Think dating is hard? Try doing it with 40,000 Twitter followers
Senior public relations major, activist, and Meantime Coffee employee Patty Matos gets some school work done at The Honeysuckle Cafe & Bar in Carrboro, alongside friend and senior communications major and blogger Alexis Hinnant.
There’s the awkwardness at the start, the sweaty palms, the fear of rejection and then sometimes the heart-crushing feeling of actually being rejected. Now imagine what it’s like to date when hundreds, if not thousands, of people on UNC’s campus already know your face, your name and who you spend your time with.
Dating might seem a little bit harder.
Recognition on campus isn’t too hard to come by. Outside of the men’s basketball program, it would be a stretch to call anyone on campus “famous.” Recognizable people though? UNC has lots of those.
Noni Shemenski makes her appearances around campus. She’s a stand-up comedian, even if she’s focusing on film projects right now. At her busiest, she was performing at open mics a couple times a week and getting booked on local showcases a few times a month.
As for dating? She’s not actively looking for partners right now — Shemenski is openly polyamorous with two current partners all while trying to graduate in December — but she still has stories.
“A person I started talking to, I met at a show,” Shemenski said. “But then it was pretty interesting, because we matched on Tinder like maybe a couple months later, and he acted as if he didn’t know who I was. I guess he kind of thought that I was important, or too important to remember who he was. I don’t know; he was trying to play it cool.
Shemenski likes to keep her comedy separate from her personal life. When people approach her, looking to flirt with her about her stand-up, she said she’s more guarded.
“I want to date someone who sees me as an equal and isn’t coming in to dating me with rose-colored glasses because they’ve seen me be funny on stage,” Shemenski said. “There’s more to it than that.”
“What’s Like … Up Dog?”
Sara Pequeño is a server at Sup Dogs, a sports bar in Chapel Hill. The restaurant revels in kitsch — the walls are decorated with signs referencing Chapel Hill, the UNC basketball team and a town-wide hatred for Duke.
“I feel like people often generalize based on the type of persona that’s put out by my restaurant and ... so they make the assumption that I’m a very bubbly, outgoing sorority girl, for lack of a better word, that is super happy and kind of basic,” Pequeño said. "So that assumption is very often made, or that I'm a party girl and that's all I do, is I go out, and then I work at Sup Dogs and that's it. So I feel like, based on that, when people are like ‘I know you from Sup Dogs’ I’m like, you actually don’t, like you’re only seeing this one side of me that I’m presenting here.”
Pequeño likes to think of herself as laid back, opposed to the energetic persona she puts on at work. Unfortunately for her, that can lead to some unpleasant situations when some customers expect that friendliness to carry over outside of work.
There’s one customer in particular, Pequeño recalls, who she’s seen before while she’s out with friends.
“He just gets so excited when he sees me he’s like ‘Oh my God, you work at Sup Dogs’ or, he just acts like we’re good friends and I’m like, ‘We’re not,’” Pequeño said.
“Hey, I’ve Seen You On Instagram”
Not every student who gets recognized on campus is recognized for being on campus. Roommates Lauren Stanton and Haleigh Somberg both operate Instagram accounts with several thousand followers and partner with different companies to use their following to promote products.
The two influencers regularly find themselves being greeted by the names in their Instagrams, Lolo and Hales, respectively. For them, like Pequeño, the unearned familiarity can feel off-putting, especially in a romantic context.
“I’d say it makes me feel a little bit more uncomfortable, and also that it makes me feel like these people already have assumptions about me, so it definitely makes me feel like it’s harder to get to know people because they feel they already know me," Stanton said.
Not every student’s dating life is hurt by being known.
Alexis Hinnant currently has 43,000 followers on her Twitter account. What once started as a Justin Bieber fan account “blew up,” and as the senior UNC student began college, her account slowly transformed into her personal social media.
For Hinnant, having a high-profile social media has been more of a blessing than a curse. Hinnant said the queer dating community, which she is a part of, is much more active through non-traditional means of social media like Twitter.
“I feel like it definitely makes it easier because I’m very open and honest, and I’m very clear on Twitter and I feel like being that authentic,” Hinnant said. “People that follow me already know a lot about my life and what I’m up to, and I also feel that way with the people I follow.”
Hinnant said there’s been “three or four” times this year where someone who followed her has reached out to her and the interactions have led to going out on a date. Sharing her personal thoughts online isn’t an issue for Hinnant, and that makes flirting in person even easier.
“When people see you in person, and they recognize you and they bring up something that you said or they think that you’re funny so it’s already like, you know that they like you or like what you have to say already,” Hinnant said. “By knowing that, it’s easier to ask someone out or anything like that.”