Stop freaking out about the dating habits of the Facebook generation, says Ashley Lauren Samsa. Teens aren’t losing the ability to communicate, they’ve just found new tools to rewrite an old story.
“Do you like Josh? Circle yes or no.”
I remember the first time I got a note like that one. It was written in big, careful letters that were going lengthwise on a lined sheet of paper. The note was artfully folded in some origami contraption that took forever to figure out how to open.
I thought about this very hard. Did I like Josh? More importantly, was I supposed to like Josh? And what would Maria, the girl who passed me the note, say? She would, of course, look at it before she handed it over to Josh. She was his best friend, after all, and she would either want to find a way to build up the excitement in order to better share it with him if I circled yes, or find a way to break it to him easily if I circled no.
I had carefully circled “yes” with my glitter pen and handed the note back to Maria. She called me a few days later to ask me if I would go out with Josh.
This, of course, was back when “go out with him” actually meant “be his girlfriend.” I had heard a suspicious click on the phone and some muffled breathing as she was talking to me, so I knew Josh was silently on the line, probably afraid to ask me himself. Josh and I proceeded to have a relationship lasting about a month wherein we rarely talked to each other. Instead, we opted to talk through notes or via our friends. Our breakup story is similar to the way we started, all notes and secret three-way calls.
While I grew up with enough technology to participate in those three-way calls, I certainly wasn’t as reliant on it as teenagers are today. As a high school teacher, I see students constantly poking away at their phones. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and many services I haven’t even heard of yet are taking the place of passing notes in class or hanging posters in the hallways. In fact, in the Today Show‘s new look inside the teenage mind, we see a new side of the technology dependence our teenagers seem to have now: Not one of the 10 teenagers interviewed had ever been asked out in person. Every single one of them had either asked someone out or been asked out via Facebook, text message, or email.
I’m not surprised. If I had a penny for every time I’ve had to ask one of my teenage students to put his or her phone away during class, I wouldn’t have to teach anymore and I could stop buying lottery tickets every week. They use these chat programs for practically everything. Just yesterday I caught a student on Facebook and, when I asked him what he was doing, he said he was sending his friend part of the project they were working on. When I walked over to check, sure enough, he was.
The Today Show is positing that social media is “changing the game in dramatic ways.” They are concerned: “Imagine never asking someone out or being asked out on a date in person, with all the invitations coming via Facebook or texts on your phone.” Gasp! We are losing all ability to communicate in real life! Just look at these teenagers and their dating practices!
But when it comes to dating, is the practice of using Facebook, text, or email really any different than having Maria pass a note to tell Josh where he stood with me? In both situations, there is no face-to-face contact. Even the phone call, though Josh was on the line, was meant to have me believe that I was only talking to Maria and not Josh himself. She did all the leg work; he was just along for the ride.
Teenagers have always found ways to distance themselves from the object of their affection. The tale is as old as time: Even Romeo hid under Juliet’s balcony to talk about her profound beauty and didn’t come out until she caught him there. And Cyrano de Bergerac pretends to write as the handsome Christian in order to gauge Roxane’s love for him. The game hasn’t changed in dramatic ways. Teens have just found new tools to rewrite an old story.
Technology is changing the world for today’s teenagers in many ways. Cyberbullying is on the rise, directly causing a suicide epidemic among today’s youth. Obesity rates are climbing, as well, as kids would rather sit on their computers than go outside and play. However, when it comes to dating, figuring out how to distance yourself from love so you can learn how to gracefully get your heart broken and get back out there has always been part of the game.
Before we jump to conclusions about the use of technology in this aspect of teenagers’ lives, we need to take a second to remember the awkwardness of love in our teenage years. If we do, I bet we’ll start to wish we had Facebook to help us navigate those murky waters, too.
Ashley Lauren Samsa is a high school English teacher and freelance writer in the suburbs of Chicago where she lives with her husband and their two adopted dogs. She blogs about marriage, family, and education at Small Strokes (http://smallstrokesbigoaks.com) and is a Causes Blogger for Care2.com.