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Your Facebook or mine? Dating in the digital age

02/13/2013 11:29 PM

03/14/2013 2:34 PM

Lauren Frock met her boyfriend through a professional music fraternity.

But it was through a series of texts, Facebook posts and Skype conversations that the two got to know each other before dating.

Their courtship bore little resemblance to the one Frock's parents or grandparents shared years before, but it has become the norm for millennials who shun the old rules and rites of romance.

"Most of the time, the first steps of dating or hanging out are made through Facebook or texting," said Frock, a 20-year-old student at the University of North Texas. "Asking someone out over text is a lot easier than doing so in person or on the phone. There's much less pressure."

With social media playing modern-day Cupid, nerve-wracking first phone calls and formal, sweaty-palmed first dates have virtually disappeared.

Instead, today's 20-somethings navigate the tricky terrain of courtship through texts, Facebook, location check-ins and informal hangouts. Forget handwritten love letters. Even emails seem old-school now.

"You email your professors," Frock said. "Not your boyfriend."

Changes in technology have given way to a whole new set of rules and dating dilemmas, sometimes leaving young people scrambling for answers.

Last year's book Not Your Mother's Rules: The New Secrets for Dating offered instructions for women on how long they should wait to respond to a text message and whether they should initiate Facebook friendships or wait for men to.

Not just the young have been affected. Even AARP has tips: "The first rule of digital dating is that there are no rules."

'Can be more daring'

Weighing whether to text a guy she liked, Heather Moorman, a 21-year-old student at TCU, told her mother about her quandary.

"My mom was like, 'Why don't you just call him?'" Moorman said. "But no one really talks on the phone anymore. It's all texting or Facebook."

That means a little chivalry can go a long way.

Moorman recalled the day last year when a guy she liked did call her.

"I completely freaked out," Moorman said. "I got all jittery and excited. I didn't know what to do. I couldn't believe he was actually calling me instead of sending a text."

The two have been dating ever since.

Julie Leventhal, a lecturer at UNT who is teaching a course this semester on courtship and marriage, said that past generations might feel nostalgia for the way things were but that dating in the digital age presents plenty of opportunities.

"There is something to be said for being rejected over text," Leventhal said. "You can be more daring and take a chance."

Technology has also made maintaining long-distance relationships easier, and Leventhal said she has noticed more students involved in such romances.

'Nothing is private'

Mark Tremayne, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Texas at Arlington who studies social media, said texting and social media have become so woven into young people's lives that they can carry out their entire relationships online, sending instant messages and posting photographs on Facebook.

Of course, online-only relationships carry the risk of deception.

Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te'o made news when he was apparently duped by someone pretending to be his cybergirlfriend.

"There is a big blur between public and private, and kids who have grown up with all of these tools do not always realize the difference," said Tremayne, adding that he has watched students sitting two feet from each other converse via text message. "Nothing is as private as it once was."

That can be problematic when "sexting" -- texting sexually graphic photos -- becomes part of a relationship. Such was the case when Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., was forced to step down in 2011 after sending a series of sexually explicit texts and photos to several women.

In some instances, especially if minors are involved, sexting can lead to criminal charges.

For the most part, though -- especially if played with common sense -- the digital dating game is fun and exciting.

Among young couples, for example, few topics elicit more discussion than whether to make a relationship "Facebook official," which means updating your status from "Single" to "In a relationship."

"That means you're ready to tell the world you're in a relationship," Frock said. "People don't take that lightly."

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Sarah Bahari, 817-390-7056

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