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Love in the season of swipes

Twenty one years ago, I was riding a jeepney with my friends when I chanced upon this quiet, curly-haired young girl who looked like a nymph that couldn’t hurt a fly. After a month’s worth of research (all I had to start with was the village she got off on and her school uniform), I was dropping off hand-written letters to her cousin (so she could give it to her) every day and praying that I get to bump into her again.

These days, such effort and pace in pursuing a relationship is unthinkable. Apparently, romance has changed. Social media, our persistently-connected lives, long work hours, and even the deplorably significant amount of time we lose stuck in traffic has evolved how we do romance. For example:

STALKING MADE EASY1

Getting to know a girl used to be so much harder. For that girl in the jeepney that I mentioned earlier, I needed to approach strangers, ask around the village for a girl who goes to the school I deduced from her uniform, prove that I had no ill intentions, and only then learn basic things about her – like her name, for starters.

In the days before Google, you had to do the legwork. You had to actually approach people and ask. You had to do real-life research.

Now, it’s as easy as a click. You have a name? Google is your friend. A photo is all you have? Do a reverse image search. You know her friends but not her directly? Facebook is all you need. All this can be done with minimal tech proficiency.

And those with Google ninja skills can learn so much more – school and work background, online profile, even a person’s address. Given how much information is stored online, you can know a person’s detailed history even before meeting them.

LDRS – IN OR OUT?2

Text messages, Viber, Skype, Facetime – the proliferation of smartphones and internet connectivity have made long distance relationships (LDRs) easier… or perhaps, a bit more inventive. Gone are the days when it takes weeks for letters to arrive, or for expensive, unreliable calls. Now, you can keep in touch with your loved one at the other side of the globe through minute-to-minute updates and messages.

And while it is easy to dismiss online relationships as something less deep than the real thing, a study by the Indiana University casts doubt on the assumption. The study involved putting electrodes on people and measuring their biological reactions while communicating with their loved ones. Initially, the organizers thought that a more personal approach – say, a voice call – will elicit a stronger reaction than one garnered from a person who was just typing messages on the computer. The results, however, showed the opposite. The “people who sent romantic emails were more emotionally aroused and used stronger and more thoughtful language than those who left voicemails,” concluded the Indiana University. It looks like humans have fully adapted to romance in the digital age.

On the other hand, the horrifying and increasingly worsening traffic situation has also made visiting your significant other on the other side of the metro a progressively trying experience. I once had a girlfriend in Cavite whom I visited every day after coming from my office in Mandaluyong. Today’s daily traffic situation would make that practice nearly impossible. While we have opened up fully on communicating digitally to anyone in the world, we tend to limit physical interactions with people we can reach easily.

WORK RELATIONSHIPS ARE LESS TABOO3

Office relationships used to be anathema – now, less so. What used to be something that can get you fired is now something that may barely raise an eyebrow – or, worst case scenario – something that might compel your immediate superior to give you a gentle warning.

We can’t help it. We spend more and more time at our work than any other social setting. And even when we’re not in the office, we are still tethered to our jobs via our smartphones and emails that come regardless of the hour. It is easy to form bonds with people whom we share the bulk of our time with.

It doesn’t mean, however, that caution can be thrown out the window. There’s a reason why you “shouldn’t piss at your own pool”. A failed office relationship can cause extreme awkwardness at best, and lost jobs at worst.

MASS ACCEPTANCE OF ONLINE DATING4

Online dating isn’t new, but for a long time, it carried a sense of despondency – as if only desperate people turn to it as a last-ditch effort to find love. My Investigative Journalism professor at UP Diliman who met his wife through Friendster was even invited to guest in various TV shows to recount their story. The concept, it seems, was novel enough to warrant sharing on national television.

Things are different now. We live in a global village, and gone is the stigma that used to plague online dating. Even groups of people who used to take a very traditional perspective in courtship now embrace the practice. A foreign missionary friend of mine found his bride with the help of the internet. These two examples – my critical-thinking progressive professor and traditional religious missionary friend – are both happily married.

THE CONTEST OF CARING LESS5

Not every online love story, however, ends in happy tears. A growing ‘hook-up culture’ is raising the need for a serious discussion. This ‘hit-it-and-quit-it’ attitude is prevalent in online dating services such as Tinder.

Sean Rad, Tinder founder and CEO, claims that Tinder has solved the anxiety inherent in traditional pre-dating scenarios. Before Tinder, traditional dating usually involved two roles: the hunter and the hunted, which both have downsides. The hunter can be rejected while the hunted can be pressured by unwanted attention. Tinder presents ‘suitable candidates’ to the user based on his preferences and location. If you like what you see, you swipe right. If that person likewise swipes right on your profile, you get a match and you can then start a conversation. This ‘optimal connection point,’ Rad claims, eliminates the anxieties of traditional dating because “you’re both responding to something.”

What used to be spending the night at bars where you can talk to a few girls can now be done at the comfort of your own home – with thousands of options at your fingertips. Suddenly, you’re not bending over backwards in trying to impress a particular girl because you have access to countless more like her. This explosion of options, notes author Christopher Ryan has a curious effect. “It’s the same pattern manifested in porn use,” he says. “The appetite has always been there, but it had restricted availability; with new technologies, the restrictions are being stripped away and we see people sort of going crazy with it.”

Or as comedian Aziz Ansari notes, “Online, every bozo could now be a stud.” This is why you hear stories of men hunched over their phones, searching for their next Tinder date, while their last one was still getting dressed. In an age where there is an overabundance of options, it can be tricky in finding a man who treats a woman like a priority, and not just a possibility.

Technological innovations might initiate unforeseen changes in the dynamics of dating, but some things remain timeless: the foundation of love remains the same: mutual respect, sincerity, selflessness. Whether expressed through a passionate sonnet, mustering the courage to visit you at home and meeting your parents, or just plainly not cheating on you even with hundreds of available Tinderellas, love is alive in the season of swipes.