Would Romeo Have Swiped Left If He'd Met Juliet On Tinder?
Romantic love. It’s a curly one.
In Eat. Pray. Love. Elizabeth Gilbert writes:
“I met an old lady once, almost a hundred years old, and she told me, ‘There are two questions that human beings have ever fought over, all through history. How much do you love me? And who’s in charge?”
Certainly history is littered with epic love stories -- ones that compromised empires (Antony and Cleopatra), and even started wars (Paris and Helen of Troy). We’re told that people go crazy for love, they spend their lives searching for it, and when they find it, it can either end in the most sublime bliss or they can be torn apart by it (think Romeo and Juliet).
A big love is something that we imagine most ardently as the pinnacle of our human experience, as the glory of an otherwise misunderstood life. Your other half, someone that understands you so perfectly that they exist almost under your skin.
We’re repeatedly told through popular narrative: movies, literature, advertising, milestones and those around us that love is everything -- the central, solo narrative. Everything boils down to love.
There’s a billion dollar industry built around love -- from engagement parties, to weddings, to Valentine’s Day, symbolic diamond rings, flowers that spell out your initials, thousands of books that describe how to find it, how to keep it, and how to get over it once it evaporates … and of course, the dating apps.
Would love even exist today without the inevitable dating app relationship instigator and facilitator?
Dating apps are a central area of my study -- and while I had previously focused on them purely from an “app” perspective, i.e. how do they mediate relationships?, how has relationship language changed as a result of being funneled through a digital medium?, how are power dynamics established for relationships online (going back to Elizabeth Gilbert's quote)? However, it occurred to me a fortnight ago that I was missing the genesis of all these questions.
Why do these apps exist? What are people searching for? Put simply: love. (Or a hook-up, whichever comes first). Yes -- our zeitgeist.
Jerry Maguire gave us, “You complete me.” But some 15 years after the film was made, our more evolved selves would say, “I complete me, but nonetheless I’m still looking for that someone."
Or are we?
As we swipe, swipe, swipe and swipe are we still looking for love, or simply entertainment? Someone once said that mobiles have become the new cigarette (something to do while bored) … but have dating apps quietly replaced mobiles as the new time-consumer?
As a relationship anthropologist of sorts (with a focus on dating apps), I am sensing a new and curious shift. We’re evolving -- it occurred to me the other day that we might be heading into a cataclysmic new phase: post-romantic love.
A strange era of love, or the semblance of love, embodied through the dating app, as a form of entertainment.
I started to pour over some relatively new popular fiction books on love and intimacies, like 500 Dates by Mark Miller (a man who went on 500 dates consecutively, whah??), Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Textbook Romance by Zoe Foster Blake with annotations by Hamish Blake.
The quest for love, or as Foster Blake calls it, the “Quality Relationship” (capitals intended) abounds -- an ever festering and mesmerizing display of ubiquity.
Yet, I have this strange creepy feeling that the advent of the dating app has turned love into entertainment -- and that we’re indeed about to go post-romantic love.
The app has transitioned that epic emotion into something else.
The casual flicking of images (hardly focused mind you), and uninspired chat, followed by some similarly unintentional ghosting -- a bored necessity. We’re told we’re supposed to find love, so we must be on one of the apps, but it feels trite and constructed.
You know it -- the dating app has a “half-assed” quality to it, perhaps the absence of an embodied reality reduces it to ephemeral in our minds. Not meaningless, but not tangible either. A bit like watching a movie. You have a capacity to experience the highs and lows the characters are feeling, even laugh and cry, but it’s happening to someone else, not you.
Is this quality starting to navigate its way into our understanding of love -- the thing we search for via those dating apps?
So I ask you, are we about to enter a brave new world -- post-romantic love?
Would Paris have sailed across the sea with Helen of Troy, stolen her away from her husband Menelaus, and started the Trojan War if he had met her on Tinder?