Update: Five Rules of Courtship in a Digital Culture

I’m in Detroit this week. It’s where I grew up. This time last year, I sat down with Paul W. Smith at WJR Radio in Detroit to discuss rituals of love in a digital culture. I’ve tweaked the list. With Valentine’s Day nearing, I thought I’d revisit the topic.

5 New Rules of Courtly Love in a Digital Culture:

1. Pre-commitment. We live in an age of distraction. It’s tough to commit to anything for longer than a few minutes. With the help of Dan Ariely, we uncovered a trend we call “pre-commitment” where people purposely prevent themselves from acting on their sexual impulses. Online dating coaches (yes, there is such a thing) advise their clients to refrain from sex with a new partner anywhere from 6 to 18 weeks. One young woman reported that she wears her rattiest underwear on a first date to prevent getting too intimate.

2. Cuddle-swapping. Hi-tech hi-touch has entered a whole new realm. The people most steeped in the digital culture are inventing a new emotional currency for getting the affection they crave. Consider this from a programmer who “traded a day of computer assistance for a couple of hours of hugging, in bed…both of us clothed. I’m convinced that prolonged cuddling triggers some kind of happy hormone. I needed it.”

3. Love in the workplace is no longer taboo. Productivity is at an all time high in America. That’s because people who do have jobs are married to them. And hey, it’s how Michele met Barack. We found that HR directors are flocking to webinars on how to train people to “better manage” their love relationships in the workplace.

4. Online laws of attraction. Online dating may have its own courtship rituals. But when Jonathan Harris and Sep Kemvar tracked online daters from around the world, they found this: what’s old is new again. People are still turned on by a few human basics:

Top turn ons: Can you guess?
1. Smarts
2. Confidence
3. Nice smile
4. Sense of humor
5. Good kisser

(NB: My friend, Jennifer, the married yoga instructor, thinks this data skews female. Jen argues that men, in her experience, would not rate “smarts” as a top trait in a partner. What do you think?)

5. Giving good analogue still rules. Texting your sweetie, “I love you” is common—but people tell us it’s done several times a day. Maybe the assumption is that it’s a weaker form of communication and needs to be reinforced. But when it comes to expressing true love? Serious lovers still give good analogue. Flowers, lingerie and chocolate will still do the trick…but in a fragile economy and time pressured world we’ll see more people offering to bake for, massage or just snuggle with their loved one.