UAH professor explains new dating rules just in time for Valentines, Leap Day 2016


New rules for successful dating online are explained by Dr. Pavica Sheldon Assistant Professor of Communication Arts at UAH.

Michael Mercier | UAH

We all know that 2016 is a Presidential election year, but it's not the only notable event. Observed once every four years, Leap Day will be celebrated on Monday, Feb. 29. Leap Day also doubles for the national romantic "holiday" Sadie Hawkins Day, where women ask men out on a date.

Years ago, when Sadie Hawkins Day rolled around girls - with their parents permission dared to ask guys out on a date - it was usually a heavily chaperoned event, such as a high school dance.

"But thanks to the 21st century and social media the rules of dating have changed forever," said Dr. Pavica Sheldon, Assistant Professor of Communication Arts at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH). "Because so many people 'meet' online the new rules of dating are the same for young people and mature adults as well," Sheldon said. "Gender roles have been reversed too, for instance millennial men are more accepting of their role as stay-at-home dad while the wife earns the money." Last fall, one of Sheldon's students, Katherine Bryant, conducted research and wrote an undergraduate thesis about mobile and online dating. Bryant found that most college students consider starting romantic relationships online to be socially acceptable. But those who did not use social media for dating thought it was for "desperate" people.

Sheldon said Bryant's findings were consistent with a national online dating survey conducted in 2013 that found 59 percent of Internet users agreed "online dating is a good way to meet people," as opposed to 44 percent in 2005. "The national study also found that 'online dating allows people to find a better match for themselves than meeting face-to-face'," Sheldon said. Additionally, she noted, only 21 percent of Internet users believed that 'people who use online dating sites are desperate' compared with 29 percent in 2005.

"Clearly, we see attitudes changing about online dating," Sheldon said. "People feel more at ease talking to someone online than face-to-face: nonverbal cues are missing so there is no potential for embarrassment. In fact, several other studies have found that people want to form impressions in online settings just as much as they do in offline settings. Even when nonverbal cues are missing, they might use cues that are available, and online users also communicate through private messaging and emailing at a deeper level."

To keep up with the fast-changing dating rules of social media Sheldon goes straight to the source - her students.

"New online dating terminology turns up almost daily," Sheldon said. "For instance, the term "phubbing" means being snubbed by someone who continuously uses their cell phone in the presence of your company. "It basically means your romantic partner or significant other is phone snubbing you causing cell phone conflict and relationship trouble. Also the latest dating rule is this whole thing called "going Facebook official," which means that both partners have to be ready to announce their relationship publicly online."

Sheldon added that breaking up using cell phones has become so common among millennials that there is now a term for it: the "techno-brush off," which means breaking up via e-mail or text message. "Just talking to my students I have learned so much about social media negatively affecting their relationships: from problems such as friending an old boyfriend or girlfriend, commenting on their photos and statuses - simple jealousy issues - to partner surveillance and conflict due to the relational dialectic of openness vs. closeness. For example, when one partner discloses too much about the relationship - especially private secrets that the other partner does not want disclosed - this may cause turbulence!"

Sheldon said mobile dating apps like Tinder, Coffee Meets Bagel (CMB), and Hitch have made "hooking up" (also related to "Friends with Benefits-FWB") an acceptable form of dating. "Research shows that between 42 and 60 percent of college students engage in FWB relationships. There is a shift to less formal relationship structures. FWB includes a casual sex relationship, normally with a trusted friend. Occasionally, it leads to long-term romantic relationship."

Sheldon offered some safeguards for online dating:

  • Don't exchange personal information online.
  • Choose a reputable online dating site/app.
  • The Internet allows everyone the opportunity to be an amateur detective, conduct your own background check, Google the interested party's name and a history will be displayed online, and don't forget to check social media accounts.
  • Check people search websites such as intelius.
  • Do you and your potential "date" have friends in common? If so, talk to the friends - better still make the first outing a double date
  • When dating for the first time, tell a friend or family member about the date, meet in a public place and stay sober.


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