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Four Years at the Mount

Social Media - The Modern Echo Chamber

Love at first click

Michael Kenney Jr.
MSN Class of 2019

I think that there are generally two very different reactions to online dating. Some approach it with euphoric optimism, believing that their soulmate flounders in cyberspace, just waiting to be found. Others balk at the opportunity, considering just their luck that they would fall for a foxy profile only to be duped by a creepy person hiding behind a phony account. Both outlooks have merit. Social media—and online dating in particular—can be a blessing for some and a nightmare for others. But what makes some online relationships click and others crumble? There is no perfect answer. While a lot of variables dictate the success or depreciation of online dating relationships, trends show that individuals who use online dating sites as resource to meet other people rather than a crutch to avoid face-to-face interaction reach more satisfying results. I believe that dishonesty and over reliance on social media are the two greatest downfalls to online dating relationships.

Particularly in a small town like Emmitsburg, online dating can be a great resource for singles to connect with a broad network of likeminded individuals and potential mates. Brendan Johnson, an Emmitsburg resident and online dater can attest to this benefit.

"Online dating was a great tool for my fiancée and I to come together, but it was just that, a tool. When it's used to encourage face-to-face relationships, I think online dating can be a beautiful means of bringing people together. I used Catholic Match because faith is so integral to my life I felt it was disingenuous to go another route," stated Johnson.

Research shows that online communication generally leads to over four times the amount of self-disclosure than face-to-face interactions because the online communicators feel more anonymous -- and, therefore, more invincible -- behind the veil of a computer screen. Additionally, online dating resources provide a natural context for users to "cut to the chase" so to speak and begin substantive conversation about their relationship aspirations.

But online dating isn’t all peaches and cream. Despite its inherent benefits, online dating spawns glaring disadvantages.

While online dating websites accomplish their goals in providing users with an abundance of potential mates, dating sites present an overwhelming amount of options. While it seems paradoxical that an online dating site provides users with "too many" easily accessible dating options, research shows that the extremely large variety of profiles can inhibit users from making confident selections. In other words, because there are so many eligible singles at the click of a button, users are able to identify suitable counterparts, but they can just as easily begin to question whether there are even better profiles just a few scrolls away. This creates somewhat of a "shopping mindset," that if one suitor flops, there are still thousands of other options at the click of a button.

A 27 year old single woman from Indiana expressed to me her concern for this very mindset.

"Now largely because of the influence of social media, [online dating] is viewed as trendy. Nevertheless, it is unnatural to know everything about someone in five minutes by viewing their profile, much like you would read off the ingredients of a grocery item, and make a decision from that so-called ‘data.’

In addition to the "shopping mindset" that social media abets, deception poses another threat to relational well-being. A study conducted in 2001 found that over a quarter of online dating participants mischaracterized themselves in efforts to attract good-looking counterpart. Most common misrepresentations included age (14%), appearance (10%), and marital status (10%). The same study found that lying may cause a domino effect; in efforts to create a more "even playing field," people will lie to the degree in which they believe others are lying.

Typically, users of online dating sites lie about small things--such as saying that they are a few pounds lighter or a couple inches taller--so that the lie would not be detectable in a face-to-face interaction.

Online infidelity is perhaps the most drastic and devastating form of online deception. Because online dating sites cater to people seeking an array of romantic relationships including extramarital relationships, online infidelity is on the rise, and it is estimated that about 13% of male users are married. In fact, there are unfortunately some online dating websites that are dedicated solely to abetting extramarital affairs.

Online infidelity is more ambiguous than offline infidelity because of the limited amount of physical contact. Many users understand infidelity as engaging solely in physically romantic behavior with an extramarital partner. Under this misconception, sending sensual messages to a partner outside of one’s relationship does not qualify as dishonesty. This argument is faulted, however, because romantic infidelity includes investing in substantial emotional conversation as well as erotic activity in a relationship that is apart from one’s committed partner. Nevertheless, you can image how the lack of physical contact involved in social media can muddy the waters for some people.

Johnson, who serves in the Campus Ministry Department at Mount St. Mary’s University, speaks staunchly against such heartbreaking dishonesty. Johnson says that dishonesty foils the timeless objectives of relationships.

"As long as these sites, and social media in general, are used to encourage deep encounters with persons, it really helps you along the goal of Theology of the Body - a deep, and real encounter with another person. Whether that person is God, a friend, or a romantic interest, these things all help you along the way. It's when you get stuck behind the screen and spend more time in your head than engaging in a life lived with others that the online dating, and social media in general lose their power to aid and trap us in superficial and unfulfilling relationships."

Online dating is a double-edged sword. The lack of nonverbal cues and the sense of anonymity liberates users to present more vulnerable information while also opening the door for deceit. Like almost anything, it can’t be categorized as either solely beneficial or baneful. Instead, I believe that the user’s mindset and the individuals they pursue dictate the joy of the experience. So take the condemnations in this article into consideration, but don’t balk at the chance to fall in love at first click.

Read other articles by Michael Kenney Jr.