by Lisa Moody Breslin

The ways people connect and then get to know each other has morphed
into so many forms over the last 30 years, many people wonder if they, or their love-seeking loved ones, will find their way?

From long talks on a dorm phone, to texted emoji’s.

High school sweethearts, to Hinged.

The Dating Game, to The Bachelor.

Tenderness to Tinder.

Social media has revolutionized how people meet.

“The terrain is much larger,” explains Dr. Linda Semu, an associate professor of sociology who teaches and researches on love and marriage/global social change. “Dating and courtship used to be a lot of work, but now it doesn’t have to be. The opportunities to meet others are at one’s fingertips. Dating norms have changed too: there’s a lot of fluidity. With that, risks have also increased.”

Some people pine for the good old days when courtship seemed to flourish more and significant others spent time with family and friends. That time was not just fly-by time, but hours invested enjoying meals together, card games and rich conversations.

During those good old days, Carroll Countians “would attend dances, plays, drive-in theaters, go on hay rides, or even meet prospective suitors at church activities,” explains Tom Gordon, marketing director for the Historical Society of Carroll County.  “Previous generations would send letters and cards to those they courted. Many young people dating would go out in groups together or all visit at a friend’s home.”

Dating eased into courtship and courtship, ideally, bloomed into marriage.

“Now dating involves getting to know someone but intentions are not necessarily serious. People are more likely to think ‘I can still look around. There are more options. I have a field to look at,’” said Semu, with the reminder that to completely understand how dating has changed, sociologists consider many factors. Propinquity (geographical proximity), mutual attraction (physical appearance), meeting each other’s core needs, compatibility (racial and ethnic traits, religious background), social exchange – best choice (socio-economic status -education, employment, income), similarities (age), and mutual commitment are some.

Semu likens social media’s current crack in dating’s faultline to the dating shift engendered by cars. Just as social media has shifted and made it easier for people to connect, the mass availability of cars in the post WWII era made it easier to connect and revolutionized the dating scene as well.

“Courtship went from a man visiting a woman’s home and her family where they had more control over the situation, to men taking women away from the family for privacy,” Semu explained. “Factor in men buying women dinner or paying for movies and the pressures women might have felt as a result.  Having a car changed everything about dating then.”

Not all people are pining for the good old days.

Many seeking love are discovering that as the ways to meet people boom, they too are finding paths that bring them not only to their first date, but even marriage. They were too shy, or some say – too awkward –to leap right into the one path most used to follow so they welcomed new phone apps and online dating options.

“In some ways, I feel like my girls felt a level of comfort with the texting. Before they met with guys, they really knew them, especially Ali,” said Westminster resident Laurie Borkowicz.  “Even Snapchat allows people to see what people look like. It is completely different than what we used to do.”

Borkowicz recalls fond memories of how she and her husband, Rick, met and courted.

She was at Notre Dam in Baltimore and they both attended a mixer at Loyola. His friend liked her but she had her eyes on Rick. They danced, he walked her to her dorm, her rooomate got his number and assured her, “If you don’t call him, I will.”

“I was a nervous wreck. I was 18. I hadn’t called a boy before, but I called him and during that call he asked me on a date. Since I went to an all girls school, the girls came down on the elevator with me to check him out.”

Their courtship took time and included lots of parental advice.

“Now that connection with someone else can be very quick,” Borkowicz added. “Meghan [youngest daughter] talked online with the young man she is dating now and he was at house the next day with chili for me. But they knew each other ahead of time – they had a crush on each other for years. It took that first online contact to make it happen.”

“I moved to New York four years ago. It’s actually hard to meet people in New York,” said Lori Borkowicz’s 27-year-old daughter, Ali.  “A girlfriend suggested Hinge, an online option that matches people based on mutual friends that you have. I went on a few Hinge dates but didn’t connect.”

Until last summer.

Hinge paired her with her Benny from Brooklyn in June, they met in July and they have been inseparable ever since.  The two appreciate that Hinge connected them swiftly, but they both consider themselves old souls who are taking their time to get to know each other.

“We still enjoy sending cards to each other and going on walks. When we walk, he is always between the cars and me.  He opens the car door for me,” she explained.

“We preach to our children – to the point that they are probably sick of it – that texting is not form of communication for relationships,” said Westminster Council Member Tony Chiavacci. “It’s only for snippets of communication, like what time to meet, but it’s a horrible way to have any type of relationship. They have taken the message to heart.”

When one young man tried to ask Chiavacci’s daughter, Georgi, out via text. She said no.  The high school senior told her father, “I want to go out with someone who can talk to me in person.”

“Kelly and I were high school sweethearts,” said Chiavacci. “In fact, we met through Tom Welliver. Our courtship was the traditional going out for pizza, the movies, and games. We started at separate colleges, but she transferred to Frostburg, where I was.  Thanks to Tom, ‘finding’ her was not a big deal.”

The Chiavaci’s children, so far, are following a similar path. Their oldest daughter, Jenna, will marry her high school sweetheart in September.

“I know they text and use social media, but with our children those have not been a driving force,” Chiavacci added. “If any of the five are inclined to go the modern way, it will be our youngest son, Luka [8th grade]. He is the shyest of the five.”

Emoji’s may be conveying emotions and Tinder putting faces at people’s fingertips as social media revolutionizes dating.  But these new paths are less likely to lead to life-long partners if those who seek love now don’t heed the advice of folks who dated before social media broke things loose.

“You can find what you are looking for more easily,” said Chiavacci. “But to make it work, use the traditional methods that get you and the person you love face to face – often.”