Love & Loss in DIGITAL AGE
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Love & Loss in DIGITAL AGE

February 16, 2024

Two days ago, on Valentine’s Day, I visited a cousin’s house. There, I met my niece who was visiting home. She’s typically effervescent and exuberant but on that day, she was veiled in an aura of melancholy. The cause? She had just broken up with her boyfriend of over a year.

She said they had met on a dating app and it all looked promising until it didn’t. That’s life. But what struck me was her poignant admission. My niece, typically possessed of steely resolve, confessed that the process of disentanglement had become an arduous task, despite the passage of several months.

After talking for a while, I found the reason why it was so hard for her to move on  — because she was ‘creeping.’

‘Creeping’ is basically stalking someone on social media such as following someone’s Facebook, Instagram and ‘X’ pages. It was called ‘stalking’ in the early days, now it is called ‘creeping’ to give it a gentler connotation so as to disassociate it with criminal activity.

As I spoke to her, it got me thinking — finding love, keeping it, and getting over it has gotten harder in today’s digital age because the internet never forgets, and social media doesn’t allow you to forget.

Love often begins online these days and even after it’s dead, it lingers on in cyberspace like a digital ghost in the form of an ex’s ‘Facebook story’ that pops up unannounced to traumatise you.  

Dating apps have changed the love and lust game. As I speak to users of dating apps, both young and old, both men and women, their approach to finding a partner has changed.

One doesn’t need the once much-needed courage to break the ice — to walk up to someone you’re attracted to and strike up a conversation.

Butterflies in the stomach have all but become extinct as you don’t have to worry about charm, humour, or the ability to keep a conversation going. Now you just need a smartphone and a finger to break the ice.   

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Today’s social media world has also sucked away the joy of discovery. The essence of serendipitous discovery has been eclipsed by social media.

It is so easy to digitally stalk a person that even before you meet them, you know what they do, where they live, what they like, where they have been and who their friends are. If they are an ‘over-sharer’ you will also know what they ate and if they had a good poop earlier in the day.

Maybe, that’s why physical intimacy happens so much sooner than before. After all, you already know so much about each other, what else is left there to discover but the touch?

That’s okay, but conversational discovery assists in ‘quality check’ and helps avoid that sense of ‘regret’ one sometimes experiences post-hasty coitus.

This ease and speed of interaction between sexes assumes a reckless tenor, fraught with perilous ramifications. The effect social media has on the healing process post a break-up is something that must be addressed. Especially among young people.

Before social media, if you broke up with someone, you never saw them again or heard from them. Some would hold on to love letters and maybe a few photos.

If it was a bad breakup, you would just burn them all, talk to your friends, spend time outdoors and eventually in a few months, you forget that person, heal quickly and properly. There was a sense of finality or closure to it all.

Now the ubiquity of social media platforms preserves a lifeline to an ex, perpetuating a cycle of longing and desolation.

If you are in a serious relationship, social media has almost made it impossible to achieve a level of indifference so as to heal fast enough and move forward.

Today, your ex is always somewhere in your mind-space because ever so often they are in your face as Facebook will tell you what’s happening in their life. Though Facebook has a ‘take a break feature’ it’s not very effective if your common friend posts updates.

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The other issue is storage. Today with phone cameras and cheap memory space, we save every moment, every experience and every chat, no matter how banal.

It starts with WhatsApp, but it doesn’t end there. Even after the relationship has ended, the shared pics, conversations and cute exchange of kissy emojis on WhatsApp will continue to lure you back, hindering your healing process.

One of the hardest parts of a break-up is accepting that it’s over, but social media keeps us from this part of the process. Algorithms see black and white. But it doesn’t see the grey where human emotions linger.

So, even if you have blocked an ex’s news feeds, they will suddenly pop up to remind you of the happy times. Worse, a mutual friend’s picture pops up showing them at your ex’s wedding!

A broken heart is a wound, and as long as you keep sliding into a former lover’s social media that wound will never heal.

As per a study conducted by Pew Research, a staggering 53 percent of social media users acknowledge resorting to these platforms to surveil their former flames. But the danger is, what may commence as a mere curiosity or a yearning of a broken heart for closure, soon metamorphoses into a maelstrom of emotional turmoil, precipitating feelings of solitude, ire, and betrayal.

In this new world of digital courtship, we all have to re-learn the way we love, the way we hurt and more importantly the way we heal. Youngsters need to know that this too shall pass… But if you don’t digitally cleanse yourself for a while, it shall never come to pass. 

The panacea for afflictions of the heart and mind often lies in communion with the natural world. For me, it has been the walk up Chamundi Hill, amidst the mellifluous melodies of Mynas and Seven Sisters. I hope my niece will join me so the therapeutic cadences of nature can assuage the afflictions of her young and tender heart.

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