I'm Dating A Social Media Ghost

Photographed by Sunny Shokrae.
With online and app dating becoming just as standard as meeting someone in a bar, the Internet is practically a necessary third party in romance. Doing a quick Google or Facebook search of someone’s name even before a first date has become de rigueur. A friend sending a link to the Instagram feed or LinkedIn profile of a prospective suitor doesn’t even raise an eyebrow anymore. According to the Pew Research Center, 74% of “online adults” use some sort of social networking site and we’re using them to constantly vet each other, even if in-person contact will never happen.

So, imagine my surprise when I began dating someone in December with essentially no online presence. His one footprint is a Facebook page sporting a years-old profile picture. That’s it.

I met James the old-fashioned way: I swiped right while drinking with friends. He was 11 years older than me, but I wasn’t too worried about our age gap. After a successful first outing, I did what any young woman my age is wont to do — I Googled him.

I consider myself a fairly skilled Google-er (thanks, J-school!). A first name, age, and current city or school is often more than enough for me to track someone down. But, when I looked James up online, even after getting his last name, there was barely anything to be found. One of the only things I could dredge up was a mention in a college newspaper. From 1999. Clearly, this was uncharted territory.

Despite his Tinder savvy, it turns out that James has almost no social media — not even a LinkedIn profile — mainly due to concerns about work conflicts. As a card-carrying millennial, I was shocked. After all, checking Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook is not only a daily activity, but an ongoing one. My phone is rarely more than 10 feet from my body. It's normal for me to tweet at friends as a means of communication, or to have a friend mention me in the comments of an Instagram that belongs to someone we don’t even know.

When it comes to relationships, especially those that start online, social media often plays the important mutual friend role. It answers questions like, "How does he act when I'm not around?" and, "What happened to his last relationship?" It lets us feel like we're a part of someone's life without having to be there for all of it, and, like alcohol, helps us loosen up a bit when talking to someone we've recently met in person.

For the most part, it seems to be helping us out. “Young adults are more likely to report feeling closer to their spouse or partner thanks to technology,” according to Pew. Social media lets us see another side to the people we know and gives us a little insight into where we can connect with people we don’t know well. But, it has its downsides, too, like when you come across pictures of a date looking completely in love with their ex. How many of us have looked longingly at an Instagram feed, wondering if we could ever really fit into that life?

Still, as frivolous as some of my social media usage is (tweeting about my running tally of Vera Bradley duffles in Penn Station isn’t exactly vital), I had a hard time wrapping my head around James’ social deviance. Our divergent social strategies meant that James and I connect to the world in fundamentally different ways. While I get my news from a variety of different sources each time my Twitter feed updates, he checks the Wall Street Journal or New York Times website when he has a rare free moment. While I keep up to date on my friends’ lives via their Snapchat stories and Instagram feeds, he laments the fact that his friends are so busy with their own lives that he rarely gets to catch up with them.

In some ways, it helps us avoid the dating pitfalls that everyone seems to bemoan, like couples who sit across the table from each other with both of their phones out — together, but not really. Knowing that he has no @ mentions or Snapchats to check makes me more aware of my cell phone use. Not wanting to put up an iPhone-sized barrier between us, I am more likely to just put it away for the night if we are on a date. We never have any of the issues that some of my friends run into: boyfriends/girlfriends wanting more tagged photos on Facebook, trying to figure out how long you should be dating before following your significant other on Twitter, etc. And, I get to avoid things like reading way too much into seeing an ex’s name pop up in his Insta likes.

When it comes down to it, the things we fight about are downright old-fashioned. Our arguments are about things like our work schedules and who stays over at whose apartment, things that are complicated enough without throwing social media into the mix.

As a writer online, Twitter and Instagram play an important role in both my work and social life — I’ve made some great friends online, so why would I want to give that up? But, spending time with James sans social media, I realize that putting away my phone or even (the horror!) turning it off from time to time is really valuable in spending and appreciating time with him. Plus, since I can't check in on James online, I've decided to take a step back from doing the same with any of my exes, the sanity-saving benefits of which cannot be understated.

As a bonus, our communication style got a little throwback. Even though James isn’t posting #tbts, for the first time in a while, I'm in a relationship where we actually talk on the phone. And, while it won't add to my Klout score, I'd take a call over a tweet any day.

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