Swipe by Swipe: Stages of Modern Relationships

Posted July 29, 2015

All relationships pass through a certain set of signposts.

That’s been the case for generations. From first encounters to first dates to first kisses, there have always been signposts that helped to determine what phase a given relationship might be in. Without the constant ability to communicate with each other 24/7, those signposts were crucial in helping to figure out how one was meant to act or the expectations one should have about a given relationship.

However, as with most things, the growing reliance on technology has changed all that. Not only has technology obviously changed the dating landscape, but it’s altered the signposts within a given relationship as well. Now, with it becoming so much easier to meet people, many young adults are faced with a constant internal dialogue about whether they’re currently “dating” or “seeing” somebody, if they actually see it going anywhere, or if there might be somebody lurking out there (some phantom profile picture or online unicorn) with whom they might be more compatible. Growing up, when you only dated people who were somehow connected to your personal life, things seem to boil down to simply, “Do I like this person enough to keep seeing them.” However, as wisely stated on one of the greatest shows ever:

cutty meme

With so many new situations arising, and so many long-standing couples wholly unaware of how things work anymore, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the new signposts that people are using to make qualify the “situation” they’re in. I asked a few of my friends who are active on various forms of online dating to weigh in on how they’ve seen their relationships, and those of friends, progress since online dating became far more prevalent. Below is what I came up with based on the collection of responses.

(I’m curious to hear if anybody can think of any that I missed or may have ordered incorrectly, so feel free to chime in).

Signpost 1: Matching

This is obviously the easiest one to understand. No matter what platform you’re using (Tinder, OKCupid, Match.com, etc.) a step is always require in which both parties “choose” to have a conversation with the other one. Think of it as the new age version of locking eyes across the bar/party and exchanging a smile or a virtual version of Ralph Wiggum’s favorite Valentine’s Day card


Signpost 2: Moving Offline

After a given time period, most conversations tend to either lead somewhere or fade off into awkward silence (only, online you don’t have to experience the silence firsthand, which softens the blow  – but that’s a conversation for a different time). This is not as important a step as it might seem. By moving the conversation offline, one party usually makes a comment about not frequently using the app or preferring to talk via text and offers up a cellphone number. The conversation then continues, usually in the exact same manner, just using a separate form of communication, which speeds up the conversation.


Signpost 3: Actually Meeting in Person

If the first signpost indicated a modicum of interest, this one indicates a much stronger level of intrigue/attraction. Since most people seem generally averse to taking risks regarding actual, human, conversations with people that might bore them, the stated desire to meet in public already puts each individual much higher on the level of prospects than the countless others than exist only as cellphone numbers or profile photos on a website. Basically, if a guy/girl suggests meeting in person, he/she is essentially a highly regarded high school athlete who is announcing that you are one of his/her top 5 colleges.


Signpost 4: Low Level Stalking

Before technology, low level stalking amounted to talking to your mutual friends about the guy/girl you had just been on a date with.

What did she say? Has she asked about me? Do you know if she’s seeing anybody else? Do you think she likes me? Those sorts of questions.

However, the internet, and other applications, have given us a plethora of ways to infer that same information without having to speak to anybody or leave our rooms. The most common avenue being Instagram.

People are more willing to give out their Instagram account than most other things for a multitude of reasons, but the two most common are that followers can only see photos of you that you post and that our culture tells us that more followers indicates a higher level of importance, so people can rack them up followers while not potentially ruining their social lives.

Since followers can only see photos posted by the people they follow, it’s a heavily curated way to give access to your life without also ruining your chances. The only photos of couples on Instagram are those of official relationships, and nobody has to worry about your drunk friend throwing up countless photos of you at the bar on Friday night; the only people that can see those are his friends.

The downside is that the inferences we make from the Instagram accounts are not always accurate since we’re not actually talking to people. You see a photo of the girl/guy you’ve been on a few dates with laying on a beach with members of the opposite sex and you have to trust your brain to accurately read that photo.

It’s a difficult skill and probably one that should be taught in schools; even as an English teacher I’m aware that kids need to learn how to analyze photographs of people far more often than they need to analyze poetry.


Signpost Five: Meeting Friends

If you’ve been on enough dates to assume that the person you’re seeing is normal and potentially somebody you could hypothetically have a relationship with, the next step is running them headfirst into the buzzsaw of a night out with friends. This will either chew them up or make them appear more viable than before. There really is no middle ground.

Most people tend to choose outgoing and social friends, but not ones that get too drunk and are liable to say awful shit that will ruin everything for you. This is absolutely a consideration for everybody at this signpost. If you’ve never been the friend that’s used as a testing ground for a potential relationship, chances are you’re too crazy or too boring (or live too far away, like, say, White Plains).

This is probably the step that has most in common with the pre-technology era. Meeting non-mutual friends has always been a way to judge how comfortable the person you’re with is with the people close to you, but also suggests a certain level of openness to him/her finding out stuff from your past or seeing you in a less performative state.


Signpost Six: Deleting or Avoiding Online Apps

This is generally a step that the guy/girl you’ve just had meet your friends won’t know about. People simply stop checking dating apps and trying to make other dates; other conversations tend to fade out.

Some people actually even delete the apps, but it’s 2015 and people always seem incapable of deleting apps and/or looking for something better. Usually the apps will remain on the phone until the relationships appears rock solid, or even after; we all know those couples who keep a Tinder app that they can check when they’re home alone together because “it’s fun to play Tinder.”


Signpost Seven: High Level Stalking

If the guy/girl has met friends and survived, you’ve typically hit a stage where you’re willing to open up more avenues of information to them. This usually takes the form of Facebook.

Facebook isn’t really used for much anymore and has become a dumping ground for unfiltered opinions and oh so many photos (and people who are peddling their various projects).

Since people who are friends with you on Facebook can see any photos in which you are tagged, but also anything that is posted on your wall, it gives you less ability to curate the information that is being sent out into the world. Any photo of you with a guy/girl could lead to an unknown amount of eyeballs, subsequent inferences, and potential consequences, so getting to this step indicates either a certain level of stupidity or an acceptance of the guy/girl in question seeing into the dark recesses of years of Facebook photos.

Me and Brett


(Yeah, that’s a real childhood photo of me that’s on my Facebook page)


Signpost Eight: Admitting it to the Online World

Pre-internet, this was the equivalent of showing up to an event holding hands, introducing somebody as your girlfriend/boyfriend, or maybe allowing them to sit on your lap in the middle of conversations with friends. Nothing showy, but certainly a sign that whatever this was was a real thing.

When the internet became an active part of everybody’s life, this became an important signpost that revolved around the decision to “make it official on Facebook.” As mentioned earlier, that’s become nearly nonexistent now except for engagements and baby photos. So many baby photos; however, people are still finding ways to let the online world know they’re in a relationship.

It usually takes the form of a photo of said couple with one friend who comments: “Such a cute couple” or “Love you two” or just a collection of heart emojis. I’ve yet to figure out if this is a carefully orchestrated plan with the commenting friend, but it’s another way in which we’ve taken out direct statements and replaced them with casual, distanced acknowledgements: you haven’t told the world you’re dating, you just put up a photo and somebody else did the job for you.

megaphone meme

Regardless, everybody now knows. Except maybe your mother, unless you’ve allowed her to follow you on Instagram (I promise, Mom, I’ll probably accept sometime. I still love you though).


Signpost Nine: Meeting Family

This one hasn’t changed. It’s as terrifying as ever, and perhaps more so if you have a traditional, judgmental or unfiltered family and the question of “How did you two meet?” comes up.

When most mother’s first looked into their baby girl/boy’s eyes and thought about one day meeting the man/woman that he/she would marry, they didn’t assume that the person would be somebody from the internet. Times change, and people change, but I’m not quite sure how quickly the generation above us is getting acclimated to this reality.


Signpost Ten: Post Any and All Life Changes Online

This is basically engagement photos, wedding announcements, wedding photos, pregnancy photos, and pretty much every photo/video of your child that you can take until your iPhone storage fills up and you need to back them up on an external hard drive.

Seriously, for as much as single people use the internet to try and no longer be single, or try and have a few fun nights, married couples use the internet a hundred times more often to show the world the crazy, normal things their child has done.

baby meme

I’m sure I will one day do the exact same, but for now I’m nowhere near signpost ten (Sorry, Mom).