venus square saturn – love in a time of social media

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this was my love horoscope for the past two days. well, firstly, yes i really like astrology. second, i know what transiting venus square saturn means. third, no i won’t bore you with it.

“Step away from the computer, and the person you’ve been IMing who’s definitely, absolutely, positively the love of your life. Or at least insist on a very, very recent photo.”

fourth, no. i did not write that myself for sake of argument in this post. in fact, sometimes i am even blindsided by the ’spot-on-ness’ of the planets.

basically since i started my academic career i have been obsessed with romantic relationships. and the theories that surround them. but there is one theory in that my good friend knapp postulated way back in the revolutionary time of the 1970s that i am particularly engrossed with, as is the rest of the interpersonal communication geek community out there. it’s called the staircase model of relationships. and it has become the bedrock of all academic relationship talk.

this staircase model outlines and defines ten ’stages’ that all relationships go through. 5 coming together, 5 coming apart. i know this is getting a little dense… but bear with me. so no matter how much we study relationships these stages can always be found and have allowed us to make sense of the crazy behavior that occurs in relationships.

and then social media walked into the academic scene. well, let’s say is sneaking in with a bag a trickery up its sleeve. and basically the dating world as we know it has become, if possible, a little more confusing.

you see, there is a reason that you obsessively read his blog, or she continues to @ you on twitter and you don’t even know her, or you just can’t bring yourself to un-favorite that picture of him or her on flickr nonetheless stop looking at it, or you can’t seem to believe he is tweeting with her, and are they dating now? so soon after you broke up? the reason: we have begun to have one sided relationships. essentially, social media sites provide us with all the tools to fall for someone, or stay smitten with someone with absolutely no need for them to do anything… hell, you really don’t even need to know them.

we share our entire lives on these sites. why? for a million and one reasons… but quite simply, its addicting as all get out. humans are addicted to attention- and putting our entire lives on the inerwebs for others to see and experience is a sure fire way to feel like somebody cares. whether that/those somebodies are our friends, strangers, acquaintances, boyfriends, girlfriends, exes, people we don’t know or, god forbid, people we want to know.

so we put everything about us onto the information super highway and buckle up for a crazy relational ride. because, the thing about knapp’s staircase model is that it is an interpersonal relationship model. that means between two people. and this interpersonal model relies on specific communication checks and balances that ensure that stepping onto the next tier of the relationship is mutually decided. and the best thing about these theories and stairs is that you and i, every day daters, don’t need to really even be aware that there are checks and balances as we navigate through our relationships… they just happen. or did. until social media.

we currently find ourselves in a place in time where stepping up the stairs ( consciously or unconsciously) can happen without the other parter even knowing.

lets break this down. pre social media days:

stage one -initiating- first meeting with another, attempt to appear pleasant and likeable (read: dance at the bar, buy a drink for someone at the bar, meet at the supermarket in the deli aisle, meet someone on the bus/at the park/ or doing any other common activity)
stage two -experimenting- discovering the unknown, limited commitment, appears casual (ask for phone number, go on a date, discuss family, discuss life/employment/hobbies)
stage three- intensifying- self disclosure increases, and we reveal a lot more, “we” pronouns are used, expressions that we have, little code words that no one else knows (’dating’, discussing future/hopes/fears, sharing secrets)
stage four – integrating- intensification of intimacy, close friends involved, disclosure increases, continuation of stage three, begin to formulate opinions as a couple (say, “we are doing this”, others treat you as a couple, there is romance, common property, common space)
stage five- bonding- for all simple purposes this is a formal commitment to the relationship that others will hold you do (marriage, moving in together).

ok then there are 5 stages of coming apart. and at the end of those 5 there is usually the ‘death’ of the relationship. however, though the stages do always go in order, a relationship can go though them over and over without actually ‘dying.’ they are natural phases. haven’t you ever woken up one day and looked at your significant other and thought “i don’t even know him/her anymore.” well, then start at the bottom of the stairs! get to know them again (ps that is a conscious way fix a relationship before letting it get bad enough to break up! when things get difficult… think about the things you did when you first started dating, and the excitement they brought, and do them again!)

so what the hell does social media have to do with this?

social media has the power to take away all the ‘interpersonal’ parts of meeting, experimenting, intensifying, and integrating. how much can you find out about a person via facebook, their blog, myspace, and the ultimate… twitter- age, birthday, family life, hometown, sports in high school, college, favorite movies, favorite music, job, friends, hobbies, inside jokes (wall posts from friends), what they did that weekend (pics), what they are doing this weekend (events)… and then the more personal via blog (especially if they are anything like my oddly unprivate emotional self) – hopes, fears, things that make them happy, sad, scared, vulnerable, loved, frustrated, nervous, excited, etc…

essentially, we can gain all the information we need for our heads and hearts to saunter up those relationship stairs without the other person even knowing!

now, again, i could explicitly describe each and every dating situation and how social media would affect it but you get the picture. but i will just emphasize the ‘coming apart’ stages are just as influenced by social media. ex: we break up the- relationship dies- but i can start at the bottom of the stairs, or even just a few steps down by following you on twitter, or reading your blog… because it is like i am still there, experiencing and intensifying with you.

that’s it. no judgment social media, just an honest acknowledgement that of course dating seems to be getting harder and harder for us! we are physically defying the dating game that our mental selves have been conditioned to play.

we are entering a world where the rules of the dating game are changing before we’ve even figured out how win. we are no longer sharing information, opening up, and becoming vulnerable based on the aforementioned rules of the game: give and take. we are subjecting ourselves to vulnerability without the ‘other’ validating and accompanying us throughout the process.

i welcome you -fascinating, exciting, and emotionally overloaded world of social media that is so chaotically unknown… but i’m watching you.

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