by Kim Wadsworth
Finding love has always been challenging, but in this modern age, courtship has taken on a whole new attitude. Yesteryear’s love letters, postcards and notes slipped under the door have yielded to abbreviated texts, random emojis and emails where one’s tone or intent can get lost in cyber-translation.
Finding the right balance in a new or current relationship can feel complicated as screen time competes with face-to-face connections. Knowing the rules that keep the lines of communication authentic as you nurture a relationship is more important than ever.
Navigating the love landscape
Whether your relationship is beginning or ending, there’s plenty of protocol to guide you through this new romantic landscape. For starters, says Dr. Laura Dabney, a relationship therapist in Virginia Beach and Richmond, establish a balance between expressing yourself and listening to the other person. Determine if you are on the same page and let the other person know with a note or text.
According to Dabney, dating today means meeting a lot of people to find the right one and looking for red flags along the way. For example, if your date explains they are running late in a text, but fails to apologize in person, that signals a lack of empathy. Being oblivious to the etiquette of accountability is a flaw that needs to be noted.
Making a connection
It’s also important to know when it’s best to call versus text. Conversations should be meaningful, no matter the format. Ultimately, however, screen time shouldn’t be a substitute for a heartfelt talk.
Many love-seekers are following their hearts online. Since the first dating site, Match.com, was conceived 25 years ago, negative stigmas have fallen away and a plethora of apps promising the perfect pairing have millions of followers hoping to find “the one.” As a professional juggling a busy career, Annie Phillips relied on dating sites for help meeting the right person.
“Dating in your 30s is harder,” says Phillips, a professional counselor at Beach Counseling Center in Virginia Beach. “You’re not in the college fishbowl anymore, so you need to date a few people at a time until you find someone you like.”
For the initial contact, Phillips suggests communicating by email and text to establish a rapport, then meet in a public place for coffee, cocktail or, if you’re feeling bold, dinner. On the subject of who pays, there are no hard-and-fast rules, but Whitney Wolfe Herd, the founder and CEO of the female-focused social and dating app Bumble that requires women to make the first move once a match is made, suggested in a recent HuffPost article that whoever did the inviting should be responsible for the check.
While personality-defining algorithms drawn from a site’s questionnaire might point users in the right direction, there is etiquette to screening like-minded candidates. Each site has its own set of rules so pay close attention before leaping into setting up your profile.
Seek advice from friends who have courted through a dating app or site. Start slow and be communicative. Gleaning – and conveying – a sense of relationship expectations is important. There are people who can’t handle intimacy, according to Dabney; if there’s a gap in what’s expected, call it quits early.
Easing through the end
Ending a relationship that has had history is also a very delicate affair. The awkwardness of breaking up isn’t easy. Meet in a public space like a quiet restaurant or coffee shop – don’t text or email – and be clear why it’s not working out. It could be emotional or even traumatic so be conscientious of everyone’s well-being.
Love is complicated and the distractions of the digital age can make it even worse. Relationships will experience the most tender moments when there’s a smile, a touch or tone of a voice to guide them.
Kim Wadsworth has been a source of etiquette protocol for 20 years. Hear her most recent podcasts on Mind Over Manners at WHRV.org/MindOverManners.