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4 TEDxWilmington speakers unpack online dating for the lost and lovesick

TEDxWilmington and Accelerate Delaware teamed up to host a salon where speakers pondered the age-old question: Am I in a relationship or a situationship?

Yvonne Orji (left), Jack A. Daniels, Dr. Debra laino and Kevin Carr. (Photo by Anitra Johnson)

In the afterglow of Valentine’s Day, four panelists gathered at World Café Live at the Queen to discuss modern romance and online dating culture for a witty TEDxWilmington salon called “Swipe Left: Love, Dating & Situationships.”
So, what’s up with today’s dating scene? Why do people seemingly find themselves in situationships rather than relationships, especially if commitment is the goal? With the ability to text, tweet, direct message and swipe, hasn’t technology made it easier to find potential love and companionship?
We sat down with each speaker to get their take on how online dating and social media has affected how we court, connect and contemplate whether this is The One or just The One for Right Now.
Spoiler: Yes, technology, social media and dating sites have made it easier to meet people — a little too easy.  Therein lies the rub.

The Delaware Sex Doctor

Dr. Debra Laino’s talk, “Technology & the Extinction of Romance: Dissecting Love,” kicked off the salon and dove headfirst into the intersectionality of dating and technology.
Asked directly, she didn’t hold back.
“I think that technology is the downfall of relationships,” she said. “We are really coming into a position now where there’s a risk with regards to long-term, monogamous relationships.”
As a clinical sex therapist, psychologist and relationship therapist, Laino worries that technology and social media are ruining romance by making it easier to walk away from the process of creating intimacy and commitment. She rails against technology for contributing to the devolution of interpersonal communications that builds connections between people.
Her argument is that contemporary dating norms give people too many options, to the point that they are unable to make a decision. A “paradox of choice” that can bolster a state of “stable ambiguity.” Laino defined stable ambiguity as being “too afraid to be alone” while simultaneously “too afraid to start to build intimacy.”
Online dating and social media make it easier to encounter people who troll for fun (or because of low self-esteem). Laino defined some of the lingo used to explain these behaviors. Here’s our breakdown of those terms, what they mean and our assessment of each action’s degree of cruelty:

  • Ghosting: When someone you’re involved with bounces without explanation.
    • Level of Inconsideration: Big League
  • Icing: When your boo finds an increasing number of reasons to put more time between your interactions and more distance between the two of you. If you get a text response to a voice mail you left them four days ago, you’ve been iced.
    • Level of Inconsideration: Bad
  • Benching: When someone you are “dealing with” blows you off so gently that it takes a while to realize they’re keeping you around for a reason other than wanting a serious relationship.
    • Level of Inconsideration: Nasty
  • Breadcrumbing: When your potential love interest acts interested, but only contacts you often enough to keep you guessing.
    • Level of Inconsideration: Terrible
  • Zombie’ing: When the person you were dating ends the relationship only to pop up months later to see if you’re still interested.
    • Level of Inconsideration: Sad

While these behaviors existed before these terms were invented, Laino argues that “the dawn of social media and communication technology” have become “pathological.”

“Social media is killing our social skills”

So says psychotherapist and fellow TEDxWilmington speaker Jack A. Daniels. When asked how social media and technology have impacted courtship and dating, Daniels flat-out called these cultural frills “problematic.”
“It’s a voyeuristic approach to being someone that matters,” he said.
Instead of doing the legwork of meeting someone physically and having a face-to-face conversation, he argued, people would rather employ technology to chase an ideal that they would know does not exist in the real world.
“People are searching for something that they haven’t defined … based on poor information,” he said. “And that poor information can come in the form of online [activities], can come in the form of social media, can come in the form of too many options.”
Daniels described himself as an “old-fashioned guy” who wants to “get back to the basics of relationships with true connection.” Daniels’ TEDx talk, “The Power of Your Love Story,” certainly made a case for old-fashioned reverence and love in a long-term committed relationship. Before you get to know your mate, he concluded, you should get to know yourself.

“People are who they are”

Technology has made it easier to strike up a conversation, but does it help people go out on actual dates? Yes, said author Kevin Carr. The dating environment has been changed by technology, he argued, but technology is only a tool, not mind control.
“We hear of all of these different tools that are now at our disposal,” Carr said. “The reality is that our dating habits have to evolve, just like life has evolved. That doesn’t mean that we have to lose who we are.”
To Carr, a date can happen over Skype instead of an ice-skating rink. But if dating has only “evolved” and new technologies are simply the tools we use to practice it, shouldn’t it be easier to find someone who wants to date you for the same reasons you want to date them? Why are people making up new terminology to describe the disrespectful ways people approach, maintain and leave relationships?
“We can’t give the tools but so much power, right?” says Carr. “It’s like, they may help us to connect and reach people, but the job of creating relationships is still ours.”

Wait for it! How to bring sexy back

You might recognize Yvonne Orji as Molly, the potty-mouthed, headstrong, corporate lawyer on HBO’s new hit show Insecure who dates a lot and has sex when she wants to. In real life, Orji is a devout Christian who doesn’t hide her commitment to God and openly discusses her virginity.
Orji uses her YouTube channel, radio programs and her TEDx talk, “The Wait Is Sexy,” to inspire and reassure others to stand by their convictions and not compromise their values while dating in a culture that regards virginal 30-somethings as a peculiarity. She says she believes in options. People should be able to be whomever they want, and that includes being a virgin.
So how do you exhibit those convictions on social media while dating?
“By saying, ‘The wait is sexy,'” Orji said. “How you entertain conversations is sexy, your intelligence is sexy … it’s the full package.”
If someone asks you to give up your convictions, then they are not the one for you, she said. Move on.
The takeaway for those dating in the era of swiping, tweeting and liking: If you want to avoid situationships and find romance (and a shot at commitment), go out on an actual date. Take things slow. Make ‘em wait. And if they aren’t The One? It isn’t hard to meet someone new.
Videos from this TEDxWilmington salon will be available in March, according to organizers.

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