Love on a Wire
Social media sites revolutionize teen courtship rituals
By Giselle Señas | Miami Lakes Educational Center
Like any other day after school, Alexis Travieso put his bag in its usual corner of his bedroom and sat at his desk. He turned on his Alienware laptop and logged onto Facebook.
He stumbled upon one of Karla Arredondo’s comments on a mutual friend’s status update, a girl he felt instantly attracted to when he saw her in school. He added her as a Facebook “friend” and messaged her:
“Hi, we don’t know each other, but I just wanted to tell you I think you are gorgeous.”
Arredondo thought he was sweet as he continued asking “random” questions to get to know her.
“We talked online for about a month, almost two,” Travieso said. “Then I asked her if she wanted to go to the movies one day. She said yes. I was really happy. I really liked her.”
The 17-year-old finally had a date.
For teens, social media sites have revolutionized the dating game. Teens get to know one another by messaging, chatting, commenting on people’s statuses and posting photos.
Face-to-face conversations are replaced with the notification bell of an arriving message. Facial expressions are replaced with a default picture from weeks before. Words on a screen speak without tone to clarify their ambiguous meanings.
According to a 2010 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, teens are hooked into social media full throttle. The report says more than three quarters of teens post comments to a friend’s page or wall and more than half of social networking teens say they sent texts or IMs using social media sites.
For Annabelle Gonzalez, 16, a student at Hialeah High School, guys try to get her attention by virtually befriending or messaging her. She gets messages ranging from “heyyyy, i’m Alejandro and i think I was your server at dennys?” to as vulgar as “Cn I get that ass from behin ”
Gonzalez hates being messaged by random guys only looking for a good time.
“If it were up to me, I rather [guys] contact me for my personality, not my looks but that’s how our generation is,” Gonzalez said. “Through the screen you can’t see personality, it’s all looks.”
For Travieso, social media was the only available means to get to know his interest.
“I like more of a face-to-face conversation, but it was either using Facebook or not talking to her at all,” said Travieso, who said making a connection at school was limited by time and place.
So, he got to know Arredondo first through Facebook, eventually transitioning onto multiple hours of Skype conversations from their respective homes, and finally hanging out in person to get to know each other.
“The first time we hung out was a little awkward but I got really comfortable real quick,” Travieso said. “After the first time, it was just right.”
Experts say teens need to be wary of the risks.
“Teens are not yet ready and capable to have a relationship in the speed the internet provides,” said Lisa Jander, author of Dater’s Ed: The Instruction Manual for Parents, a book on teen dating advice for parents.
Jander said a teenager’s prefrontal cortex is in the process of maturing, which limits their ability to reason, control impulses or make judgments as well as adults.
“You want to lengthen the time as much as possible before meeting to get to know them better,” Jander said.
Jander also worries that excessive social networking may also lead to poor communication skills. Communicating through a computer screen makes people forget the importance of presenting confidence through body language and facial expressions.
This happened to Carlos Mijares, 18, a student at Miami Dade College, who started talking to his girlfriend of almost two years through Facebook because he didn’t feel confident enough to do so in person.
“If you don’t practice talking to people in person, you lose confidence,” Mijares said. “It’s different for me to talk to someone through text than in person, I have to build self-confidence first.”
According to onlineschools.org, more than half of the population talks to people online more than they do in real life. Online, people’s comments tend to be less thoughtful or more spontaneous. There’s also a higher chance of misunderstood humor or sarcasm, and the tendency of saying things online that one normally wouldn’t say in person when talking online.
“I’m very shy, so it’s easier for me to talk to people through text,” Mijares said. “But it’s gotten to the point where I can talk face-to-face and feel comfortable.”
The transition from talking online to meeting in person may also be clumsy.
At Travieso’s first meeting with Arredondo, there was a lot of silence and nervousness because they weren’t sure what to say. They dodged eye contact as they anxiously tried to figure out what to say next.
“Going from chatting to face-to-face is a huge step,” Travieso said. “I was seeing how she was in person and she was seeing how I was in person.
“The first time we hung out was a little awkward but I got really comfortable real quick. After the first time [we hung out], it was just right.”
Travieso’s tone starts to become sweeter as he continues to speak.
“I’m glad I started talking to her though. I ended up really liking her.”