On HBO's Girls, Marnie Michaels describes the “totem of chat,” ranking all the different channels of romantic communication from best to worst. “The lowest, that would be Facebook, followed by Gchat, then texting, then email, then phone. Face-to-face would be ideal, but it’s not of this time.”
While a new study from the Pew Research Center doesn’t suggest face-to-face contact is vanishing from the realm of courtship and marriage, emailing, texting, and, yes, sexting are all playing significantly bigger roles in the formation of romantic relationships than even just a year ago.
Take this: 27 percent of all Internet users in a marriage or a committed relationship say the Internet has had some impact on their relationship. This is up significantly from 16 percent of couples back in 2005. And what for couples ages 18 to 29? Nearly half of a solid 45 percent say the Internet has impacted their relationship.
74 percent of all adults who say their relationship has been impacted by the Internet say the effect has been positive, which suggests it’s doing a lot more good things than bad in the realm of romance.
It could be that some of these couples met online.
Last year, Pew released a study showing 11 percent of all Americans have used an online dating site, and of this group, 23 percent met a spouse or partner in such a way.
It can also help facilitate relationships in ways that were impossible a decade ago.
Ilan Caplan, 26, said he and his now-wife continued their relationship even after she graduated from college before him and went abroad because technology allowed them to.
“When we started dating she thought of it as more than we'll do it for a couple of months and then break up, but when she was going to Israel we thought we could make this work because of Skype and other technology,” he said.
The way we share technology can even be a way of bonding or showing trust for each other.
In the same way that giving someone a key to your home is a marker of trust and faith, so is giving someone the password to your email, or at least your Netflix account (there are boundaries). 67 percent of couples say they share passwords to an online account and 27 percent take the even bolder step of sharing their email passwords.
This, by the way, is the technological equivalent of sharing a toothbrush.
And for whatever reasons, sometimes it’s easier to resolve things digitally than face-to-face. To wit: 23 percent of people ages 18 to 29 in marriages or committed relationships say they have resolved a problem using digital tools that they were unable to tackle in person.
But technology, overall, is a double-edged sword in modern-day relationships.
For one, 8 percent of married couples that use the Internet say they have argued with their partner about how much time they spend online. 4 percent say they have been upset by seeing something a partner does online.
And it can be even more complex when it comes to dating and getting to the point when you’re actually comfortably in a steady, committed relationship.
On the one hand, it obviously affords us so many new ways of staying in touch and building a relationship, whether it's writing long, impassioned email when you're thousands of miles apart from your betrothed, sending a flirty, post-first date text, or really wanting to get the ball rolling in a specific direction with an s-e-x-t sext.
In fact, things get extra complicated when you get to the sext. A Nexis search doesn’t even show a published work using the word until February of 2012, but we all know the pervasiveness of the sext is only increasing.
The Pew study revealed that in just a year, the number of cellphone users who send texts rose 15% percent from 6 to 9 percent, and the number who received sexts jumped from 15 to 20 percent of all cellphone users (so, somebody is sending a lot of those sexts to make up for the gap).
Among cellphone users who are single, those numbers jump to 42 percent who say they have received a sext and 23 percent who have sent one. With those odds, you may very well likely receive a body shot or “dick pic” flashing across your phone before you ever get a bouquet of roses or box of chocolate.
That can turn people on or off really fast.
Even without sexts ramping up the sexual progression of a relationship, the instant and easy communication afforded by technology completely revs up the pressure to be in contact in general.
Not so long ago there used to be the “three day rule,” which was that a person (usually the guy in heterosexual relationships) would wait at least three days before calling the girl.
As a Match.com study showed, 78 percent of men don’t follow this rule, probably because it seems highly anachronistic to modern courtship for a couple of critical reasons.
First of all, a phone call? Let's return to the Girls “totem of chat,” shall we?
In most cases of modern dating, you're going to go on several dates and define your relationship with distinct labels before one of you actually makes a call and vocally projects into the phone.
Second of all, three days can seem like an eternity when you spend all day G-chatting your friends in a stream of constant communication and when you're like carrying a device at all times that enables you to be contacted via multiple channels of communication with literally a click of a button.
Sure, some people wait three days or longer. But, when communication is so easy and accessible, three days seems both unbearably long and purposefully delayed, as if trying a little too hard to play hard to get.
The three-day rule is just one of many dating etiquette rules that have been killed by modern-day technology.
Whether that’s a good or bad thing is unclear, but it is certain that technology has significantly influenced the way we communicate love, romance, and sex, regardless of whether we’re in solidly stable marriages or sexting away like crazy.