When I read Maureen O’Connor’s article Who Needs Skin? The Virtual Rebound as Breakup Therapy, the first thought that came across my 30+ millennial mind was that this was another piece of evidence that my generation is drifting further from the ability to cope with situations that require face to face (or skin to skin) contact. My second thought was “What a great STI prevention method!” After reading this article, I realized there are pros and cons to the digital rebound.
Opening up to a stranger
Have you ever found yourself opening up to someone about your darkest secret whom you met while travelling, or bonding about belief in the paranormal with a stranger? Why do we pour our hearts out to strangers, but hesitate in admitting these truths to our families and co-workers?
We do this because we see these strangers as safe. They might also be disturbed by our bizarre secrets, but they don’t know our last names or how to see us again unless we give them permission. Similarly digital rebound partners on Tinder, or Facebook acquaintances forged last decade will likely fade away from our awareness if we ignore them. It’s hard to reconcile these issues with our friends and family who already have strong opinions about our choices, but we can safely and selectively tell our digital rebound partners all about these secrets.
No STIs or sexual abuse
Some people fly through casual sex like butterflies in a field of poppies, while others inadvertently choose awkward and disrespectful casual sex partners. Successfully navigating casual sex is a skill that is enhanced by being conventionally attractive and is much more easily facilitated in large, metropolitan areas in the western world. Not all of us have these skills and traits. Digital rebounds allow breakup refugees to navigate the world of casual dating without risking their physical well-being. While potentially less gratifying, the risk of physical harm is greatly reduced.
Reduced likelihood of excessive substance consumption
For many people casual sex means getting intoxicated enough to have sex with someone other than your partner for the first time in months or years. Apart from the obvious liver and lung damage, casual sex with strangers sometimes necessitates one party suddenly wanting to go home and driving in their vehicle while drunk. Additionally, the loss of sleep from spontaneous casual sex does not always mesh with the demands of your job (do you get relationship bereavement PTO?)
Sharing a sext or nude picture with one can be sharing with millions
The same strangers that are less likely to outwardly judge us, are also less likely to care about our futures. You never know when your digital crush moonlights as a well-known dating blogger and will publicly publish your sexually explicit texts. After weeks of texting about the injustices in your workplace, and your latest epiphanies about your personal development, your digital fling might feel like your trusted, cozy best friend. Just because this person has a lot to text you each day, doesn’t mean they respect you or have enough self control to avoid showing pictures of you to friends (of friends of friends) while drunk.
Missed opportunities for social-emotional growth with new people
Most importantly, the drawback of digital rebounds is that they don’t demand the hard questions of rebounds in the flesh. They don’t ask where this is going after the third “date”, or casually introduce you as a girlfriend. That’s the point. But what are we losing by not addressing those beautiful, complicated human needs? Will Millenniels wake up one day in their 40’s without the energy and confidence to date long-term and look back at years of feeling kind of, sort of needed by partners they never connected with on a deep level? Perhaps, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
Imagining a best-case scenario with digital rebounds
Let’s assume that the magic of on-demand flirtatious attention is here to stay, and envision a world where we are using this miraculous technology respectfully, responsibly and rhapsodically. Here are my tips for safe, satisfying use:
- Keep your nude pictures to yourself and your best friends of five or more years
- If you must send nude photos to new folks, cut out your head, unique tattoos, monogramed towels and high school sweatshirts
- Only send sexy pictures (including ones where your face is obscured) that are not already posted publicly so as to prevent recipients from conducting a successful Google image search linked to your name
- Speak up and ask questions when friends and acquaintances show off nude photos of their casual flings on their phones; don’t be afraid to criticize someone for engaging in disrespectful behavior
- Consider the payoff of opening up to a digital fling emotionally as much as you do sexually; value the perspective from someone who is distant from your situation
- Just as in live rebounds, take a moment to clearly communicate to your digital rebound when you are moving on and leave them with a respectful parting message you would be proud to show your grandchildren when they are cool enough to appreciate it
- Test the waters with a digital fling by connecting with someone outside your typical demographic; people outside your race, socio-economic status and age range can open you up to new possibilities
Happy digital rebounding! May the miracles of the internet be on your side, and may you avoid the predatory creeps empowered by it.