Love in the time of WhatsApp

A is in her late twenties and her love life is a series of train wrecks punctuated by sudden, intermittent relationships that go from 0 to 180 kmph in a week or two and then end up as expressway casualties.

“I have bad relationship karma,” she tells me laughing, and then fishes out her phone again to click-click swipe-swipe and check out her Whatsapp, her FB, her Twitter, her Instagram.  For the hour we are together, she spends more than 30 minutes peering into her phone.

She is to meet, in the flesh, a person she has recently connected over Facebook. “We met on a common friend’s wall,” she tells me.  He sent her a friend request, she accepted it, they’ve been chatting for weeks on FB, and then Whatsapp. Now it is time to meet in the flesh. She’s nervous, who wouldn’t be?

“What if he has bad breath? Or we don’t connect, don’t have any chemistry?”

She already knows the name of the first girl he kissed and she has shared with him the story of her previous break up, they’ve found friends in common. They have already sexted.

“Mild stuff,” she tells me. “Nothing hardcore.”

I sit upright when she tells me this.

“Come on, don’t be such a prude, this is quite normal, sexting someone doesn’t necessarily mean I will sleep with him,” she laughs.

I’m from an age of love-letters and Hallmark cards. I can’t help but think how much simpler things were back when I was dating. Given I dated one man and then eventually married him, both of us had no telephones in our homes, which made fixing dates rather difficult. Mobiles, of course, we’re still a nasty gleam in telecommunication’s eye. Letters came in via snail mail.

Related reading: Is social media to be blamed for poor couple relationships?

But then, those were different times. Relationships moved as slowly too. First, there was the introduction. Then there was the getting to know the process, which could be long and cumbersome. And then there was the consolidation of the relationship into something that brought the shehnai players in, or the break up which was trauma and tears and face to face.

Face to face is a luxury in these times
Relationships now ending via email and Whatsapp are more common than one would think.

Face to face is a luxury in these times. Relationships now ending via email and Whatsapp are more common than one would think. Endings are becoming easier. Beginnings are becoming easier. What is getting tougher is the in-between—the staying in love.

The young one’s today are in a different zone where love and relationships are concerned. Today they learn all that there is to learn about the object of one’s affection even without meeting the person.  Google and Facebook stalking is convenient to find out all that one can about the person, without needing the heart to heart conversations. Chats are emojis and Whatsapp, sometimes Snapchat, which is as ephemeral as conversations should be.

“It helps you cut through the clutter faster,” A tells me. “What if you spend time and effort going out with someone a couple of times only to realise you don’t like the same music or the same shows or the same kind of food?”

I nod.

We cheek kiss and part. She promises to tell me how it went. She messages me a couple of days later. “When is a good time to talk?”

Girl texting
She messages me a couple of days later

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I call her back.  “We had nothing to talk about. We already knew everything about each other. Well most of it. And he was shorter than I thought he would be. It was strange,” she said. She had a list in her head and boxes to be ticked. Like most of us do when it comes to romantic partners, only sometimes you cannot really know how you react to a person until you meet him or her. Face to face.

It was a risk, meeting someone she knew only through mutual acquaintances on Facebook and had accepted a friendship request. But it was a risk she took well.

“We just didn’t click in person. It was like meeting someone who should have been so familiar, but was actually a stranger. He’s actually more fun on chat than in person. I’m going to continue chatting with him, but I don’t think I’ll meet him again.” There was a brief pause. “He spent all the time we were together on his phone, he was probably chatting with someone else.”

Love perhaps, in this generation, is when you finally put the phone down with no overwhelming urgency to reply to that mail just now this very second, check your notifications as they come in, change your relationship status to “In a Relationship.”  Perhaps love is when you can bear to stare into the other’s eyes for longer than you stare into your phone. Love is when you discover that there is a music to laughter that an emoji can’t convey.  Maybe romance today is wooing via emoticons. But how does one press a Whatsapp message to one’s heart?

Love and relationships are different these days. I do know lovely stories of folks who have met online, and realisedthey’ve met their soulmates. But those are few. Technology is a wonderful tool for meeting people one might have never met in one’s everyday routine, outside one’s normal circumference of friends, family and workplace. The good stories exist. But do they outnumber the other stories, those looking for love and thinking they’ve found it, only to begin looking again.

For every tentative “what’s up” message sent across, the “you’re in my thoughts” version of the generic joke forward so it doesn’t come across as too needy, there’s the walk of shame from the hell of the drunk text sent at 3am to the sobering light of the morning, where there is no recall of having sent it. That moment when a quick glance at the phone show multiple drunk texts sent out at an hour when spirits prowl the earth, is a not good thing when the morning after hangover is still hard at work on your temples, and any thought of food induces nausea. Some of the messages sent out have replies. Some of the messages you wish you could unsend, but then this is what it is, a touch of a button and a missive fired off into the void of space where the recipient will know nothing about what has been the precursor to the sending of it. There is no context, only characters, emotions, some misspelled words and a trembling emotion that hides behind the blue white light of the expressionless screen.

Maybe this is what romance is now.  A plethora of options, pick and choose what is available at that moment in time when you need to be needed.  It is limitless, always available, beautiful strangers available at a swipe of an app screen. All looking for love.  Everyone around seems to have it perfect, they display this perfection of relationships on their Facebook feeds, the couple statuses, the photographs of them cuddling, the cootchie cooing on public timelines, the Instagram updates. Then comes the disillusionment. It doesn’t work anymore, there is something out there that is better, shinier, newer and that comes without the baggage, and at an off season discount. Of 140 characters of an tweet being dissected for deeper meaning. A status message meant to be a sly post targeted at the one you’ve fallen out of love with about the state of your heart. The fragility of your emotions put out for the consumption of the flotsam jetsam of the egghead followers. Another break up. Because breaking up is now as easy as falling in love was. It is just an email away. Or a Whatsapp message away. A chat history deletion away.

Till the next connection. Till the next emoticon that thrills your heart. Till the next shy, tentative connection made via a hesitant ‘hi wassup’ via DM. And the roller coaster begins all over again.

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