I was poking through an aunt’s secondary school mementos one day, and I came across a letter written to her by a crush of hers. It was your standard I picked my pen from the basket of love fare, and naturally, it triggered my gag reflex, along with a few other tangential thoughts.
I then started thinking, as one is wont to do, about romantic hook-ups and the evolution it has undergone. Then, you needed about three or four such missives to fly back and forth between a girl and a boy for initial interest to be established. Among the older folks, you had to meet the person first at a party/salon/roadside/pharmacy before acquiring their landline number and address, definitely. Phone bills back then were not for the shallow of pocket, plus the queues at the local Nitel were too long. You also needed, without question, a little sibling of your beloved whom you would anchor to your side with small but important gifts. This person had all the importance of the secretary to a minister. Without them, your letters and your “I’m waiting outside” messages would mysteriously miss road.
Fast-forward to the 2010s, and the dating landscape is almost unrecognizable; in fact, children of the 2000s think a love letter is some kind of 27th alphabet. The internet has opened up limitless possibilities for every aspect of life, and we have thankfully thrust our romantic dealings into its careless care. Looking for a hook-up? Join Tinder and look no further. Want to stalk a prospective lover and find out all their curves and edges? Facebook and Instagram for the win. Want to discover if she is indeed a giggle at a funeral? Fear not, Twitter will sort you out. It’s like that movie where Drew Barrymore said, “I don’t get my hair done when I want to impress a man, I update my Facebook photo,” or something similar.
Let’s face facts, courtship as we know it is over. The days of picking pens from baskets of love are well behind us. In this texting era (not to mention sexting), it’s not uncommon for people to carry on a virtual relationship for years. I once met a guy who told me that he had never seen his ex-girlfriend, live in living colour. Hand to bible. I’m not even playing. They dated for a couple of years via Skype, if you can believe it, and no, the distance wasn’t what ended them. Apparently, she ‘cheated’ on him. Surprise, surprise. (Can I just say, at this juncture, what we all know in our hearts to be true? Texting has killed romance. Yes, I said it. This new tech-speak doesn’t exactly inspire everlasting love. Back then, trying to woo someone took a considerable amount of effort, guts and Nitel minutes. By the time you got the girl/boy, the sheer relief of success after so much investment was enough for you to cling to the relationship with whatever energy you had left. These days, a simple “wyd” (which, incidentally, is the 21st century equivalent to clubbing a prospective partner over the head and dragging them off to your cave) can fetch you the whole nine inc- I mean, yards of sex, if you play your cards right.)
Truth is I actually rather like this seismic shift in the dating landscape. If, like me, you simply don’t haunt places where eligible, promising, potential significant-others are generally found loitering about (for example, my bedroom), the internet is a blessed relief. If, again, like me, you do not have a face that launches a thousand ships, whenever your parish priest asks all those with special requests to rise and pray every last Sunday of the month, you will humbly murmur thanks to the Lord for making a way where there seemed to be no way. Gone are the days of helping people hold their drinks at gatherings while they go off to be toasted by the fellow I’d been giving the glad eye all evening. These days of Direct Messages and Instagram likes, you find your niche and you prosper accordingly. Are you a stunning pretty boy with coconut water for brains? Instagram is your ministry. Chock-full of wit and wisdom with a face only a mother could love? Take over on Twitter. Do you happen to be a stuffed shirt with professional credentials as long as my arm? LinkedIn sounds strange, but it works. Point is, you can be whomever you want as long as you play on your strengths. In short, you get to put forward the most brilliant ad of yourself you possibly can. If this isn’t the ultimate advantage, I don’t know what is. Of course, what happens when you’ve successfully met your ‘soulmate’ online and the time comes to finally inhabit the real world with them in it is another matter entirely. This brings us squarely to the cons of this, well, con.
So you’ve successfully trapped your target with your careful rhetoric on twitter and the Instagram photos shaded carefully in shadow. You’ve taken the prisoner that is BBM and have charmed their socks off with your pithy-yet-sensitive one-liners. Or, you’ve reeled them in with Instagram thirst traps and abundant life-saving emojis in the DMs. Either way, you have put your best foot forward. The tiny problem with creating convenient characters is – have you spotted it? – the sheer fact that they’re not really who one is. A few weeks down the line and disillusionment sets in. Asides from the obvious catfish one is bound to come across, it’s the subtle surprises that wound the most. Yes, he has shoulders wide enough to bear the burdens of the world, but he also has a temper like Vesuvius on rampage. True, she’s the second coming of Oscar Wilde, but she has all the hygiene of his corpse. Bottom line is that because of over-exposure due to the online phase of your relationship, you experience all the awesomeness of your paramour first and very quickly, leaving nothing but nasty shocks for dessert. You now begin to cast your eyes about with all the fervour of a cornered rat, looking for the nearest exit.
Lucky for you, it’s now unbelievably easy to meet new people. Nowadays, relationships end and begin with the speed of slot machines at a Vegas casino. Thanks to technology, there is always someone hotter or with more money or with less drama or with a longer attention span than you just a mere DM away. In these trying modern days when nobody wants to work at anything at all, the slightest indication of a relationship needing effort sends people running for the hills of fresh blood on social media. The vicious cycle continues.
Let’s even briefly examine what this new order of romance has done to going out on dates. The First Date as a concept has been chucked into the Redundancy Bin. What’s there to talk about when you’ve already done the rudimentary Facebook stalking? The order has been summarily reversed- you find out about the person and then you date them. Everything is fast-tracked to the point that the first date is agreed upon only when you’re certain you can marry them. I went on my first ‘date’ with an ex after we had been texting for one whole year (yes, I’m cringing too), and by then, we were practically an old married couple, complete with a complimentary card from the Queen. The honeymoon phase was over before we had even begun. It did not end well. The first date is now nothing more than a brisk nod to society before getting down and physical. Someone aptly described this 21st century meet-and-greet version as “one step below a date, one step above a high-five.”
According to the people who decide these things, it’s not all bad, this technological lovin’. LDRs (that’s long-distance relationships to you uninitiated ones) are supposedly easier with all these e-bridges. In my experience, it’s not, but who am I to disagree? They say that with all the texting and video-calling we do these days, staying connected with your far-away partner is a piece of cake. Of course, they don’t tell you what to do if said partner is a clueless narcissist, but don’t look at me; I didn’t know what to do either. Let me iterate at this point that there are no absolutes. I haven’t seen the stats, but I can bet you Rosamund (my beloved rose plant) that more than half of the people who get into relationships these days find their significant other on some online medium or the other. I’m pretty sure that the internet and technology have, as well, exacerbated break-up rates (no good can come from the ‘last seen’ feature on Whatsapp), but you can’t knock the free-flowing access it creates between partners. Depending on where you are on the Nonchalant-Clingy Stalker scale, this is either good or bad. What I do wonder is where we will be in fifty years as technology advances. Climbing into bed with holograms, maybe.