Five Things Every Man Should Know About Love In The Digital Age
Whatever happened to old-fashioned romance, eh? Actually, it’s not that difficult to see what happened. It’s the same thing that happened to the eight-track tape and the MiniDisc and, also, the dodo. In short, it’s been phased out. The fact is, much as we love the idea of climbing up people’s hair and rescuing them from towers, or tugging them off the side of historic boats and then watching them slowly drown, those lovely, old love tropes don’t cut it in real life any more. The subtle dance of will-they, won’t-they has been reduced to a like button.
Many of tradition’s most charming tokens, such as chocolates, flowers and pre-natal betrothals, have been phased out in favour of others: the relationship status, the #bae hashtag, the aubergine emoji. Love stories longer than a push notification seem a bit TL;DR. Seriously, all we really care about in 2019 is a) ourselves and b) mass-produced spangly things with flat screens and rapidly degenerating battery life. Love, like your current OS, has to be updated pretty much every day to keep up. It’s in what must be its hundred millionth version. And there are still plenty of bugs.
Scroll down for the current patch notes. If you don’t understand the abbreviations, sorry, you are doomed.
A well-lit JPEG is the best aphrodisiac
What was the most romantic time ever? Judging by all the printouts of Mr Colin Firth that you see tacked to office cubicles all over the world, it was the early 19th century, when Ms Jane Austen wrote Pride And Prejudice, and no one had much else to do apart from take carriages to sit in each other’s living rooms for 15 minutes at a time, fall in love with people, then change their minds about it about 10 pages from the end.
Back then, the most important element in a lover’s arsenal was simply a huge amount of money, preferably not directly related to anything quite so grubby as labour, and the decency not to spend it all at once. These days, we’re not so mannered and shallow. All you need to bait a partner now is the latest iPhone, a range of filters and an enormous window to sit by to make the most of the natural light. By which we mean that your digital love affair is going to stumble on the starting blocks if you don’t manage to find a decent picture of yourself, or preferably a few, so you can show that you know some other living organisms as well as giving everyone a good look at your face.
Not everyone looks their best on camera. Most of us, in fact, look a lot more appealing in real life, arms not outstretched, eyes not gazing at one’s own wonderful reflection on a touchscreen, lips not contracted into a moody pout. But it’s the ones who have got this whole thing down who will go on to father and/or birth the humanity of tomorrow. The rest of us will probably have to retreat to caves and play quoits in the dark, or something. See Mr Charles Darwin’s classic bonkbuster On The Origin Of Species for more fun details on this process.
Not all swipes are equal
It used to be that to engage a potential partner, you needed to coordinate several appendages: the mouth, to say something witty and sweet; the brain, to think of it; and the arms and shoulders, to relax and open up a little, communicating with that now-useless set of physical hieroglyphics that, in ancient times, we used to call “body language”. All of this is irrelevant these days. The only thing separating you from eternal bliss is your index finger, a magic wand that has the power, on whatever dating app you happen to be using, to banish all the world’s unattractive people instantly from your sight, unless that’s your thing, of course.
But, even with this incredible potency quite literally at your fingertips, it’s not as straightforward as choosing left or right. No, no, no. You have to decide what your long game is. Will you do the decent thing and swipe right on those people whom you think are on your level and share your interests, or do you pitch the ball out of your league and see if somebody catches it? Or, most deviously – and, let’s face it, a depressing number of people do this – do you just swipe right on everybody and see what you can get? Indeed, if you don’t, how will you even know how attractive you are? And isn’t that the point of this whole exercise, really?
We’re in a chat renaissance
Yes, people have shorter attention spans now and, consumer research tells us, prefer things such as gifs and videos to things such as boring old words. Yet the one perk of online dating for literary types is that, in the early stages of most cyber relationships (that is, before the crucial “meet” happens), it’s mostly about how many jokes you can tell in the 10 seconds before your potential partner gets bored. Once you take the plunge and slide into the DMs, that is.
This should be the good bit, right? Fun! Comedy! Wordplay! The power of language! The ability it has to twist and turn itself into pleasing shapes, shapes that, you fervently hope, will be more appealing than your profile pic (cf above). It’s all harder than it sounds, given that the person who lurks behind the bubble-filled screen of whatever awful piece of software you’ve entrusted your future to is likely to be someone you have never met and has more or less been plucked at random from the universe. So the jokes pretty much need to be about something general (think dogs, or food or Friends).
The limited subject matter and the general effort, on both sides, to create that all-important “spark” somewhere in the endless void of cyberspace mean that language becomes contorted, jokes become mannered, strung out, wrung to pieces. This is before you get to kiss anyone, by the way.
How else, apart from wryly sending each other links from Vice, The Guardian and, we hope, MR PORTER, are you going to know that neither of you is a psychopath?
The results of this long security check are a little like the best of Mr William Shakespeare’s romantic comedies, not in the sense that they’re timeless works of art that are universally acclaimed and treasured by the English-speaking world, but in the sense that they go on and on for ever, make almost no sense and are not in the slightest bit funny. Enjoy!
Emojis are more attractive than your actual emotions, thanks
Love is a wonderful and ineffable thing. It’s often difficult to put one’s feelings into words. Thankfully, in the modern age, you don’t have to. You have to put them into little pictures of circular people instead.
You can make a few decisions in this regard. Do you want to use the one with hearts for eyes, or do you want to use the one that is simply surrounded by bubbling hearts? Do your romantic quiverings turn you into a rosy-cheeked, yellow-faced thing, or are you a little red devil with pointy horns? And how many of them will you send at once? (We recommend three max.)
Whatever you go for, rest assured this colourful alphabet, administered during chats (see above) or, later, in personal WhatsApp messages, is now the domineering language of love. Forget whispering sweet nothings in Italian on a Venetian gondola. Forget singing Mr Serge Gainsbourg songs as you stroll along a Parisian boulevard. These days, it’s about the painty nails, the smiling cat, the chilli pepper and when needs must, the aubergine.
Self-love: the truest romance?
A wonderful thing about having a partner is that there will always be someone to listen to your problems, who will snuggle up with you on the sofa in the evening, who will accompany you to the theatre and candlelit dinners, and things like that. More importantly, they’re always on hand to take pictures of you, which you can then upload to social media.
Yes, selfies are all well and good, but there’s something a bit creepy and bedroomy about them nonetheless. If you really want to make it as a person who has followers in the thousands, whose outfits are admired by legions of fans, whom well-meaning brands send free toothbrushes and face creams and cowboy boots to, well, then you need a docile slave to follow you around with an iPhone. Preferably, they need to be able to use Snapseed or VSCO, too.
It might sound a thankless task, but really, it’s not. Photo credits (and the accompanying Instagram shoutout) are the new relationship status symbol and what the camera emoji was designed for.
Anyway, the bottom line is this: your life plan might be to break the internet, but you can’t do it alone. Happy hunting, folks.
Illustration by Mr Jori Bolton