New rules in the old dating game
Nov. 3, 2014
by Ivan Raconteur

I haven’t been on a date since Ronald Reagan was in office.

While this is regrettable in some respects, it does afford me the opportunity to study the subject from a scientific, rather than emotional perspective. It doesn’t, however, make it any easier to understand.

Dating appears to have changed in several significant ways since I was actively in the game.

One of the most obvious changes involves technology and social media.

Back in the dark ages, when a person started dating someone new, their friends generally learned about it from seeing the new duo together, by hearing about it from the parties involved, or from mutual friends.

This tended to follow a slow, gradual, natural progression. It allowed people to get comfortable with one another and learn more about each other before the blossoming relationship came under the microscope of a broader audience.

Information travels much faster today.

I noticed this recently when an old friend posted some photos of a North Shore vacation she took with a new man.

When I say new man, I mean new to me, and, apparently, to many of her other friends. I assume they have known one another for a period of time, although there is nothing in the context of the photos to indicate how long.

Springing a thing on one’s friends in this way is rather like issuing a press release announcing one is in a new relationship.

Those who aren’t photographically inclined sometimes accomplish the same thing by changing their Facebook status to “in a relationship.”

In either case, the abrupt announcement can leave observers with questions.

Taking the example of my friend’s North Shore getaway, for instance, she never explicitly stated she was in a new relationship, but there are clues that suggest she might be.

First, although she tagged the new man in many of the photos and descriptions, she never referred to him as “my friend.” The friend thing is code that girls use as a disclaimer when they want to make it clear a guy is a friend and not more than a friend.

Second, the photos were “couples” photos, featuring scenes of the two of them sitting very close together on a rock on the shore, in front of a waterfall, or riding on an alpine slide.

Finally, the sure sign this was more than a weekend fling was the fact she included the guy in a posed family photo when they spent an afternoon with her relatives. Girls never do that unless they are serious about a guy.

In addition to facilitating press releases about new relationships, technology also provides empirical evidence they exist.

I suspect there’s a whole new protocol surrounding these things that simply didn’t exist the last time I was on a date.

How long, for example do people go out before they post the first photo of themselves together? Is it acceptable on a first date, or third, or does it require mutual agreement?

Do some people post photos of potential romantic partners as a sort of screening process to gauge the reaction of their friends before becoming more serious about the person?

Can one get in trouble for posting a photo or changing the relationship status on their online profile too soon, before the other party is ready?

These are all things I’ll need to know if I ever meet someone.

I haven’t found any reference material on the subject. Is there some kind of “Dating for Dummies” book out there? Is there a guide for romance after 50, or does one have to figure these things out on one’s own?

I saw a movie once starring Will Smith as a kind of dating coach, but I don’t know if that is a real thing.

As I recall, dating was a virtual minefield even before the Internet, with a potential faux pas lurking every step of the way.

It is much worse today, because any social blunder one might commit is instantly transmitted not just to the person one is dating (or hoping to date), but to everyone in each of their respective social networks at the same time. That puts a lot of pressure on a guy who is nervous in the first place.

I wouldn’t want to make a mistake and inadvertently give people the impression I was in a relationship when I wasn’t, simply by posting a photo online. It’s fun to post photos when one is out having a good time with friends, but how does one ensure one isn’t violating some unwritten code?

It can be confusing when relationships end, too.

I have had friends who I thought were in a relationship with one person, only to find they have started posting photos of themselves with a new person. I always find it hard to know what to say in those situations. Did the other person die, emigrate to Macedonia, or did the two just decide to part company?

It’s obvious when someone new appears on the scene, but much less so when someone simply fades away without explanation. Sometimes, there isn’t even the closure of a change in the person’s relationship status on Facebook.

I suppose this is understandable. Breakups can be difficult, and issuing a press release seems unnecessarily harsh.

I wonder if the simplest thing might just be to stay out of the dating game. That way, I won’t have to learn a bunch of complicated new rules. I had enough trouble with the old ones.

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