What a Dozen Teens Told Me About Love in the Age of Snapchat

In 2015 I was fortunate to be named as one of Forbes Magazine’s 30 under 30. Despite earning an accolade that usually marks early career success I actually felt dangerously close to being over the hill. As a VC I live in the tech world, but my nieces and nephews were rapt with apps I’d never used. Their perspectives were markedly different than what I’d read in Pew Research reports. For instance, as an investor in Uber I know the company is transforming the way cities work — little did I know it was also being used by teens who didn’t want to drive home drunk from a party.

I decided to interview a dozen high school students and while they have strong opinions on Apple and Google, the most surprising thing I learned was how much courtship changes when you carry a computer in your pocket. When I was in high school teen romance consisted of awkwardly stumbling through a prom proposal — In 2016 Snapchat has fundamentally changed the arc of Cupid’s arrow. A dozen people does not a representative sample make, but here are some things I learned:

Taco Talk is the New Term of Endearment

Snapchat earned a reputation for encouraging salacious communication, but among the teens I spoke with, the use cases were surprisingly sweet. One consistent, if bizarre, behavior was starting a conversation with a photo of some ersatz subject. Instead of penning a sonnet, a young gent will snap a picture of a soft shell taco and send it to his sweetheart. Amazingly, this gustatory gambit pays off. Sending photos of a random pair of sneakers fills the gap that phrases like “So what else is new” used to.

Emojis are ok, but not on the first date

Emoji etiquette is an area fraught with the potential for a faux pas. Smiley faces are fine in most scenarios, but save the smoochy face for the second date. “Emojis are ok, but not for guys, and not right away,” said one respondent. A uniform bit of advice from both the young men and women was that one should not text twice in a row, lest they appear desperate or clingy.

For teens, Facebook is Match.com

In high school everyone is on the market, so the notion of a dating app is ridiculous. However, teens have figured out how to hack Facebook to engineer connections with enticing friends. “I look through my friends friends and if I see someone I like and I’ll leave a comment on their picture,” says one. “Then I’ll ask a friend to make a formal introduction.”

This broadens the dating pool dramatically. Pre-internet, perhaps you’d meet someone at your church, synagogue, or on a family trip to Niagara Falls, but for the most part your universe of potential dates dined in your school’s cafeteria. Today, Montagues and Capulets can connect via any number of social channels.

Text messages are the new mix tape

In our sample, Facebook was the most common first step in a relationship, an update to the Victorian tradition of courting in view of one’s family. The courtship then proceeds to SnapChat which offers Tristan & Isolde levels of secrecy. However, the ultimate sign of intimacy is messaging directly outside the strictures of of any social service.

Likes are the new Scarlet Letter

Wandering eyes have been the cause of breakups since Hester Prynne, but today, the Scarlet Letter takes the form of the “like” button. More than one respondent mentioned that they’ve had friends who have ended relationships due to online jealousy caused by liking the photo of someone they shouldn’t.

Text by breakup is the new normal

All good things must come to an end and while the flush of young love burns bright, the end is curt, brutish, and short. While considered rude across the entire dating age spectrum, a breakup text is sadly the new normal in social media mediated relationships.

Who knows how these patterns will change as these students matriculate to Match.com, but for now there is no shortage of amore in the app store.

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