Modern Dating: Finding Love in a High-Tech, Hook-Up World

Today’s mating game is being played by a whole new set of rules, and they’re complicated.

In a recent phone interview, relationship expert Emily Morse, radio host of Sex with Emily and star of the new Bravo TV show Miss Advised, gave me the lowdown on how singles get together.

Spoiled for Choice

Online dating and social media have become so popular, urban singles have access to a huge pool of potential mates that extends far beyond their social circle.

“We now have so many options of people to date,” Morse says. “It used to be you’d meet someone at a bar or someone would introduce you to a family friend, but now you have a profile and you’ve got 60 people asking you out.”

Forty million singles use online dating services in the U.S., which makes it pretty easy to find partners who share your interests, values and relationship goals.  Why invest time getting to know a random guy you bumped into at the gym when you can browse the detailed profiles of a huge database of men?

Virtual Courtship

Much of the getting-to-know-you flirtation now takes place through texts or emails that can quickly become intimate, sometimes creating the illusion of a hot romance before a couple has ever even met.

“All of the courtship happens online; you barely talk,” says Emily, amused by friends who get into emotional texting fights with guys they’ve never laid eyes on. “I think you should meet as soon as possible, because otherwise you start to create in your mind an image of who this person is and you have no idea how he’s really representing himself.”

Dates are Becoming Outdated

Even for couples that meet and like each other, dinner and a movie may not be the next step. A whole evening spent one-on-one is considered too much pressure and kind of lame, especially to younger singles who are accustomed to hanging out in large groups.

“People used to actually go on dates,” Morse says. “If someone wanted to see you on the weekend; they had to call you a few days in advance. Now people aren’t dating, they’re texting: “What’s up, are you free tonight, can you hang out?” It’s very last minute. I think a lot of the chivalrousness that used to come with dating isn’t there anymore.”

Constant Contact

One of the good things about technology is that it provides easy, low-risk ways to stay in touch. There’s no longer that agonizing waiting by the phone. Couples readily connect throughout the day through light texts, tweets and photos. That frequent interaction can be flattering and fun, but it can also be distracting, Emily says.

“Why do you have to be in touch with your partner ten times a day?” she asks. “What is there to say? Doesn’t it take some of the mystery out of it?” But she admits she’s as addicted to her cell phone as the next girl.

50 Shades of Exclusivity

In this looser, more casual arena, sex doesn’t always mean commitment, especially for online daters who may pursue several relationships at once.

“You shouldn’t assume you’re exclusive unless you’ve had the talk,” Emily warns. “I don’t care if you’ve been sleeping together for six months. If you’ve never had the ‘it’s you and me babe’ talk, then you might be in a sexual relationship, but you’re not an exclusive relationship.”

Many men and women are postponing marriage and family, and this extended period of being single is creating new views on monogamy. Modern singles need to be really clear about communicating their expectations, or risk getting hurt. As Emily says, there are a lot of ways to cheat.

Love doesn’t go out of style.

Modern courtship has evolved, but a true love match is still attainable, as Deborah, 35, from Evanston can attest. Over the years Deborah tried set ups and online dating but nothing seemed to stick. She preferred meeting guys socially, but found that “men are less likely to approach women these days.” Deborah isn’t sure if it’s fear, or the fact that everyone is so used to dating online that “they don’t even bother trying to meet someone organically anymore.”

Then 18 months ago, she met Steve at a charity event. After they were introduced, Steve contacted her on Facebook and they spent several weeks getting to know one another online until Steve asked her out—on a real date! They’ve been going strong ever since.

“I always said the only qualification I had for a boyfriend was that he just be normal; so long as he wasn’t socially inept, I would give him a shot. And if you happen to find someone who’s not just normal, but amazing, consider yourself lucky,” she says. “I know I do.”