Dating “Off The Grid”
Would you date differently if you didn't have Internet and email access at your fingertips 24/7? We spoke with daters and couples who crossed the digital divide to forge a romantic connection.
or most of us, email, smartphones, and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are a way of life — not to mention a way of finding love. But what happens when you fall for someone whose world doesn't revolve around an app-happy smartphone or a desire to be plugged in 24/7? In other words, is it possible to connect with someone who lives "off the grid" these days? Let's take a closer look…
Sometimes, the answer is a resounding "no." When Dan N., a 30-year-old stand-up comedian from Manhattan, met a cute hairstylist while rollerblading last year, he was surprised when she offered up her phone
number instead of the standard email address. "To get someone's phone number is unheard of," he says. "But then it turned out she didn't have an email address. And she had only one phone — a land line."
|I couldn't text her. There was just no way to get hold of her.|
Despite the fact that they were technological opposites — he lived a "super-connected" lifestyle that regularly relied on apps, Skype, and social media interaction, while she had no computer, Internet, email or cell phone of her own — the two began to date.
Unfortunately, after a few months, the "digital divide" took its toll on their budding relationship.
"It wasn't like, 'You're not connected, forget you,'" Dan says, "but it caused a lot of operational problems. I'd be sitting at a restaurant for 40 minutes waiting for her to show up — this happened a couple times — and she didn't have a phone or any way to call to say [that] her train was stuck. If I was going out in a group and wanted her to join us, I couldn't text her. There was just no way to get hold of her."
Ditching the digital world
Other times, it's a matter of compromise. Sarah S., a 26-year-old registered pediatric and intensive care nurse currently living in New Jersey, met her boyfriend online — but soon after they moved in together, he was offered the chance to live on a nature preserve in California, which he accepted. "He now lives in a cabin without any electricity, so there's no TV, no computer, no land line," she laments. "He still has his cell phone, but he uses a hand-crank charger… and he has to leave the preserve to get a connection."
While maintaining their long-distance relationship has been challenging ("I went from being with him every day to not knowing when he was going to call"), Sarah says that she's now in the process of moving to California in order to be closer to him. "I love him and I'm happy that he's getting to do what he's doing," she explains. "He says it's been life-changing and wants me to live on the preserve with him."
The idea of living without Internet access (much less electricity) is daunting for her, though.
"I'm a TV person, so I know that will be difficult. And I do like Facebook, too, although I could do without it," Sarah says. "Mainly, though, it's work. I don't know that it would be possible for me to live on the preserve. They wouldn't be able to get hold of me."
Unplugged = unloved?
According to Patricia Wallace, psychologist and author of The Psychology of the Internet, staying off-line in a hyper-connected world is difficult — especially for those on the dating scene.
"Not having a cell phone is a major drawback," Wallace says. "It's turned into what I call a 'micro-coordination tool.' People expect you to be able to communicate all the time, to text them that you'll be 15 minutes late. It's a base expectation. I've read of cases where somebody will stop dating a person because they won't text."
In addition, a total lack of social media presence not only raises eyebrows — it can result in serious questions for potential dates.
"I asked my daughter (who's 29 and single) what she thought of someone deliberately staying off the grid, and she said she'd be afraid they're hiding something," says Wallace, who's the senior director of online programs and
information technology at the Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University. "For some, it could make you more interesting. But for others, they might find it suspicious. It could be viewed as a possible red flag."
|He would have a minor freak-out if somebody took a picture of him.|
Kimberly F., a 33-year-old marketing consultant from Manhattan, NY, says that she dated a man for three years who owned a cell phone and laptop but refused to participate in any social media online.
"He would have a minor freak-out if somebody took a picture of him," she says. "He didn't want photos of himself on Facebook. He wouldn't get angry, but it would cause friction. For me, it's part of life. You go out to a cocktail party; you expect it's going to be covered on Facebook or Twitter the next day. But he was like, 'Why do you want that out there?'" Kimberly explains. "Personally, I think it should be one of those questions on Match.com," she says. "Like: 'What's your religion? What's your political background? What's your feeling about social media?' It's better if you have the same feelings about being on or off the grid."
Doppelgangers and dating
Oddly enough, Kimberly met her ex on an online dating site, although he apparently only signed up so he could send her an email message. After they connected, he unplugged from the site. So, how did he fare during the standard pre-date Internet search conducted by most modern daters?
"He was un-Googleable," says Kimberly. "There was nothing about him online. He had no Internet footprint whatsoever." But Internet expert Wallace says that just because you avoid social media sites doesn't mean you won't wind up online somehow, anyway.
"Nowadays, it's nearly impossible to be off the grid," she says. "And the thing to consider is that if you're not out there managing your own persona, it's being managed without your knowledge. People will take your picture at a party and tag your face for Facebook."
In addition, Wallace says that singles need to remember that there are lots of people with the exact same name. "I have a doppelganger — another Patricia Wallace who's a romance writer," she says. "A lot of people think I write her books. In a dating scenario, you may have to clarify who is who. You could pull up a Fred Taylor who posts white supremacist notes on various websites and think it's the guy you just met."
Making it work
As always, though, there are those who manage to connect despite digital differences. Ashley L., a 33-year-old interior designer and consultant from Dallas, TX met her husband via Match.com, even though she didn't have a computer — or email — at home.
"A friend of mine helped me put up a profile and I would check it at work during my lunch break," she says, "and it worked wonderfully. I dated a few people, and then I met my husband. We texted back and forth for about a month, and then we met and really hit it off. After that, we started spending all our time together and just took our profiles down."
Married three years, Ashley says she now has a home computer ("My husband made us get one") but she still doesn't do any social media sites (he, on the other hand, "is on Facebook and all that").
But her lack of connectivity hasn't exactly short circuited their relationship. If anything, it's drawn them closer together.
"We have a lot of synchronicities and interests, and it was great that I was able to find someone made for me," she says. "He's also helped me with technology."
Diane Mapes is a freelance writer based in Seattle and the author of How to Date in a Post-Dating World. She can be reached via her Web site, dianemapes.net.