A vote for privacy in a world of oversharing

This post is probably going to annoy some people. I’ll jump the gun here by saying I’m not pointing fingers or on some superiority rampage but I can’t help but look at what’s happening online, now that the Internet and its users have become more intertwined with each other, and see some possibly damaging ways we live out our digital lives.

We all know overshare is a big issue in this era. People can’t seem to figure out where to draw the line or even know that there is a line for the most part. One weekend you’re happily sharing pictures of your drunken night out and making cocky remarks about how superior you are to everyone. Next thing you know, your prospective new employer is going through your #yolo and #fuckthepolice posts and doing a side-by-side comparison between ‘CV you’ and ‘Facebook you’, while you sit there hoping the chair you’re cringing in sucks you through the floor and out the nearest exit. Somehow not even your ‘dress for success’ outfit that you are hoping to (or need to) return the next day saves the day in that moment.

So yeah, we’ve all learned – either through awkward personal experiences or by reading Buzzfeed articles – about how very wrong things can go if you’re not careful what you post online. The angle I’m coming from with this post is a bit more specific, sort of a puzzle piece of how to ensure you don’t end up with egg on your face thanks to your social updates. The big bad wolf I’m trying to tackle here is how you end up looking thanks to what you post or reveal about yourself. The impression you create and the description people who fall in that big, grey realm of associates and people who aren’t quite family or closest to you, would generally give of you.

See, people are funny in more ways than one. What is undeniable, and not really something anyone chooses consciously, is that we all generalize to a degree and have ideas of things and people based on what we see, even if that bit we see is very limited and skewed. Even the most open-minded person who doesn’t generally judge, only gets given so much to go on when they don’t really know you. With that in mind, should you really be fuelling your chances of being misinterpreted? Oh and hey, this is not a post about caring too much what people think. If anything, it’s aimed more towards people who are already trying to make their way through life in a successful manner and who maybe, possibly, want to run for office one day (heck, if Trump can do it, anyone has a chance).

What any good public persona or role model will tell you, is that a great part of garnering respect from others is by maintaining a consistent public image. Erratic behavior makes any perception of you murky, which basically translates to: people are going to compare the things you generally post and say online and then make a generalized assumption based on that. So if you’re angry as hell about love/men/women in one post, then madly in love, then drunk and loving it, then swearing off drinking forever, vegan one moment and wolfing down a steak the next, you’re going to be seen as someone who really doesn’t have a clue what they want in life. If anything, you’ll be marked that erratic one who can’t be depended on. This brings me to the crux of creating a muddled image of how stable you as a person are and how well thought out your life really is: putting dating and relationship updates online.

Take a look at people who are quick to update their Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, Twitter etc. and shout it from the virtual rooftops whenever they start dating someone new. Suddenly all anyone connected to them sees is a flood of pictures with this new love interest and updates from them in their floaty, high state. It’s like they went from being a single entity with their own contribution to the world, to being absolutely nonexistent in the virtual realm, if you excluded updates about this new person. I’m not bashing people in love, not at all. It’s great to feel great. But with that feeling – as with any other – needs to come an understanding that no state of being or feeling ever lasts, directly coinciding with an ability to act in accordance with that knowledge. *climbs off the high-horse-shaped pedestal*

But, as life goes, a lot of relationships fail. It’s just one of those things. Problem is, when you’ve been making so much of a public announcement about it, it’s glaringly obvious when your relationship has withered to the point of nonexistence, even while you try to sweep it under a rug, delete all digital traces of it and keep unusually quiet for a while in the hopes that nobody asks potentially hurtful questions about your love life. It blows my mind and baffles me to no end that people carry on doing this, especially if they’ve gone through the whole process of several failed relationships in this digital era of everything being so out there. We face judgement for so many things, and by putting your most private connections and most meaningful moments (however short-lived they might end up being) out there, you face the very real risk of being judged or having unwanted and sometimes very direct interference from outsiders who should (in a less intrusive world) have no role to play in your personal life…it’s also something which has caused a lot of issues and ultimate failures in relationships lately. Of course, also not forgetting how all this ultimately ends up being a big influencing factor in your appearance as someone who is able (or unable) to hold down a serious, long-term relationship.

If you take nothing more from all of this, take this next piece of my opinion and just think about it a bit. I don’t think you should ever post updates that are too close to your personal life. Firstly, why would you need to make such an effort to expose your relationship (and actually many other things) to the world? Anyone secure in who they are and who they are with wouldn’t need to show it off or seek validation or even any other response by telling everyone. With the way life is, I really, honestly believe the only time you should put up a relationship status and photos online, is when you’re already married. In fact, make your wedding photos the first ones you put up and let that serve as a solid confirmation that what people see, is likely to be something, or rather someone, that they can expect to see and associate with you for a very long time.

I’d even go so far as to say don’t even announce your engagement online. The amount of times Facebook friends of mine announced an engagement, or even got to the point of being newlywed, then suddenly going very quiet and months later they start dropping hints about how lonely life is and mention things about life as a singleton…sigh. Life is meant to be lived, not captured and recorded to the point where you miss the here and now (and this is coming from an avid archivist). Privacy is a precious thing…it involves trust with a select few people and the rare ability to choose to be and do whatever you want, without need to conform to standards and expectations. If ever a relationship had to be associated with something, surely privacy would be it.

This could just be me. I mean I’m a solid fan of structure and having a clear understanding of things. So when people I know go through these wild phases of being in and out of love repeatedly, it makes me worry that nobody in this world actually has it together. And I really, truly, want to believe that we all are at least sort of in charge of things and  are following some Master Plan. More than that, the underlying thing that bugs me, is that it all starts to create a very sad outlook on the reality of dating life and relationships. Maybe this is how it’s always been, maybe I just want to retain a hint of denial when it comes to this part of life. That whole notion of ‘for as long as we both shall live’ is already battered and bruised, just look at how many people casually cheat on their partners. I really don’t need to know that, on top of life being damn hard and complicated, there is a very real, huge mountain of struggle ahead of each of us to find the basic fulfilment of a partner. After all, if all the lore of life and love is to be believed, a partner is the one thing that’s supposed to help you get through all the other bad things life throws at you. If it’s a mission finding that, you’re going to have to become one seriously tough person who, although independent as heck, will probably have far too many lonely days.

Oh also, bit of a thought I had the other day… Even the most together people who are otherwise calculated, laser focused and apparently mentally stable, can completely lose their head when it comes to love. For those people, the ones who would really like to know when they’re being nuts at any stage in time, I have a suggested litmus test: Take the person you are dating or want to be in a relationship with, and imagine you get to meet the one person you admire and look up to more than anyone in the world. Now imagine meeting them and ask yourself if you’d be happy, excited and proud to introduce the person you’re with to them. If you’re flinching right now, I have bad news for you. None of us are perfect, granted, but your partner is a very powerful extension of who and what you are and stand for. Even the smartest, most successful person in the world can very rapidly lose respect or credibility if the person they choose to be with isn’t entirely on par with them and their standards. I’ll just leave you with that…

So This Online Dating & Meeting People Thing…8 Lessons I’ve Learned

I’ve never really had a normal, we-met-through-friends/work/school relationship history. In fact, my first serious relationship was with a guy I met online, and it’s how I ended up living on the other side of the country. Back then, in 2000, I spent many hours in online chatrooms – the kind that existed before there were actual chat software and apps like Skype. Yes, I was a MIRC lurker and moderator for 5FM’s chat channel, however much praise that’s worth. The seedy underbelly of instant relay chat could not have been more frowned upon or weird back then, so you can imagine the shocked reactions we used to get when telling people how we met. I found it interesting though, talking to people from all over, each of us hiding behind handles (not door handles, kids, online nicknames). We’ve come a long way since then, with a lot of people today turning to social media because their lives are too busy or social circles too small to meet new people.

Recently there’s been a lot of discussion about online dating and whether it’s an acceptable form of meeting a partner or if it’s a weirdo’s fantasmagorium of exploration. I find it funny, and a bit interesting and perplexing, because a lot of articles have surfaced which justify finding a partner online, based on behavioural algorithms and the ability to search by interest, age, and even income bracket. The whole idea that meeting people and finding meaningful relationships or friendships can now be narrowed down with cold, hard science and statistics, honestly scares me a bit. It makes the hollow of quick dismissal and instant gratification through apps like Tinder and most dating sites feel all the more shallow and non-empathetic. To me, putting a percentage of compatibility on someone is the equivalent of trying to put a price on a human life. No amount of personal bio information can really give you a clue of whether you’ll like the person, in person.

So, nearly fifteen years down the line (on and off over the years), here are some constants I’ve learned about the process of meeting people online and how it impacts or changes when you meet them in person:

1. You’re going to have the same initial conversations over and over.

I can pretty much predict how the typical flow of conversation and covered topics go when meeting someone online. You go through this initial phase where you figure out if they can make you think, laugh, feel curious…whatever it is you need to invest more time in them. And most of the time you’ll find that not much comes of it and you move on to the next person, repeating the process again. The difference between meeting them online versus in real life, is you don’t spend money on drinks, dinner or coffee, you don’t get dressed up. You also aren’t forced to look them in the eyes and maintain a conversation for longer than you feel comfortable, since you have the convenience of merely closing the chat the moment things don’t interest you anymore. This is the first of a few double-edged swords when it comes to online meeting.

2. You’re probably going to cyber stalk them to some degree. Admit it.

Everyone from people at work to your best friends have embraced the power of social media to dig deeper and find out more about people before meeting them. It’s actually been defended as a way of ‘protecting yourself’ or ‘preparing yourself’ in case they have some skeletons and it’s nowhere near Halloween time of the year. Chances are good that they’re doing the same to you. Creepy? Yeah, maybe a bit. But again, this is why you shouldn’t display your whole life online, unless you’re happy to have anyone know all about you. It’s human nature to be curious though and even when we’re not aware of it, we feel an inherent need to be prepared for what is coming. It’s why we have flights of imagination – whether they are idealistic dreams or fearful thoughts – about anything new and unknown. Going to new places, meeting new people, starting new jobs. We do this in attempt to be more prepared for when it actually happens.

3. The pictures don’t make the person or tell the whole story.

If you’re following some gym fanatic with bulges in every place you desire bulges to be, and then some, you wouldn’t be blamed for developing a bit of a crush every now and then. However, unless you want nothing more than a mute gun-show facilitator in your life every day, you might find your interest in them dwindling or plummeting, soon after meeting them. I could be wrong but I’m pretty sure people who spend 4-6 hours of their day either training or eating and the other 8 taking selfies of themselves, probably don’t have a lot else going on in their lives. Love Playboy bunnies? Great! Just don’t expect them to recite Plato at any given moment in time if you ever meet them in person. These are the more outrageous examples but for general reference, try bear the following in mind: Instagram filters. Photoshop. Samsung’s sneaky Beauty Face filter. Low level lighting. The possibility that the photo is from 4 years ago and some things with them have, uh, gone down since then. Ahem.

4. You’ll get to know a great deal about them, before you even meet them.

Notice I said ‘about’…you don’t actually get to know the person on a non-fact-sheet-based level. The funny thing is that online interaction lets some people share parts of themselves they wouldn’t have talked about in person, at first. You get to learn about their siblings, parents, pets, some random stuff at work. Maybe you’ll even get to know their bigger secrets or deepest wishes. You learn these things because it’s easier for people to be open when there isn’t that pressure of being in the same room as the other person. They feel safe, knowing that they can just click to exit the app or chatroom and never need to worry about the conversation again, if it doesn’t go down well. You learn all of these things, en masse, yet the simple things that make up their entirety and character, fall away. You don’t ever learn what drives them nuts on a frequent basis, you don’t know how they respond to surprises or stress, you don’t know if they’ll smile at you with appreciation if you bring them coffee or if how open and sincere they are most of the time. You’ll have information, but not a lot of observational understanding, which means a much less accurate progressive feeling about them and if they’re actually right for you.

5. Never put all your bets on a person before you actually meet them in real life.

I don’t care how perfect they may seem online and how many chats until 3AM you’ve had about life and your dreams. Stop yourself from going all Tom Cruise and planning your wedding or telling everyone you know you’ve found ‘the one’. Keep that stuff locked up tight until you’ve spent a good amount of real time, having real food and sharing real, mutual oxygenated air together. A funny thing happens in that crevice that divides the virtual person from the real one. You may think it’ll be an easy transition to meet them for coffee after weeks of chatting online, maybe completely flawless even, but often times you’d realize you were so wrong. That disparity, that really weird space between who and what you see online and who and what you see in person, can be pretty much of atom-splitting proportions on a personal level. I’ve met people online who I hit it off with instantly and thought we’d be friends forever. Then I met them in person and we’d sit in awkward silence, discussing the weather and being halfway between trying too hard to make conversation flow, and trying to figure out how to politely end the whole meeting and re-contemplate your entire life in the aftermath. On the flip side though, I’ve met people in person who I really doubted I’d get along with at all initially, yet the moment I met them, a whole new level of radiance, intelligence and compassion surfaced that was never obvious from what I saw online.

6. The person you’re dating probably isn’t a carbon copy of who they are online.

For whatever reason – whether they are deliberately selective about what they share, or if they just think and act different in person – a lot of the time you see a side of them online that either vastly enhances or completely conflicts with the person sitting next to you, eating popcorn and watching TV. It’s understandable if they are professionals who need to maintain an image online, or if they simply prefer not to share much online. Becoming aware of this rift between online and personal behaviour raised my semi-paranoia about the reality that you never really know if the person you see every day is, in their spare time, a serial killer or cross dresser. I never saw a greater disparity than with one guy I dated, who was highly philosophical online but dead silent in person. All the things he couldn’t express in person, he put on his social pages, including his doubts about his relationship with me. On a related note: never, ever express online what you can’t express in person. It doesn’t really make for a strong character or garner respect. We all want to show the better sides of ourselves to the world, it’s normal, but if you find the two personas are not at all the same person, you have valid reason to be concerned. Also, bear in mind that people don’t always type and talk in the same tone or reveal the same information – online activity gives people a chance to consider how they’ll react and what they’ll say, while real life tends to strip people of that restraint. Trust what you see in person, your gut is remarkably good at detecting what you don’t really want to see or think about someone.

7. Don’t let meeting your partner online cheat you out of getting to know them in person.

Something weird happens with dating someone you met online. Sometimes, there’s a feeling that the hard work has been done and you can relax now. Sort of like how many people say spouses slack off once they’re married because they feel they’ve reached the goal of finding someone and settling down. With online connections, you’ve probably spent countless hours talking and sharing endless amounts of thoughts, which tends to make you think it’s cemented the two of you securely enough to carry on having a life together. After all, you know the other person’s hopes, dreams, pet hates, passions, and you two agree about most things. I tend to think initially meeting online, especially if there have been long conversations before meeting, cheats you out of getting to know your partner once you are actually together in person. You almost feel as though there isn’t much left to talk about or ask once you’ve covered all those late night conversations. I ended up in a long-term relationship with a man who I honestly never knew at all, and neither of us ever tried to learn more about each other, we just carried on living, but together. If I could give some advice: keep the big conversations for when you’re sharing dinner together, not wolfing down crisps while staring at your respective laptop screens at 2AM. And if you’ve already crossed that line, be sure to have those conversations again in person, every once in a while, because people grow and their minds, personalities and opinions change over time.

8. Don’t become a fisherman just because you’re suddenly in an ocean full of fish.

This one coincides with a lot of things that worry me about how we live these days. We are, without a doubt, a society that has succumbed to immediate supply and demand satisfaction. With the arrival of social media and the ease of meeting new people whenever your phone has battery life and good signal strength, people seem to think of others as easily disposable and replaceable. It’s far too easy to give up on someone just because you know there are so many others out there who will pay you more attention, give you that feeling of excitement again, grant you that satisfaction of knowing you do still have some game and are still attractive…at least initially. Divorce rates and breakups are skyrocketing with the combination of social media opportunities and the acceptance of having multiple partners or annulling a marriage. Unless you’re a very shallow person, you won’t find satisfaction in this way of life. Remember that you are dealing with people, individual minds and personalities, not tissues out of a Kleenex box. There’s merit in taking your time and putting in effort.

Empires would never have been built if people stuck to building mud huts and rebuilding them whenever there’s heavy rain.

As a final thought…

old-couple