Love in the Time of Followers

Staff writer Cormac Dineen offers up his take on our complicated relationship with the world of internet dating.

A few months ago, I had an interesting conversation with a work colleague during which I pressed him for his opinion on the phenomenon of internet dating. As we talked I saw him slowly and deliberately scroll through Facebook on his phone, pausing at brief intervals to like a picture or a comment, and even smiling or laughing to himself on occasion. In a practiced and diplomatic response, he looked at me over the top of his phone and said, “I don’t really have any problem with internet dating. I mean, to each their own, but I just can’t see myself ever doing it.”

This is a position echoed by about 90 percent of people to whom I’ve posed the same question, and, in my opinion, the minutiae of expression in his response made it evident to me that the stigma surrounding internet dating is not diminished by the smartphone age we now find ourselves in — it is alive and kicking. Immediately, my colleague was on the offensive, making it clear to me that he was not prejudiced. His selection of words and the timbre of his voice immediately informed me that despite his insistence on not having “any problem” with it, internet dating actually carried some sort negative association in his mind.

The heavy emphasis he placed on the words “I” and “myself” seemed like an attempt to alleviate any suspicion I may secretly have held that he was going home and flicking through profiles on Match.com, seeking people who also liked drinking stout in three gulps, smoking rollies, and listening to the Foo Fighters. Finally, the definitive manner in which he ended his response seemed as if it was designed to avoid any further attempt at conversation.

As he turned his attention back to Facebook, I knew there was a high likelihood that he was liking the posts of people to whom he was attracted as well as combing through his own posts to see who had given them the all-important thumbs up or love heart, and I immediately and unexpectedly found myself confronted with the one of the biggest hypocrisies of our generation: despite what we may say, we’re all internet dating.

The advent of Tinder in 2012 opened up the possibility of meeting someone online. It’s important to understand the basic pledge of its marketing campaign: the app is about finding casual sex rather than any kind of meaningful relationship. Now casual sex certainly isn’t a bad thing, and I wouldn’t dare argue that an honest relationship has never been fostered through Tinder, but the generally accepted purpose of the app leaves in its wake the possibility of finding a partner, and does nothing to retract from the pejorative nature of the dialogue surrounding online relationships. And so, as I watched my colleague apply his electronic seal of approval to the activity of girls across Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat, having renounced internet dating no longer than 30 seconds previously, I couldn’t help but ask myself: is there any difference?

The modern progression of a relationship through social media is so animal and primitive that you could easily imagine David Attenborough narrating over it. First, we have the friend request or follow: the introduction is made. As the weeks go by and the proverbial peacocks circle each other in a delicate dance, they begin to like each other’s posts – not so much as to seem overeager, not so little as to seem uninterested. If one of the interested parties is feeling bold they may comment on a picture or post – a statement of intent. Finally, we have a private message, nothing short of an excuse to begin a relationship shallowly masquerading as an innocent question: “Hello, I was just wondering if you had any good music suggestions, you seem like you have good taste?”

Give me a bloody break.

I’ve personally seen and have been involved in conversations taking place over social media that couldn’t possibly be construed in any way other than a show of romantic interest. By the time a few weeks of meaningless chit-chat has come and gone, you might build up the confidence to ask them if they’ll be out that night. An affirmative answer to that question effectively eliminates any remaining question marks, barring some incredibly poor interpretation of the context, it’s not out of the realms of possibility some sort of relationship may start with this person if you chance upon them in a bar. Most fizzle away to nothing, a few become something, all are a form of internet dating.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that in 2017, half our life is conducted through the internet. We use it to bank and to shop, for work and for leisure, as an encyclopaedia as well as a cinema screen. So why tolerate this pernicious stigma that belittles love and trust built up through the internet rather than on a bar-stool? Why allow some demeaning, archaic viewpoint on what a relationship should and shouldn’t be imply some artificial quality to a relationship built online? It seems kind of silly, doesn’t it? Everyone is doing it anyway!