Nellie Eden | Debrief Contributor | Friday, 17 March 2017

Half-Hearted: How Social Media Killed Mystery And Ruined Dating

Half-Hearted: How Social Media Killed Mystery And Ruined Dating

The Debrief: The quest for real intimacy is also harder now than it’s ever been

Since time immemorial, mystery, in all its ephemeral proliferations has been the ultimate aphrodisiac. Without it, romance is, essentially, just a game of whack-a-mole in which we’re all just people who either fancy one another or don’t. Unfortunately, life isn’t that simple and nor is attraction. As humans we obsessively crave a) pain and b) what we cannot have (which I guess are interlinked) when it comes to matters of the heart. 

You don’t need to me to tell you this. Enigmatic, brooding, quiet people are always our heartthrobs and our anti-heroes, our dream prom date, the subject of our reveries and the objects of our desire. Think of any Hollywood rom-com: there ye shall find yourself a romantic figure who’s not all they seem - Superman, James Bond and Ryan Gosling in the Notebook, Brad Pitt in Meet Joe Black. Prime examples of the depiction of the male mystique. Objectively, you wouldn’t wanted to go for a drink with these people. They’re not going to be doing shots with you at the bar, but the film’s underdog (read as us) will inevitably go to the umpteenth end to get their attention. The result? A relatable storyline for the masses. 

For obvious reasons secrecy and not saying much really turns us on as a species. You can project what you like onto these people, they are tabula rasas onto which you can Jackson Pollock all your weirdest fantasies. You can magic them up a glamorous home life, amazing arms and an underrated wit. They are unlikely to text you back. Whatever they do, by proxy, will be exciting. 

But let’s be honest here. Mystery is like, so 90’s. Mystery requires some illusiveness, the foundations of which are a private life- and no one has a private life in 2017 unless you live without a mobile phone. A tool that was created in order to allow us to connect with each other more efficiently has become a barrier to meaningful interactions. We don’t know most of our Facebook friends, or the names of our Instagram followers but we make them privy to our every move. Our holidays, the insides of our homes, our lovers. Nothing is sacred and technology has all but stripped modern romance of mystery. 

As a single person, I use my mobile phone both as a date-bait and as a screen to hide behind. Mostly, I am aware of how it’s corroded my private life almost entirely; it’s worn me down, emptied my life of proper intimacy and turned me into something, that historically, I’m not- which is, extroverted. I suspect I’m not alone in that. I see other people doing the same thing. How this pressure to peacock, whether it comes naturally or not, will impact everyone differently, but the Instagram couple is something we all know. I’ve seen my mate’s girlfriend’s tits on Instagram. I know what my best mate’s boyfriend’s room looks like despite never having visited his house. I could map one of my friend’s girlfriend’s moles out – gross.  

I have also observed people who have been very publicly a ‘couple’ on social media, fall apart, unfollow each other, make digs at one another on their stories and un-tag themselves from their exes pictures. I wish I didn’t know these things but I do- thanks to my phone. You can guess somebody’s current status (seeing someone, sleeping around, love up, in hate) according to their social media activity and we’ve all played Private Investigators more times than we care to admit. 

Last year I went on a few dates with someone who turned out to not be interested in me. Had it been 1998 I would have asked around, shortly afterwards, would have pronounced him dead, mourned and moved on- knowing that bumping into him might have been a probability but something that wasn’t worth losing sleep over. But, It wasn’t 1998, it was 2016, so I stalked the proverbial crap out of him and made myself really miserable while he looked really chuffed on holiday in Greece. Anyway, I’m quite sure people have carried out similar background checks on myself and that makes me feel really, rather sick. So sick, that last year I deleted Instagram having ghosted more individuals that I can keep up with. I was also paying due diligence to a growing sense of my own paranoia about my ‘other’ performed life that was running in parallel with my real one, the two plots, showing alarming discrepancies. I was sick of seeing up stranger’s noses and in their bathrooms. I no longer wanted to give a fuck about where a friend of a friend was eating brunch. I had begun to felt watched, surveilled and monitored and when I realised that I auditioning for a role as myself, every day, on the stage that was Instagram- I deleted the app. Permanently. If that sounds like something a crazy person might do, I would ask you what exactly is sane about sharing your every waking hour on a public platform? Nothing. There is nothing that makes sense about how much we give away of ourselves on apps like Instagram. We’re spread-eagled, legs akimbo, homogenised, no one in a sea of a million. When you find something meaningful within that mess, shit just gets more complicated. 

It’s bizarre that we don’t take more time to talk to each other about how nonsensical sharing our lives on social media is, let alone our relationships. We should make more time to sit down and reassuringly say to one another ‘this is kind of lame isn’t it?’ but we don’t because we’re too busy taking pictures of each other and #couplegoals. 

I realised that what I had been missing in my life was privacy. I wanted some mystery back. I wanted people to have to mean it when they asked me what I’d been up to. I wanted to go on a date safe in the knowledge that a background check would be a tougher task. I wanted the opportunity to meet someone who had no preconceptions about me or what I do. 

Reader, it didn’t work.

Nothing happened. My sex life actually dried up and people stopped inviting me to as much stuff. I had more time to write more which was great, but this is a column about romance, and it did nothing for the romance in my life. No one found me sexier off-grid. I did not appear more aloof. My attempts to be old-school and elegant made me feel out of touch and out of work. 

Amo, amas, alas, I was back at square one. 


As a single person, it’s not just the constant impetus to share that social media encourages, it makes me feel like I’m being pushed to share more than I want to. My sex life is normally one of the first things I get asked about. Let’s be realistic, no one ever wants to sit down and chat work for more than five minutes. I have been asked about who I’m sleeping with by friends of friends, colleagues, strangers at house parties and the homeless man who frequents my corner of Mare street. An all too common line of conversation will start with a friend relaying to me that ‘x’ asked who I was seeing, or ‘y’ wanted to know if I’d ever got with ‘z’. I know I’m guilty of this guess-who small talk too but I’m more consciously trying to kerb my pedestrian nosiness. 

More often than not dating someone now feels like you’re simultaneously dating a whole friendship group. As soon as you move past the first three or four dates you can bet your last Rolo, screenshots of yourself have been shared, Facebook profiles checked and mutuals contacted. Forging a bond with someone that’s free from what ‘other people’ think has always been hard, but now it’s near impossible and that depresses me. I am particularly bad because I really listen to what my friends tell me, however flippant or throw away their comments are. ‘He’s got really long arms, hasn’t he? Is he funny behind closed doors? Didn’t he used to date thingy?’. While I should turn the other ear, what my friends think, or what I perceive them to think impacts how I deal with the people I see. Silly, but true. I am very human. Certainly how my pseudo-private life is played out in the public arena shapes my behaviour far more than I’d like it to. I’m learning to give less of a shit and am starting to make changes myself. Deep down I recognise that if I’d like to go about my business judgement free, then I must return the favour. 

For my friends who are in relationships, I understand that the quest for real intimacy is also harder now than it’s ever been. One friend tells me that the more formative stage of her (now very long) relationship was tough precisely because of social media. She told me that during the more nascent stages of her and her boyfriend’s relationship there was a lot of game playing. I know that’s true from my experience as a serial dater too. Those first few months of dating, more often than not, are a see-saw few weeks off pass the FOMO. In the moments between texts and sex, you’re able to track their every move. If their exact co-ordinates aren’t fully disclosed down the rabbit hole you go: ‘who’s that girl in his tagged picture? Why hasn’t she texted me back put posted to Instagram? He didn’t tell me he was going out for dinner there…’ 

Another friend confided telling me that even after years together with her girlfriend, that no matter how sure she is of her partner’s commitment she still finds herself monitoring everything she does online. ‘I’ll keep a steady track of what she’s liking and who she’s following, and that old adage about finding something if you’re looking for it- is true. Inevitably I get myself worked up about something silly if I’m in the mood to. I’m trying to stop because we’ve had some damaging fall outs over it.’

And, as one dear friend put it, ‘social media is our stage, and we’re all players.’ Play or be played out? That’s the question now. For the meantime, I plan on getting Goop on my own ass. Listening less to others and taking things at face value. Living (dating) more in the present. Spending less time on my phone and pulling all the handsome brooding quiet types I’ve left up on any pedestals, down.   

Like this? You might also be interested in:

Half-Hearted: It's A Myth That Only Men Are Commitment Phobic 

Half-Hearted: On Friends With Benefits 

The Myth Of Twenty-Something Dating Culture 

Follow Nellie on Twitter @nelliefaitheden

Tags: Dating Confusion, Dating