even need a paid account to see if you have potential compatibility or not. Thanks to the Internet, we can access information about someone long before we’ve been formally introduced. If I learn someone is in a band, I could listen to their music without ever attending a show. If I find out about someone’s past girlfriends, not only can I access pictures of them together, I could probably read their conversations too. And if I really wanted to know how so-and-so spent St. Paddy’s Day 2007, well it wouldn’t be that difficult.

The information we desire about that certain someone is right at our fingertips, just a click away. All of it we can learn without ever asking the person ourselves.

Certainly these abilities would have made any stalker 20 years ago proud. But the people doing these things aren’t stalkers, nor do they fulfill the stereotype of a beer-bellied 50 year-old man sitting in his basement. They’re you. They’re me. Yes, even the most innocent-looking among us are guilty of ‘creeping’ behind a computer screen.

The Internet is turning us all into desperate, lovelorn stalkers. Desperate lovelorn stalkers lacking serious social skills.

People like my friend aren’t a rarity. There are plenty of college-age students whose closest thing to flirting has been limited to Facebook pokes or suggestive text messages. Whose closest thing to potential romance has been drunken make-out sessions with random strangers.

I ask my mom about this one night. In college, there are friendships, there are hookups, and then there’s… nothing in between? Only one person I’ve known has actually done the dinner-and-a-movie thing.

Dinner and a movie. Or just going out somewhere for a cup of coffee. Is it really so much to ask?

Or does that only exist in Meg Ryan movies?

“I don’t know,” my mom says. “Guys in your generation don’t ask girls out the way they used to.”

What’s the problem? Has feminism’s murder of chivalry and twist of gender roles forced guys to sit around, patiently waiting to be asked? But it’s not feminism, because girls aren’t stepping up to the plate either. Something else is wrong, making the dating atmosphere our parents lived in somehow different from ours. And it has nothing to do with bell bottoms or 8-track players.

The Internet, something which has made connecting with old high school friends, long-lost relatives, and family members on the other side of the world so much simpler, has simultaneously made communicating with our peers ten times harder.

Sure it’s tempting to stalk so-and-so on Facebook, and satisfy our most voyeuristic desires. But at the end of the day, you’re left with a sour taste in your mouth. And AIM, Twitter, or whatever the latest craze is isn’t going to satisfy that. You’re still left longing for a relationship. 

And for that, you’re going to have to log off.  

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