A match made in cyberspace
Sites like Facebook used to be about chatting with your friends. Now they are just another way of finding the right guy, or sometimes even the wrong one. Tanya Sweeney reports
'I had this guy leave me a voice mail at work, and so I called him at home, and he emailed me to my BlackBerry, and so I texted to his mobile... now you have to go around checking all these different portals just to get rejected by seven different technologies.
It's exhausting." That's how Drew Barrymore put it in He's Just Not That Into You, and it will be a familiar experience for anyone who has tried dating in our modern world.
Depending on who you ask, the brilliant and bountiful choice of technology available at our fingertips is either the best or worst thing to happen to Ireland's hive of heat-seeking singletons. Let me explain.
Once upon a time, you arranged to meet prospective dates at a certain time and date under the clock at Clerys. If they didn't show up, the jig was effectively up and you thought little more of it. If you dialled the single landline number they furnished you with and it rang out, chances are that you shrugged your shoulders and moved on. That simple, straightforward, sepia-tinted ship has sailed.
Between Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and a host of traditional dating sites, e-dating has stepped out of the margins and into our everyday lives. Nowadays, there are several means at our disposal not only to meet potential dates, but to glean the sort of information that would normally take a hardened sleuth whole months to collect. Thanks to Facebook and its ilk, birthdays, political views, music/film preferences, family members and employer information are laid bare for all (or at least invited friends) to see.
Clare McKenna waxes philosophical on such matters on her daily Spin 103.8 show and reluctantly joined Facebook six months ago. "I went into it kicking and screaming, thinking 'this is ridiculous', then became instantly hooked," she admits. "I thought it was really geeky and show-offy. Then you find yourself getting a bit addicted to nosing through everyone's profiles. And just because I'm married, doesn't mean I'm any less nosy! I definitely look at potential love matches for people I know.
"Friends of mine will meet a new guy and automatically it's, 'Well, have you looked him up on Facebook?'" she continues. "You can clock their profile, see how much they're into partying, how extensively they've travelled, whether they're well-read... and with status updates you can automatically gauge if someone is witty or not."
The availability of vital stats on any given suitor on Facebook, coupled with our modern-day thirst for information, can engender behaviour in singletons that can border on obsessive. Put another way, Facebook is manna from heaven for those with even a minor taste for stalking.
Ostensibly, Facebook is billed as a site that -- according to the innocuous blurb on its homepage -- 'helps you connect and share with the people in your life'. In truth, it has become the ultimate weapon of choice in the dating wars, a dating site for those simply too daunted by the prospect of signing up to a singles website proper.
"I once had a guy contact me unsolicited from the US," says Clare. He simply said: 'You're an attractive girl, have a nice life'. So I do wonder how many people end up on dates because of exchanges like that," she says. "In saying that, one friend did meet a guy after going through another friend's photo album. She clocked a guy and simply made the right enquiries."
Ultimate profile picture
As if further evidence was needed that Facebook is a dating site with a difference, a fashion stylist friend recently revealed an interesting sideline. For a sum, she and her fashion photographer friend stage a makeover on clients and deliver a professional studio shot to them. Nothing remarkable there, until you realise that most of their clients are teens and 20-somethings who avail of the service simply to create the ultimate Facebook/Bebo/ MySpace profile picture.
"Do guys get the fact that women use Facebook or MySpace as a PR exercise?" asks Clare. "I doubt it."
Still, it's a truth universally acknowledged that everyone puts their best foot forward on these social networking sites. In other words, it's possible to be the best, most sparkling version of yourself.
"You never hear of people saying things such as 'I'm having a fat day'," agrees Clare. "Everyone's so positive and self-promoting, and it's not really like that in real life. You can create any type of life or person for yourself on Facebook if you need to. I've never considered lying, but I'd certainly be selective with the truth!"
In a bizarre twist, Facebook has become less a handy networking device and more a tool that has actively changed the way we date.
"You used to hear a girl say, 'I'm not going to sleep with him just yet', but now I keep hearing 'I'm not messing about on his Facebook profile yet' instead," adds Clare. "Also, if we hear that a guy isn't on Facebook, we start to wonder if he's just too high-brow for the whole thing."
Once upon a time, uttering the words 'I love you' to a partner heralded the next step in a relationship. Now, a union is officially marked by people changing their relationship status on Facebook from 'single' to 'in a relationship'. Needless to say, it's a step that's loaded with meaning and fraught with potential disaster.
"Changing the relationship status is definitely something I'd steer clear from," warns Clare. "There's something so cringy about openly telling everyone you're in a relationship, and on Facebook everyone can make a comment on this new development."
Even more politically charged are the instances when ex-partners start to make their presence felt online. According to a survey conducted by Yasni.co.uk, 62pc of women and 46pc of men had used a social networking site to check up on an ex-partner's life.
"I recently made Facebook friends with an ex," admits Clare. "I did the whole 'should I, shouldn't I?' about it. You do reconsider making friends with your exes, which is ironic seeing as, ordinarily, you mightn't even take a call from them. And, of course, on Facebook it's really hard to deny their friendship. The other side of the coin is that you're only dying to have a nosy at his life. I was curious about seeing a picture of his wife, which is something you'd never get to do otherwise. It's a bit like rifling through someone's drawers."
However, it's when an existing relationship dissolves that the real fun begins. Not only do you suffer the indignity of the dreaded change of relationship status, it's also possible to monitor your ex's post-split life.
"Unfortunately, if you break up with someone, you'll always have that connection," explains Clare. "You can see what's happening in his new relationship, and it does make people think, 'Look how happy he is now, he must never have loved me'. Next thing you know, you're on his new girl- friend's Facebook page; you've clicked and clicked and you're then going through pictures of some random girl's sister's wedding."
Given the case for and against Facebook, I'm beginning to understand why certain singles, such as jazz singer Maria Tecce, have avoided creating a profile altogether.
"I didn't sign up to Facebook because I administer my own business, and I don't need one more reason to procrastinate when it comes to work," she reveals.
Still, her MySpace profile -- an imperative for any musician worth their salt -- has attracted a number of interested parties.
"A few people have contacted me through MySpace and most of them are abroad," she admits. "I'll check out their MySpace profile, but I tend to dismiss them for the most part. Still, as a tool to get to know someone, it's pretty useful until you talk to someone. If someone starts with, 'I hate this, I hate that', I take it as read that they're fairly negative."
Since then, Maria has dipped a toe into online dating, albeit on her terms. "I never meet anyone in person unless I speak to them on the phone first and there's some sort of connection there," she states. "I don't go on these sites to find a partner or soulmate; it's more about finding new, interesting people. The stigma attached to it is finally fading here. Americans approach it all very differently and openly.
"A friend who is a renowned soap actress has started using these dating websites, simply because she was sick and tired of sitting at home," she adds. "Another friend, a retired newscaster, said to me recently, 'I'm 50 years old, I just want to go out and have some fun'. The social aspect of e-dating attracted her."
Originally, Maria began using the website www.expats.com to meet new people while touring in Europe. "I was away a lot with work last year and thought that instead of being bored in restaurants and hotels while I was away, I would reach out and meet people for coffee," she says. "I was at the Prague festival for a week and a half, and meeting people was more fun than wandering around alone. Since then, I've moved on to bona fide dating websites, because I'm interested in meeting new people. I have a great social network, but you can never know too many people.
"I think we put ourselves out there on these sites because we're being proactive and taking control of our social lives. It feels a lot better than sitting home alone," she says.
"Between BlackBerries, laptops, email and MySpace, I keep thinking that people are finding it easier to connect more immediately," surmises Maria. "But then again, matchmakers were around 50 years ago... it's just the technology that keeps moving on, really."