Unless you’re one of the lucky few who live within the same pandemic bubble as their significant other (which, let’s admit it, is unlikely in a truly closed bubble; people with expansive bubbles are usually lying to themselves about their degree of safety), you’ve likely found yourself turning to digital means of communication to bridge the gap. And for those of us who are single and looking to mingle, that means sliding into the DMs of people you don’t know anything about besides the few polished images they have on display and maybe the college in their bio. With all this digital communication, whether on a social media platform like Instagram or a dating platform like Tinder, a question arises: Is there a correlation between how well you hit off digitally and how you’ll hit it off in person? To new couples who have only interacted digitally, the answer will make or break their relationship. After all, nobody wants to waste time on a relationship that won’t last after the pandemic. With this in mind, I ran an experiment so that you don’t have to. My finding: If there is a correlation between how people interact digitally and how they interact in person, it isn’t a strong one. And while you may think you know somebody well because you’re constantly communicating with them online, it could just be an illusion of connectedness.
The following is an explanation of how I came to this conclusion. Newly single this winter, I unknowingly did a sort of experiment. There was an eclectic get-together of teens from various local New York City high schools I went to in March 2020, a few days before the world fell apart and we all suddenly found ourselves homebound. There, I met two people who both ended up asking me out. Let’s call them John and Jane. I met both of these people at the same place and at roughly the same time and I only ever saw them in person once, at the party. So last week, as we finished up the quarter and headed into winter break, I decided to pick up where I left off with both of them. Little did I know that this would be a great way of answering my question of whether there’s a concrete correlation between the depth of your connection in cyberspace and the depth of your connection in meatspace, a.k.a. the “real world.”
Jane and I have A-plus connectedness. We have such great connectedness that we shared a few passionate, butterflies-inducing kisses at that party in March. When I had to go and told her “let’s pick up where we left off sometime soon,” I thought “soon” would be in the next week. I didn’t realize that in-person dates wouldn’t be an option then, because the lockdown started just a few days later. So we texted every other day for four months until I started dating my now-ex-girlfriend and things sort of just fizzled out between Jane and me.
I stayed on good terms with John (though we’re hardly close the way Jane and I are), so I decided to cash my rain check for a date with him when winter break started (I hardly think that when he made the offer before the pandemic, he expected it to be socially distanced, but oh well). Prior to the date, we had an incredible, engaging conversation over text. Humor? Top-notch. Sweetness? The sweetest. Intellect? Thought-provoking but not pretentious. But when we met up for a stroll from SoHo to Union Square, I felt like I was talking to a whole different person. Our in-person chemistry was wholly different from our chemistry over text. It felt like I was being interviewed, and not in a fun way. The dynamic we had built digitally just fell flat. And I’m not saying that’s either of our faults; it just shows that sometimes, two people seem compatible over text but are awkward in real life. I was too preoccupied with Jane at the party to have any idea whether John and I were compatible in person, so the date with John was truly a blank slate. And as much as our text conversations led me to believe that we would be compatible in person, it didn’t work out that way. I think that we’ll be good friends, but I didn’t feel the kind of romantic chemistry we had over text.
Following my date with John and reminiscing about the feelings for Jane I never had the chance to act on, I texted her for the first time in six months and asked to spend some time together over winter break. To this day, I don’t know what it was we had for those four months at the start of the pandemic. We weren’t formally dating, so was it friendship, or was it something more? Obviously, I felt obligated to tell her when I started dating someone a few months after we met. Why was that? Why did it feel like a break-up, sans drama? The pandemic has blurred the lines between what’s considered dating and what’s not. If we had been seeing each other in person like we would’ve if disaster hadn’t struck, it would’ve been cut and dry, because the relationship we had would’ve clearly been romantic under normal circumstances.
Jane and I have a lengthier digital history than John and me, so I’m familiar with how she texts. Once you get her attention, sparks do fly, but she goes through spells where it can be difficult to get her attention in the first place at all. That was frustrating; I thought she genuinely cared about me, but when she didn’t reply for long stretches, it left me wondering how important I actually was to her. Both when it comes to how electrifying she is and how rare an occurrence it is, getting her immediate attention is like being struck by lightning. In summation, John is a more active texter than Jane is, and Jane is a more active talker than John is. Because of this, Jane and I simply exchanged pleasantries and arranged when and where we were going to meet up. We decided to meet at the Brooklyn Bridge at 2 pm. She looked beautiful. From there, we played it by ear, and we had such a great time I didn’t even notice that we were walking for five hours straight. Our date turned into a full-on pilgrimage. She mentioned that she felt like going thrift shopping. I said I knew a place in the heart of Brooklyn, and we set off—but we wound up making a few stops on the way.
After a peek at Fat Kid skatepark (an old skateboarding haunt of Jane’s, where she had once planted a patch of now-dormant begonias); a pit stop at an abandoned Chuck E. Cheese’s straight out of Five Nights at Freddy’s; a look around a couple of winding, gargantuan malls of the sort that don’t exist in Manhattan; and a successful mission to find a public restroom, Jane and I reached our final destination: glorious racks on racks of abandoned clothes waiting for new owners. I put on a skirt that was so long I could wear it as a dress, made out of a material similar to that of a duvet. It was a look to say the least (and not in a good way), but she didn’t seem to mind. There was a lot of flattery along the lines of “you look good in absolutely anything” even when we were wearing the most absurd, oversized get-ups imaginable. After a fair amount of playing dress-up, I got a denim bomber jacket, and she got a t-shirt with a totally nonsensical slogan that we couldn’t decipher, hoping it’d confuse the hell out of her friends.
Giggling, we left and took the R train back to Manhattan. We found a secluded spot in Thomas Paine Park, sat and chatted for a while, and then I walked her to a nearby subway station, and we parted ways. We both glanced over our shoulders as she descended the stairs to the station and I walked in the opposite direction, through the arches of New York City Hall. Under my mask, I grinned. And although it’s hard to tell these days because of the masks, I think she smiled too.
Regardless of how much fun Jane and I had, with distance being such a major issue for so many people during the pandemic, one might want to date somebody more like John, with the texting chops to carry a conversation even during quarantine. But the truth of the matter is, investing time in a person like John now may not pay off once you finally see each other in person. By contrast, bad texters can truly shine on in-person dates. Jane and I had such a good time on our date that time flew; one second it was 2 pm and the next it was 7:30 pm John and I barely made it from noon to 2 pm, and I swear that somehow the date with John felt longer than it did with Jane.
So, what should we be looking for? In terms of a significant other, should we want a good texter or a good talker? Of course, some people excel at both, and there's no reason to assume that a good texter will be vapid or unpleasant face-to-face. Instead, it's important to remember that the engaged and communicative texter you met online may disappoint on a date and that the spotty and disinterested texter you've been playing phone-tag with might sparkle in person. But should we prioritize, or should we insist on finding somebody who shines in both ways?
Right now, first and foremost I should want to date a good digital communicator, but for how long will that be the case? My ex-girlfriend and I texted all the time, to the point where it felt like symbiosis…but not in a good way. I was too emotionally reliant on whether she had time to talk to me before I went to sleep, to the point where I started getting on the same night owl sleep schedule as she was (even though I’m a natural early bird) because she never had much time to communicate during the day.
Maybe Jane’s approach to texting (in moderation) is refreshing. COVID-19 has erased the concept of “date night.” Now it’s “date 24/7.” It seeps into every aspect of your life because it’s not like there’s a scheduled time when you’re going to see them again. It fosters a kind of neediness that could be avoided when you were looking forward to date night in pre-COVID-19 times. Picking out what you were going to wear, where you were going to go, thinking about what you’d talk about…all that is gone. Now, it’s so much more fluid than that. Personally, I liked the structure. There was more mystery. Now, it feels as though you have to tell somebody else about every single thing that happens, from brunches to sneezes. This is what I call vomit-texting, which is a symptom of living in the era of COVID-19. We feel so emotionally and physically distant from everyone that we overshare every little detail of our meaningless lives.
I think the question of whether I want a good texter or a good talker might be irrelevant. All I know is that I fell head over heels for Jane. Which wasn’t sensible, because she has reservations about long-distance relationships. When she returned to her west coast college two days after our date, that marked the end of whatever beginning we might have had. I’m still in New York City, attending UChicago remotely.
Of course, my little experiment was not a scientific study. Jane doesn’t represent every “good talker” out there. But, if we’re using these rigid archetypes of talker versus texter, I guess my advice is to find the perfect balance between John and Jane. I know it sounds difficult, but I can definitively tell you that it’s possible. A week after Jane left for the west coast, I saw Jack, an acquaintance of mine from high school, and realized that I already knew somebody who has that perfect balance. For the past few weeks, we’ve been dating.
Maybe finding yourself someone with that perfect balance is good advice in general, not even just for the era of COVID-19. What happens when your significant other gets a job that takes them too far away to see each other consistently? Do you have to end the relationship altogether? Not if you have the perfect balance—somebody who you connect with both in cyberspace and in meatspace. Find yourself a Jack.
Emma-Victoria Banos is a first-year in the College.