As I write this article, my prevailing thought is, “What should the title of this article be? It should be click-baity enough that people will read it. And if they do read it, will it garner likes? Criticisms? Will comments be turned on? Will it resonate or be ignored?”
It’s sad that we exist in a world where online metrics have become a source of personal validation, but they have. And that online world has trickled down to every facet of our existence, most predominantly, our love lives.
I became fascinated with this idea that romance is dead when I started scouring Netflix for something, anything, resembling a new romance movie to sink my teeth into. I wanted the slow burn, the lingering looks, the moments leading up to that first kiss. But most romances available on Netflix are nearly a decade old. Romance today is often the C storyline, revealed as a quick kiss at the end of an action flick. Why? Because to fill movie theatres today we need to jam pack as many jokes, explosions, fight sequences, into a two hour time period. We aren’t content with the slow burn of a developing story anymore because there is no slow burn in anything.
But there was. Twenty years ago. Back then, the burn was very real.
I’m a Gen X-er. I’m part of the last living generation to have reached adulthood without the internet. I can remember the “good old days” when my heart went pitter-patter because the boy I liked handed me a folded note between classes. How I’d study every letter of every word he had written, by hand. A letter that wasn’t a 40 character text with incomplete sentences and emojis. A letter that I still have packed in a box of old memories of a time long lost. Tangible proof that I was loved. Something I can hold in my hand and know it was real. Writing an actual letter took time and thought back then – in a way that nothing takes time or thought now.
In the age of technology a love letter is an email and a mix tape, a playlist.
Everything now is immediate. You can flirt with someone by liking their status update. You can ask someone out without fear of rejection because the sting of rejection online is so much more palatable than when it’s face to face. When you can see the person’s nose turn up at the thought of a date with you. Where you walk away and can feel them laughing behind your back. Where vulnerability isn’t posting without a filter, it’s standing in front of someone and having your ego completely shattered.
Rejection now is easy. People have swiped left and right on you so many times that you forget who liked and who rejected you. You no longer have to wait for someone to order you a drink at a bar, instead you can wade through the sea of meaningless people and faces and try and connect with as many as possible. And by the sheer accessibility and number of people in this world, you will eventually connect with someone. Statistically it will happen. Isn’t it great? Life has become about metrics and statistics?
I remember when it started to change. It was post-Myspace. It was when Match.com gained popularity. I was on Match.com, trying like everyone else to connect in the digital age. I had always been too shy for the bar scene, so the internet felt like a great place to showcase myself without having to muster up any courage whatsoever. Initially, I loved online dating. I loved creating my profile because I could be the best, edited version of myself. I could post pictures from Jamaica and London and make myself look like a world traveler, even though it had been nearly a decade since I’d been to any of those places. Match.com allowed me to mold and create an image for myself that was as real as the filters we now use to turn 40 into 30. Nobody could see that I spent most of my nights in sweatpants watching “Survivor” and playing Tetris on my computer.
But then, as most women often experience with online dating, I’d get countless emails from men – all with the same response that they’d cut and pasted to every women they found attractive enough to bang. There was no feeling. No humor. No attempt at wooing. Just a mass attempt at connection that has only gotten progressively worse since then (Tinder, Grindr, et cetera.)
Some people credit technology with speeding up the process. We can do background checks, stalk a prospective date’s timeline from six years ago, see who they used to date, and then of course compare their completely edited online life to our own completely edited online life. And then it becomes a game of what to post or what not to post so as to get the most positive attention possible from prospective mates. We dilute some areas of our lives and inflate others. We are trying to avoid the inevitable dismissal that often occurs when something we post is misinterpreted or misunderstood in the 40 characters we have to express it. We write off people who are different than us solely because there are so many other millions of people and online profiles that might match better with ours. “Oh, no! He went to a Coldplay concert?” Swipe left. He voted Republican? Next. This so-called connection and accessibility that the internet has provided has lost what cannot ever be achieved from the internet. Real life contact. Where someone’s breath catches in their throat. How they turn red at the mention of something embarrassing. Even an opportunity to explain why they like Coldplay face-to-face and maybe, convince us we should give the band another listen. And for this, I am sad.
However, I don’t want to paint an entirely negative picture of online life. I know first-hand that the internet can and does bring people together.
Years ago, the internet reconnected me with a boy I’d crushed on in high school. It opened up a door that I’d been too afraid to walk through then – when I was too shy to do more than stare at him from behind my locker. But now, despite living 3000 miles apart, we could communicate and I was brave. Our friendship online quickly turned romantic as we emailed one another every day our innermost thoughts, dreams, desires. Sure, we could edit our responses and carefully select the best words, but it felt real. After all, I did have context of who he was. I had met him in the flesh decades before that.
So, when he booked a flight to LA to visit me, I thought this was my storybook ending. Sadly, it was not. While he was every bit as cute as he had been in high school, the chemistry of our emails did not translate to in-person. And that has always been my criticism of the internet. Sure, we get lucky sometimes – but not always. Not even most of the time.
The internet never will replace real-life. Sure, we may get butterflies that the cute boy with the abs swiped right on us. But, the sustainability of those feelings will be as fleeting as the internet’s latest trends. At one time it was Friendster or Myspace. Then it was Facebook and Twitter. Now it’s Instagram. Tomorrow it will be something else and I’m hoping that that something else is us unplugging. Putting down our phones and looking at the person sitting on the other side of the booth – the unedited, unfiltered version of them. Maybe connecting will be all the rage when we tire of the emptiness of our current world – where people can be people, not just a user name.
I can only hope.