By Rachel Janney
In 1989, a beloved actor of mine, Robin Williams, starred in what I believe to be one of his top performances as Mr. Keating from Dead Poets Society. Now, this movie is a far cry from a heart throbbing chick flick, but in one of his iconic scenes, he says “…poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” That single word, romance, fills me with visions of drive-in movie theaters, ice-skating at Christmas time, and candle-lit dinners. Yet these ideas of romance are outdated, and dare I say cliché in today’s world. This makes me wonder, how did we get here? What happened to the concept of romance?
Prior to the 21st century, the media depicted romance as sentimental, and often relied on the miracle of serendipity. The star-crossed lovers on the silver screen met by fate, although to them (and to us) it seemed as just a random run-in on any regular old day. As the movie progresses we saw their feelings for each other develop and witnessed several romantic gestures. However corny, dorky, or cheesy these gestures may appear to us, it held great sentimental value to our culture at the time.
Means of communication was much different 20 years ago. Cell phones were in their infancy, and the Internet was not teeming with social media websites. To compensate for this lack of social media, words and feelings were expressed through love letters or calling someone on a landline, making our messages more personal, more romantic. Why? Writing letters was an art. Words were carefully chosen and meticulously woven into fluent sentences so whoever was receiving your letter couldn’t tell just how much effort you put into it. Misspelling a word was a nightmare because now they would view you as a fool who didn’t know how to spell. Letters may be written and rewritten, constantly editing, erasing, and scribbling over grammatical errors or awkward sentences. Calling someone was a test of courage. The dial tone sounded like snickering laughter that taunted us with each ring. Anxiety coursed through our veins as we asked ourselves “what would we say if they didn’t pick up?” or better yet, “what if they did pick up?”
So why deal with all this trouble? Why not sit down at a computer and type out a profile on a dating website and avoid this whole mess? Our culture was different then. Online dating, at the time, seemed strange, unnatural, and above all unromantic. Novels, movies, and even popular TV series depicted online dating as a bad thing, and often portrayed the people on sites as creepy, criminal, or tragically desperate. This negative connotation of online dating in the media was then transferred to the public, and it wouldn’t be until the spur of social media that online dating became a social norm.
The 21st century marks the beginning of the end for romance, as we know it. Within the last 15 years, we endured waves of technological genius. Not only has technology become portable- from cell phones and laptops to smartphones and tablets- but more people are using these devices. This combination of mobility and accessibility has caused a domino effect, and soon our culture began to revolve around social media. Companies also adapted to our internet-connected culture and created websites, online advertisements, and social media pages (Facebook and Twitter to name a few) to reach a broader audience. However, retail companies are not the only ones who have adjusted to our cultural shift. Remember those online dating websites that got such a bad rap? This is the turning point in their existence.
Our culture became so focused around the Internet and impersonal communications; everyone is emailing, tweeting, texting, snapchatting; that to meet a romantic partner online became less unusual. This shift of perspective allowed an incredible variety of matchmaking companies to spawn into our society. eHarmony and Match.com are two of the most popular, as they appeal to a broad, general clientele. There are others, however, that target specific ethnicities, religious groups, or ages. So what does all this have to do with romance?
Some would argue that technology is killing romance. This is a bit of an exaggeration. Romance still exists. People still buy flowers and chocolates for anniversaries. Couples are having date nights and doing small acts of random kindness to show that they care. Instead of pulling stunts found in 1980s chick-flicks, perhaps they are writing “I love you” on a post it note, packing their lunch, or even taking care of some mindless chore so their partner doesn’t have to stress about it after a long day at work. Romance hasn’t disappeared; it has simply evolved to suit our culture. So perhaps not as many love notes are being written, or work is too demanding to take a vacation to the beach and watch the sunset together. Perhaps online dating has replaced the ideal of serendipity because the latter was simply too out of touch with our rapidly evolving culture.
Online dating isn’t a bad thing. In fact they may prove convenient for some who have social anxieties or simply do not have enough time to mingle at bars or clubs after work. The majority of these websites were designed with the intentions of helping us find a lasting relationship. There are some that may seem a bit superficial (I’m looking at you, Tinder), but if the legitimate websites bring love to nearly a third of our population, who am I to say they are wrong?