Originally published in Edition One (2023).
Long gone are the days of meeting a romantic interest in a coffee shop or book store. Long gone are the days when rain was the indicator of an emotional climax between two lovers (think The Notebook or Megamind). Long gone are the days of bearing boomboxes outside windows or yelling, “But daddy, I love him!”. I guess the latter could still happen–granted you’re telling daddy you’ve fallen for the moderator of an Animal Crossing server on Discord.
Often, when we consider romance, we turn to Shakespearean sonnets or films starring Julia Roberts as their female lead. However, as we make the gradual shift to a more digitalised society, we have to consider how the face of romantic relationships is changing. The very concept of ‘e-dating’ exemplifies this. When I say e-dating, I’m referring to a form of long-distance relationship where the partners involved develop their connection exclusively online. This means no secret rendezvous in which you’re greeted with a gentlemanly kiss on the hand, unless this happens to be occurring at the pizzeria on Club Penguin. Now, that doesn’t sound like anything ideal and I suppose no one’s going to be writing a sonnet about it any time soon. Besides, there are a few qualms about e-dating that would irk the average classic romance enthusiast.
First of all, there are obvious concerns for safety. Yes, because “Kyle” is conveniently 19 years old the moment you say you’re 17. Even though he was reminiscing about the first time The Simpsons aired only a few moments ago. And “Kyle” might not even have your best interests at heart. For all you know, he’s only into you because you remind him of his favourite anime waifu (who reminds him of his mother).
Beyond that, e-dating lacks a physical aspect often critical in romantic relationships. We inherently want to be felt, to be touched, to be known down to every birthmark and every scar. That’s a tad difficult when you and your e-person are divided by a dusty laptop screen.
However, the most jarring predicament of these online relationships might be one of authenticity. Can we even consider a relationship formed online as something real? I mean, since everything is occurring in digital space, we can disregard it without a second thought, right? With the rising omnipresence of digital technology and spaces, we have to acknowledge how social media changes social customs. In comes terms such as ‘digital dualism’ and Nathan Jurgenson’s ‘IRL fetish’. The former refers to how we delineate a significant distinction between the online and offline worlds—with the latter being considered as objective reality. However, this distinction is false. Our refusal to believe so comes from that aforementioned ‘IRL fetish’ where we believe being logged off is better because it means we’re living in the here and now. However, to put it frankly, the here and now involves digital technology, and anything that occurs online happens to be just as real as anything that occurs offline.
Even when hidden behind a profile picture of Kermit The Frog, the person you’re talking to is still a person. This person has history and interests and flaws. Therefore, you will still be perfectly capable of developing feelings for them. The only thing that differs is the way you connect with them, when your relationship is based online versus a traditional, offline affair. Even then, those ways of showing love aren’t inseparable.
Though I met my first boyfriend at a Theatre Sports competition (let’s not talk about it), a lot of our relationship occurred online, especially since we lived on completely different train lines. At that time, I was a fifteen year old girl with no geographical prowess. But even if I didn’t know how to use Google Maps, I was a prodigy when it came to Instagram. We texted, called and were heavily reliant on technology to maintain our relationship. Back then, the epitome of romance was being tucked under my blanket, the blue light frying my eyes as we texted about David Attenborough at 2am.
To some extent, he and I weren’t any different from my friend’s friend and her e-boyfriend whom she had met on Roblox. According to my friend who had sat next to her in class, being present when they were on calls “felt just like third-wheeling”. They played games together, watched shows together, discussed their futures together. Even if they weren’t exchanging kisses under the stars, they demonstrated their affection towards each other in ways that left them both satisfied. I mean, is chivalry dead or is it just telling your e-girlfriend to hop on the private voice channel on Discord? Regardless of whether romance takes the shape of a text message or not, it still remains as a way of saying to each other, “Let me be human with you.”
So let’s call until one of our devices combust, send each other cute memes attached with the text “us?” and most importantly, let’s put our minecraft beds next to each other for romance’s sake.