Multiple online personalities change the rules of dating

March 24, 2011

As I was searching for “friends” on my new Twitter account, I came across some of my old high school flames relaying the sultry details of their latest exploits. These tweets more or less consisted of dirty spin offs of a Tri Delta catch phrase or how “swoll” they are in preparation for some spring break debauchery.

As “JacktheKing” and “Alphasmith,” these guys come off as complete assholes. What they don’t show is the Jack who calls me right when I get off the plane, or the Smith who always waits for me to lock my door when he drops me off before driving away. With the multiple spheres that allow us to recreate ourselves comes the challenge of understanding how to perceive others who also create multiple personas. How is a girl to know that the Jack who holds the door for her is also “JacktheKing,” who plans on tweeting about the sloppy and awkward makeout that just occured on her doorstep?

There are many implicationsof these different interpretations and expectations that accompany our online presence. The direst is that this compartmentalization has emerged in our college dating culture. We have our Facebook selves, our Twitter selves, our blog selves, and all of these selves are constructions and contortions. Within all of these different arenas, profiles, usernames, and passwords lies a multiplicity of locales to define and create yourself. The problem arises when these selves are not harmonious. The ability for us to go on Twitter under an alias and detail a drunken charade while simultaneously going on Facebook and untagging all but the most preppy and tame photos of ourselves allows us to construct multiple identities apart from our reality. Jack’s Facebook profile might draw interest from any number of women, but if they saw his Twitter, girls might think twice before allowing “JacktheKing” to “slay” them.

This notion is not entirely new: just think of how many friends you have who have drunken alter egos. Any girl who meets a guy at a bar and goes home with him knows not to expect to be invited out on a date, just like if you meet a guy in a class or through a friend, a date is fair game and sexual exploits may come slower.

I know plenty of “good” and “nice” guys who in the wrong setting are total assholes, and I know girls who justify the “nice guy gone asshole” because he was hammered or was with his buddies or, a personal favorite, that somehow they gave him the wrong version of themselves, by letting the version that would love to be in a relationship somehow leak into the version that just wants to casually hook up. We take this information in stride, faulting ourselves for our poor compartmentalization in this society where a multiplicity of selves not only exists but is increasingly eliminating its accountability to the other. And what seems the most terrifying is not that these different selves exist, but that we are knowingly burning bridges to allow this lack of accountability to run rampant. There comes a point when my sober self needs to hold my drunken self accountable, just as I have to hold my Facebook persona accountable for things that might be acceptable online, but not in real life.

And sure, there are benefits to this interconnectedness. I can talk to friends thousands of miles away at a moment’s notice and I do have the ability to construct an identity online. But like any new phenomenon we have to make sure that there are barriers, or rather windows, to this ever more compartmentalized society we find ourselves in.

Communication in our generation is like the Titanic, an unsinkable vehicle on which we can travel farther and faster than ever. Much like the compartments of a ship that seal themselves off in the wake of flooding, we create barriers between the selves we construct within these various mediums. The danger in doing so, however, is that at some point these compartments will flood because it has constructed a false identity—apart from the whole. And when it does, each compartment will fill independently, unaware that the ship as a whole is sinking, and we will have burned all the connectors that were put in place to prevent this disaster. Ultimately, if we fail to create harmony between these selves, some over-arching moral code, we will sink, knowing the nature of our disaster of discordance only after we’ve drowned in the hypocrisy of it.


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