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Episode Transcript: Hashtag Love

LAURA STASSI:  00:07
Sixdegrees.com – isn't that a great name? It's believed to be the first social media site. It launched in the late ‘90s and actually, it's still around. Of course, there are a lot more social media platforms now. And we're using them to brag about our pets, and what we have for dinner last night, how awesome we are Wordle.

But what about using social media to make romantic connections? Hashtag Love -- that's what we're talking about on this episode of Dating While Gray: The Grown-up’s Guide to Love, Sex, and Relationships. I'm Laura Stassi.

LAURA: I get smartphone notifications about my weekly screen time, and I'm usually startled at the chunk of hours I spent on social media. Now, some of it’s legit: Got to post those updates on the Dating While Gray Facebook page, and check in with my siblings on WhatsApp. But then I'm scrolling through Twitter, which might take me to TikTok. Or maybe I'll go to YouTube to watch the “Saturday Night Live” skits I slept through.

I'm not the only one. The Pew Research Center found a significant majority of American adults regularly visit these social media sites and others: Instagram. Snapchat. Pinterest. Reddit. NextDoor. (Oh, some of the chatter on NextDoor!) And we're spending about two and a half hours every day on social media.

So with all these people spending all this time, it seemed inevitable that a social media platform would officially elbow its way into the love business. It happened in 2019. Hello, Facebook Dating.

BETH: 01:44
So it appears to me, I'm not going to say that it's absolutely exact science. But what I found is my friends who are married, do not have access to the Facebook dating app.

LAURA:  02:01
That's Beth. She's in her 50s and lives in Florida, after moving a few years ago with her then-husband.

BETH:02:07
Six months after moving down here, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of 55. And 21 months later, he passed away, in June of 2019.

LAURA: Oh, I'm sorry.

BETH: So thank you. So I was traveling with another widow. And I was like, I think I might be ready to date. And I knew when I was ready to kiss another person, then I knew at that point, I was ready to date. And I really just wanted to dinner, a little companionship. And then my girlfriend said she's on dating apps, but she also lost her husband the same time I did. So I said, Oh, I'll start going on dating apps. So I found out Facebook has a dating app.

LAURA:  02:56
What was it about Facebook dating app? Because it's fairly new, as I understand. What made you decide to give it a try?

BETH: 03:05
It was another choice of men, possibly, that they were not on the other apps. More local to me -- because you cannot get anybody outside of your area on Facebook. It is free. And they hook you up with people that you are not friends with. It was just another avenue to find a companion.

So I happen to see that there was this guy, Lewis, and he's a doctor, and he's Jewish. I am Jewish, born and raised Jewish. My late husband was Jewish. My family has all married Jewish people. It's important to my faith, but I wasn't going to not date someone -- in the past I dated people not Jewish. I didn't have to have someone who was Jewish, but it would be…

LAURA:  04:06
Easier. It was, it -- you were familiar with it. It was comfortable.

BETH: Yes.

LAURA: The man who caught Beth’s eye, Lewis? He was married for over two decades. Then he was separated for three years. And in all that time, he didn't date. But then he got a legal divorce and also a Jewish divorce. It's called a Get. And when Lewis was officially single again…

LEWIS: 04:29
So I went on a whole bunch of websites. I went on J-Date, which is for Jewish singles. E-Harmony, OurTime. You name them that, you know, all out there. And just nothing from nothing. I just didn't -- first of all, was COVID. Nobody even wanted to go out. So that was a little tough. And I just didn't really see anybody I liked, anybody I messaged with. So I kind of just closed it all down and I'm just like, you know, whatever.

LAURA:  04:57
Okay, and then now nothing’s happening. No traction. So you shut them all down. And then …

LEWIS: 05:05
So I had been, I -- this is interesting. I had been working with a coach from my personal life. He was a chiropractor as well. And we were in our seventh week of coaching, and he said, “What do you want to talk about?” And I said, “I'd like to talk about dating.” And it was interesting, because one of the things that was really holding me back was I was, even though I had been separated for three years, I was enjoying my space, I was enjoying my apartment. You know, when I'm working with patients, as a chiropractor, at the end of the day, I just like to come home, and it's quiet. It's something that Beth has yelled at me about a couple of times, just like you never call me. I'm like, at the end of the day, I don't want to talk to anybody.

So I was talking with my coach, and we were going through then I said, I'd like to date but this and that. And he said, Is it possible for you to be a sovereign person, be your own person, and date someone? Yeah, like you can date someone, but they're not taking over your whole life. You still got your life and your dreams and your goals and your hobbies. And I was like … oh, I guess that could happen. I just it was sort of like a breakthrough for me where I realized I could date, I could go out with somebody, I can have a good time. But I could still have all the things I was still in the mind phase. This is mine. This is mine. This is mine, after being married 24 years, and everything is ours.

So that breakthrough happened, and then the very next day, I was on Facebook, and this Facebook Dating came up, like in Yiddish, this word bashert, which means it's meant to be; never seen it before. So I'm like, oh, fill it out. I'll put some pictures in there. Again, not really looking for anything or any, but it just came up. And I felt this new enthusiasm that, yes, I could go date somebody and still have my own life and still be my own person. And then, a day later, maybe two days later, I got a like from Beth.

BETH: 07:17
He's in a band, and an ‘80s band. And he looked good in the band. So it was different pictures. Yes, he had a picture of him in the gym. But it was him and his trainer. And he almost was like, yay, look what I'd done. I have accomplished a goal. It wasn't like, hey look at me -- because he's not a buff person. So I was like, oh, very nice. So I hit a like, and I think a day later, I got an answer back and invite for a date.

LAURA:  07:46
Okay, so all you had to do was hit like; you didn't have to reach out through an email or anything?

BETH: 07:52
No. And the interesting thing about Facebook is, they don't tell because it's online -- on the phone; I don't remember. I don't know if it was on tablet or phone only. Um, you had to check your messages physically, it never told you that you had a message in the dating app. So you physically had to remember oh, let me go check to see if anybody's reached back out to me.

LEWIS 08:20
And then I looked at her and I said, oh my gosh, oh, she's cute. Wow. I like her too. And I like what she said about herself. And, and we really kind of seemed to mesh and I was just like -- I think she liked me first, and then I liked her back.

LAURA:  08:35
So was that your first like you had ever gotten on Facebook?

LEWIS 08:39
Yes. I believe that was my first like I had gotten on Facebook.

LAURA:  08:44
Okay, so you liked each other. And then he reached out through email or text?

BETH 08:49
So it's -- you can't text, you can't email because the only thing you can do, because it's for safety, is to go through the message app tied into the dating app on Facebook. And I did find out how to figure out when you’ve got a spammer.

LAURA: Oh! Tell me.

BETH: When you have those guys who are looking for, okay, so the men who are not legit -- because Facebook is free. And they can set up a profile. They were like, Oh, I don't want to talk to you on this medium anymore. Here's my cell phone. Let's communicate there. And I was like, oh, okay, I was new. What did I know? They would ask a lot of questions. I answered them. And then I said, by the way, I'm going through your town, or they would say they're local. I said, let's get together for coffee. And they’d say, oh, no, not till I know you better. and I'm like, oh, block and report.

LAURA: Yeah.

BETH: Yeah, I figured it out. You've got to be -- red flags have to fly high.

LAURA:  09:59

So you met Lewis, and …

BETH: 10:06
So he asked me to go to a baseball game, which I showed up late. I had, I had just ended up graduating with a second bachelor's in graphic design locally here, trying to get my feet back on solid ground. And my neighbor had a graduation party for me. So I told Lewis, I will be there around 8, which was around the fourth inning. That's fine; baseball's very long. And went down; I texted him that I was at the gate.

LAURA: Aww.

BETH: And he met me at the gate. I'm like, oh, he's just like his picture. And my heart starts beating. I'm like, I hope he feels the same way. Because I did mention that I'm not a gym rat. I had a few things in there that said, I'm not Barbie. I'm not a gym rat, you know. So the men would know what they're getting. And he was right there, led me to the seat, and we chatted for four hours. We left the game; he's like, do you want to get dinner? I said, absolutely. Walked me to my car, and we were just chit chatting for hours, nonstop talking. And it was good conversation and a lot of fun. So and then he said, can I see you again? And I said absolutely.

LAURA:  11:27
So congratulations. But I'm also thinking it was that way for everybody. You know, you make it sound so easy.

LEWIS: 11:37
You know what, when you're not looking … when I was single, I couldn't, you know, I couldn't date anybody. And, you know, nobody was interested. And somehow when you're married or you're dating somebody, you're not putting that, you know, those airs of wow, I need somebody. I'm desperate. Like, oh, I’ve got somebody. I'm very happy. And the way I did the Facebook Dating was, it was just like, all rright, whatever. You know, I really still wasn't looking to have a relationship.

LAURA: Yeah.

LEWIS: If I got a date, was able to go out and have -- I had this newfound revelation. That would be great. But I was happy with myself. I was happy with me. I guess if I never dated anybody else, would I have still been happy? It's like I told Beth, we were both very happy. We didn't come to the relationship sad, needing someone to make us happy. And so when we got together, we became even happier, to a level that we didn't even know existed because we were just fine in our separate happy.

LAURA:  12:40
Lewis and Beth had been a committed couple for almost a year now. And they're making plans to move in together. Oh, I love it.

You know, it doesn't sound like there's anything unique about the Facebook Dating platform, compared to other dating sites, that led to their romantic success. So what about using social media unofficially to make a romantic connection? We’ll hear from Linda after the break.

BREAK

LAURA: I have this totally unscientific theory that unhappily coupled people increase the amount of time they spend on social media. I also think there's a lot you can learn about someone when you go to their social media profile. But as 61-year-old Linda found out, spending time with someone in real life tells you a whole lot more.

Linda wrote to me after last season's Boomerang Love episode, I followed up with her to find out what happened after a college crush reached out to her through social media.

LINDA: 13:45
So this was summer of ‘20. And I actually was spending time with a local guy trying to see where that might go. And COVID -- and things weren't moving quickly. But I liked him. And then this guy who I had known in college, he was a year older and a friend of my brother’s. And he was an athlete, as was my brother at our college. And I had a wicked crush on him when I first got to college, and actually double dated with him one time to a concert. And so I met his parents because they'd had us all for dinner -- and great guy, great guy. And over the years, I'd heard about him every now and then through my brother, they kept up.

And apparently, his marriage was ending at the beginning of 2020. And he called a bunch of friends to talk about it. And he asked, just in passing, asked my brother how I was doing.

LAURA: Oh.

LINDA: And my brother said, well, she's divorced. And I think he just went okay, that's what I'm gonna do. And he reached out through Facebook. I didn't know he was divorced. My brother didn't pass it on. Reached out through Facebook.

LAURA: Oh, how nice!

LINDA: And we were playing Words With Friends. And super smart. And I'm very attracted to intelligence.

LAURA:  15:18
So wait. So you're playing Words with Friends. So he reached out on Facebook, and you struck up a conversation, and then that evolved into let's play Words with Friends?

LINDA: 15:26
He found me on -- after we were talking on Facebook, he found me on Words with Friends and sent a request.

LAURA Okay.

LINDA: We did that for a while. And then he started texting me. And that's when I found out he was divorced. I didn't know. I just thought it was, you know, the attention of some guy, and fun.

LAURA: Yeah.

LINDA: And again, I was working on a relationship with someone else. And anyway, we started texting and it just picked up steam very, very quickly. And before my fourth date with this other guy, about 30 minutes before it, I got a call from the college crush saying, “I want to meet you next weekend. I've booked a hotel.”

LAURA: Oh!

LINDA: We’re gonna meet in this city -- because he was living in another state. And we could each drive to the state in between.

LAURA Yeah.

LINDA: And we met for a weekend.

LAURA:  So when he -- when college crush …

LINDA: Yeah.

LAURA: Can we give him a pretend name?

LINDA: Let's call him Dan.

LAURA: Dan. When Dan called you on the phone and told you this idea --and you did you immediately say “okay, that sounds great”?

LINDA: 16:35
Yeah, I mean, we had talked a few times before that. And we had talked about getting together. And I mean, it was heating up.

LAURA: Yeah.

LINDA: I felt it. He felt it.

LAURA: Sure. From the communications, but you hadn't seen each other in person.

LINDA Yeah, but it was not if but when, at that point.

LAURA: Yeah, I get it. I totally understand. So okay, so then you do meet him …

LINDA: Yeah.

LAURA: At this hotel, at this random …

LINDA: On the ocean.

LAURA: Oh, okay. Were you nervous before you went?

LINDA: No, no, it just felt really good. Really natural.

LAURA: Yeah. That's great. And when you saw him in flesh and blood, were there any surprises? Or do you know what I mean?

LINDA: No. I mean, I thought he was really cute in college, and he was still really cute. So then the way we left it, you know, we would figure out when to get together again. And we did. So our points of connection were pretty good.

LAURA: Yeah.

LINDA: In the middle of that, he was moving. And I recommended that he rent a house for a year. Because it really had only been a few months at that point. And he wanted me to look at houses with him. And I didn't want to do that. At that point, there were some cracks that I was seeing. It was an election year, 2020. And I was starting, even though he had said he was not really very political, I was starting to sense some attitudes that I didn't agree with. You know, then you wonder, can I live with this? Can I live with that? And then it was sort of the whole package, where he moved. I said, “You should probably rent for a year while we figure this out.”

LAURA: Yeah.

LINDA: I can remember him saying, “How big should this house be, so that we can have my kids and your kids for Christmas?” And I just looked at him and said, “I don't think there's any chance my kids are going to want to come to yet a third city to spend Christmas.” Their dad is in one city. We have a lot of family in Evanston, in the Midwest. “I don't think I'm gonna be able to convince them. Don't plan out this house based on my four kids.”

LAURA:  18:55
Right. Do you think it could have worked if you had wanted to move to the same city, but not in the same house? Do you know what I mean?

LINDA: 19:07
No, because I think ultimately, it was the fact that our political beliefs and some other viewpoints that I feel are really important -- views on women, views on other races, views on politics -- these were the things that were coming to the surface. And they're a lot more important to me now than when I was -- I went to college when I was 17, when I met him.

LAURA:  Yeah. Was it hard letting go?

LINDA: Yeah, it was. It was. We had one more weekend, and I was sort of taking notes. And at the end of the day, I said, you know, there's just too many issues. And he said, “Oh, I really thought I was being really careful about what I said. And I really thought today went great.”

LAURA:  Okay, so there's a big disconnect if he thinks it's going great. And he's also thinking it's going great, because he's editing himself. Sounds like he's not being himself.

LINDA: Right. It wasn't fair to him. And that's what I said. I said, “I don't want you to feel like you have to watch your words around me, or you can't speak freely.”

LAURA: Yeah. I'm sorry.

LINDA: Yeah.

LAURA: Because you said he was smart. If he's so smart, why is he so stupid?

(LAUGHTER)

LAURA Linda and her crush have remained friendly. And while they were a mismatch, that doesn't necessarily mean using social media for romance is a bust.

CONNELL BARRETT: It's a terrible idea. And we should end this podcast right now. No, just kidding. It's a great idea. I'm a big fan of looking for love off of the dating apps, but still doing it online if you want to.

LAURA:  That's Connell Barrett. He's a dating coach based in New York, and our conversation is next.

BREAK

LAURA: Dating coach Connell Barrett is the author of a book called Dating Sucks, But You Don't. And along with dating apps and dating sites, he's all for utilizing social media in the love search.

CONNELL: 22:10
And there's a couple of big advantages to looking for dates, looking for romance, using social media, off of the dating apps. There's something about dating apps -- people just lie on them, or they exaggerate. They exaggerate their height, they change their age, they show old photographs. And the nice thing about going off of the dating apps and going on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, is you're going to get a much more honest representation of who that person is.

LAURA:  22:38
Do you have any thoughts on where we should not do this?

CONNELL: 22:42
No, I don't. I think that you should do it on platforms that play to your strengths. So I would say don't do it on a platform that is not you, whatever that may be. Let's say you're a writer, let's say you're not a visual person. Let's say you're more into witty jokes, and you love banter. You're like you or me -- you know, writers. Maybe Twitter is the place for you to look for some potential romantic connections as opposed to Instagram, which is much more a visual, photo-driven platform. So it's not that there's certain places you should stay away from. I would say you want to personalize your social media dating strategy and find a home that plays to your strengths and that you just enjoy being on.

LAURA:  23:29
I saw something which led me to ask that question. Someone was complaining on Twitter about people using LinkedIn to try to date people. And I don't know whether it was the site itself or the perhaps clumsy way people were reaching out on LinkedIn.

CONNELL: 23:49
That is probably more a reflection on the approach that that person may have been using on LinkedIn. It's not, don't do it on LinkedIn. In fact, I would say if you are a successful professional person, if career is important to you, if you have a degree, a graduate degree, and that's your type of date, LinkedIn might be a really good place to pursue this, in addition to what you'd be pursuing on LinkedIn.

So I guess my advice would be whatever platform you choose, you want to use it both because you want to be there anyway, on LinkedIn. And as an added bonus, you're single and you're open to a relationship. And you can have those two birds with one stone. What I wouldn't do is say, oh, I'm single, I want to find somebody. I'm going to go on LinkedIn just to date.

Whatever platform you want to use, you're going to want to do a little bit of homework and figure out hey, what are the ins and outs of this platform? How do I navigate this platform? Because each one does require a different, it's a slightly different kind of communication or a way to reach out to people. So you just want to do a little homework and make sure you're using the app’s bells and whistles and you know, limitations to the best of your ability.

LAURA:  25:11
What about if it's on the other end? Somebody's looking --so I've already got a Facebook page. Let's say I've already got a Twitter account, I've already got Instagram. How do I approach someone else on these platforms?

CONNELL: You're talking about how to make that digital icebreaker, right? How to reach out …

LAURA: Yeah.

CONNELL: … create some kind of connection and communication. I always come from the place of offering some kind of value, for lack of a better term. In other words, a joke, a compliment, something you like about something they posted. An engaged something, something that they might be interested in, that would make them smile. And this is where online dating and social media dating and just texting in general, there's a commonality here. We always want to give more than we ask in return. So I always think, what's the what's an opening message that would make them smile, that would be something they would enjoy receiving, as opposed to, “Hey, I saw your Instagram, do you want to have drinks on Friday?” That's asking too quickly, right out of the gate, it's better to say, “Hey, I saw your Instagram, and I loved your video about the wine tasting you went to. What's your -- which one did you end up deciding was the best?” It's no different than in person. If you were going to approach somebody, you wouldn't start by saying -- approaching and asking them out. You would approach and break the ice in some way that gives them something or creates a bit of a connection. I would look at their profile, look at what they posted, find something that you find interesting and that you appreciate. And let them know that you appreciate it, that you like it. And that is a great way to get things going … sort of like a give and take kind of dynamic.

Having friends in common -- which is something that Facebook shows you, LinkedIn shows you -- having friends or acquaintances in common is a good way to break the ice. And there's two strategies here you can use. So let's say you're on Facebook, and you see an attractive stranger. You like their posts, you'd like their personality, there's something about them where you think, wow, this is a potential date, if they're single and available. As a side tip, you want to put relationship status single on your Facebook, just let people know. That helps. And you can do one of two things.

And you can do one of two things. You can either reach out to that person you're interested in with some sort of compliment, something you appreciate, something you like, or ask them a good question that they would want to answer. And also mention who you have in common.

LAURA:  Yeah, that sounds like -- I'm just thinking back to my -- there are some privacy settings that Facebook in particular has to ensure like, only your friends can see your posts, as opposed to friends of friends. And so it strikes me that if you want to make yourself open to potentially meeting people this way, you should look at your privacy settings to make sure you're comfortable but that you're not maybe closing yourself off to an opportunity -- if you would welcome those opportunities in your life.

CONNELL: Right. And that comes back to doing a little bit of due diligence, a little bit of homework on whatever platform you like. And just make sure that the privacy settings are working in your service, and that you have everything set up where people can reach out to you if you're okay with that. Same with Instagram, same with any platform. You do want to do a little bit of that homework and make sure that the specs are all serving you in your potential search for love. That's a good point.

LAURA:  Yeah. Okay. And also I was just thinking Facebook, so I went back to my maiden name, my family name when I got divorced. And it had always been part of my name, but it was very noticeable when I was all of a sudden, Stassi.

CONNELL: That's another thing you want to keep in mind is the last-name factor, something to look at if you're a formerly married woman, and you've changed your name back. Again, you want to put signals out that let -- within reason, let people know that you're single.

LAURA:  Let's say I've made myself very open. Add somebody, I've caught the attention of someone. How are they going to make me go like oh my god, what?

CONNELL: 29:41
Don’t start off by saying, how's your day? How are you? Or any -- this a good dating app tip that works with social media as well. Don't make that first initial opener, hey, how are you? How's your day? It's just boring. It doesn't offer anything So that's, that's one of the more common mistakes I see people make on dating apps, but in general say, hey, what's up? How are you? And people just get tired of hearing that.

LAURA:  Or, Heyyyyy, with like, five Ys. I have received many of those.

CONNELL: I'm a fan of Heyy with two Ys, as long as something comes –

(LAUGHTER)

CONNELL: Seriously, there's something flirty about it, as long as what comes next -- offer something like Heyy, Laura, really love that post of you from the ballet on Saturday night. How was it? What did you think of the show? Okay, I might give you two Ys. The same rules apply to online dating with social media dating, which is use best practices, be aware of giving, who you give your phone number to unless you have a high degree of certainty that they're who they say they are, that you have at least met them, or if somebody knows them, if you both know somebody.

That's a great help, which you really don't have that on, for the most part, you don't have that on Tinder or Bumble, Hinge. But this is something on LinkedIn and Facebook, among others, people can kind of vouch for you -- which does help. You're going to have to make yourself vulnerable. Without any romantic risks, you're not going to get the romantic rewards. But there's nothing wrong with putting some romantic cards on the table and sending that flirtatious first message, as long as it's G-rated, not R-rated, about letting somebody know that you're interested; showing that romantic intent, that romantic interest.

LAURA:  31:37
So heyy, two Ys, what do you think about Connell’s advice? He also says that if you make a move and the other person isn't interested, don't take it personally. But move on. Now, here's where I tell you that while I do like the idea of using social media to scope out potential romantic partners, I have privacy settings in place on my personal Facebook page. So I've closed off an avenue. That's okay, though. I'm striving to spend less time on that platform anyway. These days, it just makes me anxious.

But I will admit, I've done a little poking around on LinkedIn. Though did you know that when you visit someone's LinkedIn page, they get notified? Yeah, awkward. Still, even though social media is basically self-promotion, and some people are better at it than others, why not use it to see if there's anyone among your extended network that might be a romantic prospect, and find an opportunity to reach out and maybe get to know them in real life? Who knows what might come of it?

Dating While Gray is produced in partnership with WUNC, North Carolina Public Radio. Our producers are Katy Barron and Anisa Khalifa. Charlie Shelton-Ormond is our editor, Lindsay Foster Thomas is WUNC’s director of content, and Jenni Lawson is our audio engineer. I'm Laura Stassi. If you have a question or a comment, email datingwhilegray@wunc.org. And now you can also leave a voicemail. Go to datingwhilegray.com and at the top right, click on Talk to Us. I'd love to hear from you. And thanks for listening.