It’s not a revelation to realise that our dating lives have changed dramatically in the last ten years. The stigma around online dating is gone, and, during a pandemic, it’s really the most responsible way to meet new people. It might not be romantic, but as I’m not in Romeo and Juliet, I prefer to keep myself and my partner alive. But switching your social interactions online poses some questions. How well can you get to know someone you haven’t met in person? Are they who they say they are? Could you fall in love?
I don’t think it is possible to fall in love without meeting, but apparently this isn’t a widely held view. Bumble surveyed 2000 people from India and found that nearly three quarters (71%) disagree with me. Here’s why I think they’re wrong.
Firstly, infatuation (or getting a crush) is fully possible. This could be similar to a parasocial relationship where someone ‘loves’ a celebrity or person they have never met. For example, imagine how many teenage girls feel about members of BTS, or Timothee Chalamet, or Michael B Jordan, or One Direction, or Robert Pattinson, or the Jonas Brothers, or Leonardo DiCaprio, or Justin Timerlake, or James Van Der Beek, or Will Smith or…. The Beatles? As adults, we remember weird, all consuming feelings but know that it wasn’t love. According to psychologists, this is simply a way to work out what young women find attractive and might want in a future partner but without the pressure of actually having a relationship. Now I look fondly back at my generation’s heartthrobs, but I certainly prefer my real boyfriend, even if he’s not as perfect and polished as Leonardo DiCaprio was in my mind. That wasn’t love: that was a fantasy.
But what happens when you can speak to the object of your affections? You can’t hold their hand – or have sex with them against a wall – but you can type a message and wait for a minute whilst they respond. It’s certainly closer than showing your boobs to a poster of Justin Beiber and imagining what he might do if he could see them for real. If you meet someone on a dating app you’ll probably have a few photographs, some generic information, and whatever information they volunteer when you ask. You can grow closer, get to know each other better, anticipate phone calls or online chats at the end of a rough day. But I believe that to love someone is to know them, and you can’t do that without spending time in physical proximity to each other. Perhaps I’m a cynic, or maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of Catfish.
I should say that I do believe that there is a form of emotional intimacy that can develop through an online relationship. In fact, sometimes it can be easier to discuss sensitive topics when you don’t have to look at another person, and perhaps this could mean that you share more with someone you haven’t met. But still, I feel that you can’t truly know someone who you haven’t spent time with, alone and physically present.
To explain my point, I’m going to draw from an unexpected source: influencers. We all know that everything they post is fake. The stupid Flat Tummy Tea won’t make you skinny, their children are often little shits and their husband might flash an artificially brightened smile for a supposedly candid snap but you can’t have any idea what he is really like when a camera isn;t present. It’s very easy to portray a false version of yourself online and it’s difficult to tell if someone is being honest with you. I’m not the only person to type out a birthday message to a friend full of treasured memories and in-jokes whilst feeling miserable, and I’m definitely not the only person to have ever posted a fake-happy Instagram story to make an ex jealous.
So if we understand that social media isn’t real, why do we believe things we are told on dating apps? I’ve known people who lie about their age, height, weight, location, name and even relationship status. It’s difficult enough to trust people you know in real life: why would life online, where it’s much easier to hide your less desirable traits, be any different? And can you really love someone you don’t know or trust?
I don’t want to diminish online relationships. I know that they’re hard enough as it is, and that all kinds of different (and often difficult) circumstances can make them necessary – a pandemic, for example. I just think that there are different kinds of intimacy and deep, true romantic love can only come after you’ve spent time with someone, touched them, known them, seen their flaws. A chat on a dating app, however long and sincere, will never be able to quite replicate that.