Column: Snapchat, the death of romance

A Snapchat notification illuminates a phone. Photo credit: Grace Wride

She danced with me for three songs straight. The reggaeton beat reverberated through our arms as we danced together in the dark, the DJ’s violet stage light brushing over the two of us. She knew how to smile the right way when you’re partner dancing—a smirk here and there paired with amusement in her eyes. We spoke for a bit after the third song. I got her phone number and was feeling pretty good about myself.

A couple of days later, I called her to ask her to lunch. Her reply was one I’d heard far too many times before.

“I’d rather get to know you over Snapchat,” she said. “What’s your snap?”

I hate that question. Implicit is the reminder we’re gonna play a game where we toss our real emotions out the window and replace them with virtual attachment issues and mass manipulation. Snapchat is a social media platform that systematically impedes and destroys authentic romance, often before the romance has any time to take shape.

Once upon a time, romantic suitors would have to physically knock on their interest’s real doors to get their attention. The suitors’ quests, however Shakespearean or ridiculous they may have been, required some level of dignity and personal risk. Even when phone calls came along, a suitor would have to risk wording his or her feelings correctly, in real time.

Snapchat implements a cop-out, pestering a service I call “The Infinite Knock.” Due to the ease of sending snaps that take five seconds to create, someone can continually “knock” on someone’s virtual attention door. Snapchat allows you to send that exact same snap to unlimited others, too, just in case the primary goal doesn’t pay you enough attention. The result is a phone constantly buzzing with an infinite invasion of distracting simps, disappearing pictures in the dark and the infamous, eternally classy “u up?”

For even the most resilient users, the fear of missing out on social gratification inevitably creeps into their minds when they find their current situation boring, lackluster or disappointing. Snapchat takes the irritating nature of constant text messages and wraps them in parasitical, disappearing, addicting packaging, drowning the personal accountability and honesty true romance requires.

Part of Snapchat “culture” is revealing your location, 24/7. Snapchat has a local map with all your friends’ bitmojis blossoming up like weeds on top of one another. In a tiny town like Rexburg, this alone can cause psychological mind games.

Imagine you’re talking with a girl who lives at the women’s Cedars, and you live at The Lodge. You check Snapchat every day to see what she’s up to, where she’s at, whom she may be talking to instead of you, and behold, she’s at men’s Cedars every night from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. To make it worse, you’re also a stalker now.

If you turn your location services off, whomever you’re “talking to” assumes you’re deviously going somewhere you don’t want others to see. This is a quick ticket to being ghosted. When it comes to enabling or disabling location services, either way you throw yourself into Snapchat’s spider web of psychological mind games.

Another manipulative tool of Snapchat is the ability to view others’ cumulative snap records on their profiles. What’s so pernicious about this?

Let’s say Jorge and Hannah have been dating for a few weeks, and he sends her a snap asking about her feelings. He sees that she hasn’t opened his snap yet. Maybe she’s busy or just not on the app often. But the thought creeps into Jorge’s mind: What if she’s intentionally ignoring me but snapping other people? Well, there’s an easy way to find out. Jorge flips to Hannah’s profile and sees she’s sent 200 snaps since he sent his own to her an hour ago.

Commence the psychological dumpster fire.

Okay, these aspects of Snapchat are aggravating; that’s easy to see. But the death of romance? That’s quite the claim.

Hear me out.

In order to have authentic, generative, magnetic romance, there has to be real human connection. Voice-to-voice, eye-to-eye, hand-to-hand connection. This also means human disconnection is a very real possibility, the severing and refusal of someone’s advances. It’s not an easy thing to actively pursue someone in person, just like how it’s excruciating to deny someone face to face. Romance is a risky business, but it ought to be worth the adrenaline and anxiety, paying off with palpably emotional infusion.

Assumed in this human-to-human romance is that I can actually know myself and the person I’m talking to and see us for the whole human beings we are, not just a strange relationship compiled of locations and disappearing pictures of my forehead captioned with “wut up.”

Despite the messiness of genuine romance, the aftermath is salvageable for my future benefit. Because I actually knew the person I denied or who left me, I can assess myself wholeheartedly, trusting that she was actually with me when we spoke. I can trust that when I heard her voice quaver, I had said something hurtful. I can trust that when she sobbed on my chest when her sister died, there was something more between us. Authenticity.

Snapchat conditions people to view human connections as calculable, quantitative, potentially gratifying objects to be accumulated. With so many interactions and “romantic” pursuits happening on Snapchat in Rexburg, we sign ourselves up to pursue, accept and deny love according to the restrictions and manipulation of a multibillion dollar company that makes revenue based on continued snapstreaks.

In the uncommon occasion a relationship begins on Snapchat and transfers to in-person human interaction, they’ve already danced through the psychological filters Snapchat ensures each member plays by. With the mind games in place, how much more likely is someone to cheat digitally than physically? The means may be different, but the ends are the same: the deeply seeded inability to be accountable for one’s emotional communication and the impossibility of long-term trust and romantic commitment.

That lunch never did happen between me and the girl from the dance. I snapped her for a week, off and on. Truthfully, I never got to know her. Can I even say that I knew her? In my memory, besides a few words and a dance, she was just another face on my phone, another stressful chore I hoped would read my shallow captions.

I worry that romance died long before we met.