ASU psychology counselor considers love and romance in the digital age.
February 13, 2018

Valentine’s Day used to be about cards, chocolates, flowers, dinner and catching a romantic comedy. But love in the digital age is all about staging and putting your best foot forward online.

Rather than sending love letters, millennials seem to prefer texting emojis, having a Facetime chat or sending a shout-out on Twitter. These methods may seem less personal to some, but it’s possible that love, intimacy and connection can be expressed through the digital filter, said Ashley Randall, an assistant professor and psychology counselor in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts.

ASU Now spoke to Randall to unpack it all for us: Is posting a romantic message on someone’s Facebook preferable to a signed card? Is it OK to break up with a partner through a text? And can emojis and GIFs really save a relationship?

Woman with brown hair smiling
Ashley Randall

Question: How has our language of romance evolved over time?

Answer: Although the language of romance — love — itself has not evolved over time, social-media platforms are changing the landscape for how we may choose to express feelings of fondness and admiration for one’s partner. Online dating platforms have become an important medium through which many couples meet; approximately one-third of couples who marry meet online. Furthermore, there has been an increase in computer-mediated communication (CMC) as a means of self-expression (e.g., posting “I love you” to someone’s Facebook wall), which has found to be associated with relationship satisfaction. 

Popular blogs have written on how you can express your love using emojis. For example, "Te quiero" (“I love you” in Spanish) can be represented with the tea cup, the key and the heart with an arrow. And there’s even a book written by Vyvyan Evans called “The Emoji Code,” which reviews the ways in which emojis can “save your relationship.”

Pokes, emojis and GIFs aside, one could easily argue that it’s the ways in which we communicate our affection that our partners can understand that really matters [insert smiley emjoi here]. 

Q: Has technology changed the nature of relationships and dating? 

A: Undoubtedly, yes! And perhaps for better and worse. The impact of technology can be observed in the development, maintenance and dissolution of close relationships. Specifically, technology has changed the ways in which many people meet potential romantic partners, keep in touch with their exes and even break up with their current partner — although it’s really not cool to break up with someone over a text message.

In the past 20 years, we have seen the increase of web-based platforms that are targeted at providing a way to access and communicate with potential romantic partners; some even offer the ability to match people together based on their likes and dislikes. However, analysis published in Psychological Science and the Public Interest shows that many sites may fall short of their promises. 

For those who have access to the internet, technology has increased the ability to connect with others from around the globe. However, this level of connection also makes it hard for people to disconnect. In fact, research shows that approximately one-fourth of Americans feel the need to answer their phone, even if it means interrupting a meeting or a shared meal. This phenomenon leads to what researchers call “technoference.” Common examples include having your cellphone on the table during a meeting, checking your text messages during dinner, or reading your email on your phone while lying next to your partner before bed.

Having your phone out during a meeting or shared meal can be incredibly disrupting and frustrating for those around you. Indeed, research has shown the mere presence of a cellphone during interactions can decrease one’s perceived interaction quality.

Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Q: Would younger people, in your observation, rather have information or mystery? Does technology take away some of that mystery?

A: The internet and CMC have changed the ways in which we may gather information about our potential romantic partners. Some suggest that the use of CMC allows for a “selective self-presentation,” where we post information or images about ourselves that we would like others to see. Rarely do people think about posting the “bad” selfie they took of themselves before going out for the night.

One of the ways in which our intimate relationships differ from our casual relationships is knowledge. Particularly, we share our histories, likes and dislikes, and future goals with those to whom we are close; thus, we have significant knowledge about one another. Better yet, it allows us to understand and perhaps predict (to some level of certainty, although small) how our partners will react in the future, thus reducing uncertainty. To this end, people may use the internet to engage in uncertainty-reduction strategies. These include, but are not limited to: Googling someone’s name, checking public records and scanning various social-media profiles.

Q: Are there drawbacks to sleuthing someone on the internet?

A: There has been much discussion surrounding the benefits and potential drawbacks of social-media use. One of the potential drawbacks to “sleuthing” someone on the internet, in particular on Facebook, is the associated feelings of jealousy and suspicion. Based on a sample of 308 undergraduate students75 percent female, majority self-identified Caucasian and heterosexual., results found that increased Facebook use predicted Facebook-related jealousy (controlling for personality and relationship factors, such as commitment).

Interestingly, the most recent term to describe the negative associations between technology use and relationship quality is “micro-cheating.” Micro-cheating is defined as online actions that could be viewed as unfaithful to your current relationship partner. Common examples include “liking” someone’s post on Facebook, replaying someone’s Snapchat or commenting on someone’s Instagram picture. Thus, although sleuthing the Internet can help you find out more information about your prospective, current or past romantic partner, it may also elicit negative emotions in you and your current partner.

Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now

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