Stephen Michell wonders if the importance of a great “how did you meet?” story is changing with the popularity of online dating.
How did you meet your partner? Is this question significant to your romantic relationships? Your answer could say a lot more than you think. Because something is changing. The Internet is messing around with the old formula for love and relationships, and while it’s offering new and wonderful ways for people to find each other, it also seems to be diminishing the once upon time magic of the whole thing. There is, however, one true solace that can never be denied.
When my girlfriend went on a trip to Italy she wrote me a letter in which she described meeting this old man, who asked her if she had a “love story” back home. Lucky for me, she said yes. But she wrote of this encounter not to flaunt her fidelity, but because she thought what the old man said was the most beautiful way of describing a relationship. Do you have a love story?
Love stories are important to anyone who dabbles in the romantic, and perhaps even more important to those who don’t. The habit, desire, necessity to chart a narrative of our romantic relationships is undeniable. It’s why people celebrate anniversaries. It’s the great, collective curiosity behind the question, “How did you two meet?” We want to hear, know, and live in a love story. And it seems to be unique to our romantic relationships, insofar as one is seldom asked the question “how did you meet” of a best friend, or a new buddy. We want to know how Love happened, what ingredients were mixed together, what set of unlikely circumstances were put into motion to create happiness.
The thing about a love story is that it’s a story. Ordinarily, it has a beginning, a middle, and (unfortunately) an end. With love stories, it seems, there is a heavy significance placed on the beginning. Was it serendipitous? Were they best friends who never realized? Was it love at first sight? Were they enemies? The middle is certainly important, too, especially for lovers of real drama. And the end is…well, beyond my scope. But the beginnings really take on the bulk of the narrative weight. A strong beginning can sometimes warrant the endurance of even the most turbulent affairs. And so I want to ask, is that changing?
With dating and matchmaking moving to online environments, is the idea of the opening scene of a Love Story disappearing in exchange for direct, honest appraisals of possible partners? And if so, does that really matter?
At first glance, I would place honesty and straightforward matchmaking above the uncertainty, awkwardness, and potential pointlessness of random beginnings. Being able to meet someone, right from the start, based on shared interests, shared philosophies and politics; similar life situations, goals, and expectations; same ideas about sexuality, same ideas about religion—that sounds great and convenient and efficient. What a great leap forward in the business of dating and meeting your forever person! It would stand to argue that online dating is the solution to centuries of bad hook-ups and regretfully taken oaths. But while the Internet has made aspects of dating easier for many people, it seems also to have created a hindrance for meeting someone “naturally.” People are less inclined to go out of their way to meet that potential person—in a unique, memorable way—because they have the knowledge, the security, the back-up that the easier Internet option exists.
So what happens to the love story?
It’s the film When Harry Met Sally, I think, that has a montage of cute old couples describing how they first met, how they fell in love. It’s that idea of one day being asked, “How did you two meet?” and having this great tale to tell. And yet for some people it feels, in their heart, a little lack-luster to say, “We met online.” They want the irreplaceable beginning, the dance with fate. They want the recollection of their time and commitment, out from the hands of chance, to be more than memory, but instead a living story held between them. Something that will remain after they have past, perhaps. Maybe these people have simply watched When Harry Met Sally too many times. Or read too much Romantic poetry. Or simply live in a dream world. Or, maybe, it’s because story and narrative structure can give purpose and significance to seemingly meaningless events. But hang on! Let’s not go that far. Let’s look at the bright side.
There is love. That’s our one true solace.
And if love is the highest expression and virtue and pursuit of life—as many bathroom wall-decorations will avow—should it not mirror that which it enriches, emboldens, and empowers. Should love not follow the same pattern as life itself, namely that it begins, unexpectedly, unknowingly, inexplicably, and yet miraculously in a myriad of ways! I think love should exist where it is found, and let the stories come afterward. If the love is true then the story is inherent. I, myself, can say I have a love story, and a part of it begins with a girl adding me on Facebook.
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Photo: flickr/David Spinks