Technology challenges modern relationships

By Maricia Guzman, NewsNetNebraska

The year was 2011 and chemistry was a’brewin’ in the honors student office at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Taylor Olson,  a freshman at the time, and a young man had definitely hit it off.

Bada bing, bada boom and the young man (who we’ll call Max) added Olson on Facebook; the next logical step in any modern friendship. The two then began Facebook chatting and texting constantly.

“We only talked about funny or light-hearted stuff while on Facebook or texting,” Olson said. “But the messaging just fit well, especially because we both had busy schedules.”

After all it’s 2013, and if young adults  want contact each other it’s through text messages and Facebook or Twitter. Face-to-face conversations? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Finally, Max asked Olson out on a date. They saw an orchestra symphony at the Holland Center in Omaha. While there wasn’t a lot of talking going on, the date went well and they had fun. But there was something different about them actually speaking face to face.

“It just felt different, not awkward but different,” Olson said. “It bothered me that talking online felt different than talking in person.”

But Olson wasn’t alone. In fact, many students have similar experiences.

Dr. Amy Chatelain is a psychologist for Counseling and Psychological Services at UNL and she said she has seen many cases like Olson’s.

Chatelain specializes in relationship concerns and couples counseling.

She said it is common for students to discuss how relationships problems have been “caused” by social media or technology.  However, she also said there are many ways these communication tools can enhance relationships.

“It seems that people are more comfortable with expressing their feelings through these mediums,” Chatelain said. “This can help couples communicate more and in more open and honest ways.”

But Chatelain added that relying heavily on social media or text to communicate can interfere with one’s abilities to develop the skills necessary to have conversations face-to-face.

Chatelain said one of the best ways to avoid conflict in a relationship is to not substitute face-to-face interactions for communication via social media or text, even if it’s easier to have difficult conversations through messaging.

After her concert date, Olson said the texting and internet communication had become such a habit in their relationship that she and Max quickly returned to conversing with their phones and computers.

But Olson wanted more in a relationship than talking about trivial or silly things and combined with their busy schedules, she and Max decided things weren’t going to work out.

“You know, we only had two serious conversations in person,” Olson said. “The first when we decided to start dating and the second when we decided to break up.”

Since that experience Olson said she is more careful about how she starts friendships and relationships because she doesn’t want to create a social media or text dominated relationship again.

Today, Olson is now a junior at UNL and has since been in a more serious relationship.  She said she hasn’t had any communication problems with her current boyfriend.  But she has seen other couples experience similar problems.

“It sounds kind of cheesy but I would tell people they need to grow up and learn how to communicate face-to-face,” Olson said.

While Olson now laughs about her experience she said she still feels silly, even embarrassed to bring it up.

“It’s funny because this kind of thing happens to everyone but when you say it out loud it just sounds stupid, we could’ve just talked more,” Olson said. “But it’s what happens; it’s the world we live in.”

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