POSTED: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 - 6:00am
UPDATED: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 - 6:04am
ENTERTAINMENT NEWS (CNN) — When it comes to romance, texting is often seen as a bare-minimum form of communication. It's fine for firming up Wednesday night dinner plans, but for expressing heartfelt sentiments? Not so much.
That was made pretty clear last week when reality TV star Kristin Cavallari had to defend her fiancé, Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, from those who poked fun at her story of their second engagement.
"I was in the airport, leaving Chicago," Cavallari, 26, tells E! News in an upcoming reality special about her nuptials. "We had just spent however many days together and we were texting and somehow it came up, like, 'Oh, shall we get married?' We're like, 'Yeah, OK.'"
The couple were first engaged in 2011 but split up briefly before reconciling that same year. Even so, Cutler faced criticism over what many saw as a too casual digital proposal. Cavallari later pleaded on Twitter for people to "stop bashing Jay" because he had proposed earlier in Mexico "and it was very romantic."
In the digital age, technology isn't killing courtship. But for many young couples, it's redefining what romance looks like.
These days we often text instead of speak, use FaceTime instead of having face-to-face discussions and zip through online dating profiles with the same speed it takes to order a pizza. Convenient, sure, but "The Notebook" it's not.
These habits have many wondering if technology is getting in the way of real romance. But let's be honest: How many of us have gotten into a heated, or just plain hot, text exchange with a love interest? Chances are, many of the messages saved in your phone are more intimate than your standard pillow talk.
From AOL to OKCupid
Since the early days of the Internet, we've used tech as a tool to broaden our prospects for meeting others and finding romance. We've come a long way since those AOL chat rooms, and even traditional dating sites are giving way to smartphone apps that can do the matchmaking for us. Using your phone's GPS feature, mobile social apps such as Blendr, Grindr, Are You Interested? and Plenty of Fish help you zero in on potential dates, or hook-ups, right around the corner.
For the daring, OkCupid recently launched a Russian Roulette-style app called CrazyBlindDate, which sets users up on short notice with someone they know almost nothing about.
It's not exactly the romanticized version of a fateful meeting, wherein you find your soul mate at spin class or in line for a movie matinee.
"Those really romantic scenarios are kind of diluted nowadays," said Philip Wang, co-founder of Wong Fu Productions, a new-media production company based in Southern California that creates short films and video blogs. Wang and his colleagues created a video series called "Technology Ruins Romance," which makes light of the ways technology could easily solve dilemmas that have been held up as "romantic" obstacles.
The idea came from watching "rom-coms where you're sitting there thinking, 'things could've been totally solved if he took out his cell phone, or just messaged her on Facebook,'" says Wang, 28. "I understand that movies are meant to escape reality, but even just for fun, you could say, wait, why isn't he just calling her instead of showing up outside of her door and surprising her?"
A lot of the mystery we've typically associated with romance is "not as strong as it used to be," Wang said.
The power of Facebook
Some young single people today would rather have information than mystery. When Jason Austin, a 29-year-old IT professional, was skeptical of a potential date he'd met online, he did what anyone who's seen an episode of "Catfish" (or just has plain common sense) would do: He turned to Facebook.
"I wanted to know something about her, I can't say that I'm not nosy," said Austin, who lives in Pontiac, Michigan. "I didn't feel comfortable with the information she was telling me. I would text her, possibly when I get off work, I would give her a call and she wouldn't answer, [but] she would text me in the morning and say 'Hey, how was your day yesterday?' It made me kind of suspicious. So in that particular situation, I Googled her."
On her Facebook page, Austin could see "friends of friends," which allows one to see so much more information, he said. "If you read the comments, you can find out details about that picture, which tells you details about that person."
There can be drawbacks to this Facebook sleuthing, said Dr. Corinne Weisgerber, an associate professor of communication at St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas. Brushing up on someone's background pre-date means you could skip over some of those foundational moments of discovery in person, she said.
But for Michelle Granoski of La Grange, Kentucky, digital tools enhanced her courtship with Shawn Granoski, the man who would become her husband.
She came across Shawn's profile on dating site Plenty of Fish and warmed to his photo, which showed him wearing a Mario T-shirt under a black blazer. She messaged him to strike up a conversation.
He is not a big phone person and only wanted to talk over AOL instant messenger. Granoski, 26, went along with it after looking him up on Facebook and liking what she found.
"I Facebooked him, and it actually did help. ... If I were to discover his favorite color online, I don't think I would've had any different reaction than I would've had in person," she said. After chatting online for two weeks, Shawn drove down from Louisville to meet Granoski while she was a student at Western Kentucky University. Soon they were taking turns driving to see each other, and tied the knot three years later.
Romance, on Skype
Although meeting in person will always be essential, the concept of romance has evolved to the point where weeks of instant messaging or e-mailing can plant seeds of a relationship.
That's been the case for 20-year-old Cristina Lara, a Cornell University student who relies on Skype and e-mail to nurture her long-distance relationship with her boyfriend, Joshua Mbanusi, while he's working in North Carolina. From the beginning, their courtship was carried out through digital means.
Lara's boyfriend, a Cornell alum, asked for her e-mail address instead of her number at first. While some might have taken that as a hint of disinterest, Lara recognized that the frequent, friendly e-mails were his way of showing he liked her. Eventually, he asked for her number, and they went on their first date about a month later.
"A lot of our relationship has been e-mailing and texting and Facebook messaging," said Lara, adding that she's kept as mementos a lot of their e-mails and texts -- some of which were unfortunately erased. The couple spent copious amounts of time together, giving their virtual courtship a real-world backbone.
So, when her boyfriend revealed that he loved her via text, it wasn't ideal. But it wasn't a deal breaker, either.
"Before class started I got a text from him that said, 'I love you,' " she said. "He wanted it to be as organic as possible. It's unfortunate that it happened when we weren't physically together, but what are you going to do about it?"
His text was, interestingly enough, sparked by a lengthy letter Lara had handwritten and left in his apartment. She believes that a handwritten note can communicate things an e-mail cannot.
When it comes to romance, "I think there's a level of flirtatiousness that helps to sustain a relationship, and that's what I had every day with Joshua in person," Lara said.
Now that they're long distance, the pair makes an effort to fly to see each other when they can. But in the interim, "for me and Josh, being romantic is having one night a week where [we're] eating together on Skype," she said. "I think that's really romantic."