Will adding them affect what you post? Will the subject matter of your Tweets become fodder for dissection over dinner? I once went out with a guy who wouldn’t add anyone he’d dated on MySpace. (This was a while ago, obviously.) At first, I was offended. I’m good enough to make out with, but not to befriend online? We had a few dates, and only after we were officially no longer seeing each other did I get a friend request from him.
Over the years, though, I’m beginning to see the wisdom in his way of thinking. When you add someone to a social network that you use to share your whereabouts, vent, flirt or talk about your personal life, there’s always potential for trouble. Out of all my social networking apps, Foursquare is the one I’m most choosy about.
I’m the mayor of my local deli, but I try not to broadcast exactly where I live to the entirety of the Internet, and if you really want to know that I order two eggs on whole wheat and am often running late every morning, well, there you go. I have a small mix of close friends and random acquaintances on Foursquare, and I’ve found that in many ways, seeing where people hang out and how early and late they stay up says a lot about the type of person they are.
Last fall I was on a movie date and I whipped out my phone to check in on Foursquare. My date said, “You’re on Foursquare? Me too,” and proceeded to add me as a friend. It was our second date, and I thought it was sweet—in a geeky kind of way—that we both used the service, I hadn’t expected him to be on it. After things between us ran their course, I felt a little weird about seeing his updates. I didn’t want to know, and didn’t really want him to know where I was, yet I didn’t want to be rude and suddenly defriend him.
This same person, just recently, texted me to comment: “Really? You checked in at Whole Foods?” I think maybe it was a “neg,” in the parlance of the pickup artist world, a way of flirting by making fun of me. I started to feel self-conscious about my frequent Starbucks check-ins, but really, why should I care what he thinks about those, or about my attempt to rent Keeping Up with the Kardashians at my local hipster video store? (In case you’re wondering, they don’t stock it.) Helpfully, I realized how different our schedules are: I commute to an office every day, while he regularly checks in at the same bar at three in the morning. This makes it a little easier for me not to fantasize about our would-be relationship.
Ideally, I want to date someone who at least knows what these apps are and uses them to some degree. I wouldn’t mind at all if they didn’t follow me, though. It can get very hectic trying to manage the responses of strangers alongside those of people you’re intimate with. My ideal scenario is a version of don’t ask don’t tell.
For my friend and fellow SexIs columnist Twanna A. Hines, checking in isn’t something she wants to share with a partner. “I couldn’t imagine dating someone as plugged in as I am,” she told me. “I’m online all the time, from telling people whether or not I’m wearing panties to announcing where I go on dates. But there’s a difference between choosing what information I make public and being outed. On my own, I can check in on Foursquare to tell friends, ‘Hey, I’m in Union Square. Text me if you’re around.’ If I was dating a male version of me, that announcement would suddenly become much more personal. I’m public, but that doesn’t mean I don’t value discretion.”
I get where she’s coming from, but I actually feel the opposite way: I’d love to date someone as connected (addicted?) as I am, because I know they’d understand when I freak out about losing my iPhone or want to sing the praises of the chocolate sourdough bread I had or share a photo of my new boots.
The man known as @JustCallMeTHOR on Twitter responded to my Twitter query echoing Hines’s sentiments. “I really don’t want to know too much about the person in advance. It’s more fun to ask and find out via person-to-person conversation. I also don’t want to know who else they’ve been dating. It’s not my business. Nor do I want to know who her friends are; I’ll get introduced to the important ones in time. And if things don’t work out, I don’t want to know about their life without me…not in any detail, anyway. I don’t need to know about the boyfriend who replaced me. Just TMI.”
For me, the other side of the coin is that if I do want to know about someone, I will definitely poke around in their online postings. That can easily go from a harmless look at their elementary school photos on Facebook to obsessing over who the girl they’re half-naked at the beach with is. If you’re someone who’s not always able to draw that line for yourself in a healthy way (waving my hand in the air), the access to a new date or lover’s social media can be overwhelming and potentially damaging.
I’d feel weird telling someone, “Please don’t follow me,” but I think in many ways social media works best as a mass update system rather than a “These are my innermost thoughts” function. I’m trying to work on toning down my online presence because I have family members, coworkers and exes all over my updates. I don’t think about them each individually when I’m posting something, because if I did I’d be way too paralyzed to every write anything more than, “How cute is my friend’s cat?”
Having a social media imbalance in a relationship can be a way for one person to share aspects of their life the other person either isn’t interested in (or isn’t interested in finding out about online) or using your skills as a writer, photographer, cook or simply social butterfly to make new (platonic) friends. It doesn’t have to be threatening to a relationship.
I’m thinking of two prominent women online whose husbands are known, respectively, as Marlboro Man and The Farmer. The former is Ree Drummond, a.k.a. blogger, The Pioneer Woman, who chronicles her whirlwind romance in her memoir, The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels. The other is entrepreneur and author Penelope Trunk, who blogs about business advice and how she came to marry a farmer at Brazen Careerist.
They fascinate me because I so rarely meet anyone who doesn’t spend at least some portion of their day online, yet from what it sounds like, their husbands don’t have online presences aside from what they write about them using nicknames.
Social media is an incredibly powerful tool, personally and professionally. It has its time and place, and for someone fairly addicted to the rush of feedback I get from sharing news about myself online, it’s often hard to separate my social media from my self. Ultimately, though, I don’t only want to have online relationships, and I’m learning (or at least, trying to learn) how to keep the more personal parts of my life, well, personal.