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The Facebook frontier

By Alison Henry

Posted: Wednesday, Dec. 02, 2009

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Photo by LGray Photography

In "Miles From the Aisle," former CB editor Alison Henry takes you on an irreverent trip down the often rocky road of relationships. She can be reached at alisonghenry@gmail.com.

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I've always been fascinated by how technology - while helpful in many ways - often interferes with the development of meaningful relationships. (See: The Art of Conversation.) One of my favorite classes in college was a philosophy course that focused on solely on this phenomenon. We spent a semester debating quality over convenience, appreciating the advancements of modern technology while simultaneously mourning our culture's growing inability to appreciate the slower, simpler things in life.

In the world of dating, texting and online chatting have taken courtship from casual drinks to computer screen, and profile reading has been given preference over personal conversation. Something I've run into lately is an influx of Facebook friend requests from people after they've asked me out. I realize I am a little late to the party on this one, as I've spent every year since the advent of Facebook locked in committed relationships, but I find this somewhat troubling.

Call me old fashioned, but I enjoy the process of getting to know someone. The idea of learning the majority of someone's likes and dislikes from a profile page sucks the fun out of it for me. I enjoy the risk, the awkwardness and the discomfort of it all. That's life. It's messy and it's real. And when things go well, it makes the reward that much better. Plus, I don't want to ever hear myself saying over dinner, "So, I saw on your Facebook page...." It makes me feel like a stalker.

But as appalling as it may sound, it does happen. One of my friends refers to her tendency to Facebook stalk as if it's something we all do regularly, like brushing our teeth. Not wanting to fall victim to this myself, I made it a general rule to not friend people on Facebook that I potentially wanted to date. To my surprise, this didn't exactly go over so well with one guy in particular. I thought he would find my desire to get to know each other organically a welcome change, but instead, he was convinced my reluctance to confirm his friend request meant I was hiding things from him. And despite him saying that Facebook wasn't a big deal, he definitely made no small deal about it.

While I found his insecurity, accusations and premature distrust to be a huge red flag, my roommate actually agreed with him, saying that I was putting too much weight on a profile - and that, I, indeed, was the weirdo.

I wondered: Is this what it has come down to? Are those of us who want to get to know people the old-fashioned way a dying breed - or worse yet - viewed as complete freaks?

I took my quandary to - where else - but Facebook and found that, in general, stalking and scoping out someone pre-date simply to see if they were hot or interesting were viewed as a definite no-nos, while online communication on the whole wasn't always considered deal-breaker behavior. As folks pointed out, it is undeniably beneficial to wallflower-esque portions of the population, often coaxing shy guys out of their shells and bringing people together who otherwise would not have connected. The key, like most things in life, is in moderation.

It seemed that most people, even with the deliciously seductive option of protecting one's self from rejection behind a wall of cyber chatter, still value and crave meaningful conversation. So maybe all is not lost. There are just some of us who believe that kind of connection is possible in the parasocial world of online communities, and there are those of us - like myself - who simply don't.

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