“Love is a many splendored thing / Love lifts us up where we belong / All you need is love” begins Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge. Not long after Nicole Kidman retorts, “Love is just a game”
I adore this scene (the Elephant Love Medley) from the roller coaster of emotions that is Moulin Rouge by Baz Luhrmann. It perfectly captures the turning point of the protagonistsâ€™ lives as they hurl towards a love that they believe is their destiny. And who can deny destiny right? Indifferent to the consequences of a forbidden relationship, they decide that their love will defy all odds. The movie ends (no spoilers here) and youâ€™re left with a heavy heart. But through the parting words – and even the post-credits images – the concept of believing in an everlasting love is reinforced manifold.
Growing up in an age where technology had just begun to take its roots in society and had not yet intervened in the most private moments of our lives, it seemed that adulthood would comprise of such grand romantic gestures, accompanied by their own orchestral score and definitely choreographed dancing; Bollywood or Hollywood – you take your pick.
All our lives, such expectations have been ingrained in our minds: the perfect Hallmark moments of dating, proposing, marriage and married life. Everything had to be that: perfect, painstakingly so. It doesnâ€™t help that the commercialisation of love through movies, TV shows and even days such as Valentineâ€™s have led us to believe that if we are not married at a certain age and in an almost symbiotic relationship with a partner, that we havenâ€™t achieved anything.
However, in the absence of the digital age, we kept chasing this made-up idea of the one true love around street corners and in vintage bookstores, or in our case, in clandestine encounters at cafes. But then, quite suddenly, technology and dating apps took over. There was a new medium to find the One. Even Rishta Aunties were replaced by matrimonial websites, well not entirely.
Yet, it was not until recent years that the digital world truly interfered in our love lives. The advent of social media as we know it today facilitated a different kind of relationship: the digital one. With phone applications such as Tinder, Minder, Bumble etc. and the DM (direct messaging) option on many social media sites such as Instagram and Twitter, connecting became much easier. But isnâ€™t that what social media and technology are supposed to do? Connect us to a wider audience?
Althoug, this did have its upside in making us become a socially aware generation that recognises injustices, relationships and the pursuit of love have changed entirely with the rise of the social justice warrior (SJW). We are now aware that many of our childhood rom-coms had sexist, misogynistic portrayals of women, that women are not objects and that consent is important in every aspect of a relationship. The spread of the #MeToo movement like wildfire, further kept us all in check and many ideals set by rom-coms were understood to be harmful to society.
But what else has changed?
Options. We have a lot more options: in clothes, food, travel destinations, social justice causes, make-up, everything. This choice is made easy by the numerous social media apps that are a touch away on our phones. We are constantly looking for the next best thing and comparing our lives to the heavily curated ones of social media influencers and other media personalities.
â€œLove isn’t an airbrushed photograph, but is a bunch of compromises, arguments, and the daily struggle of two people living their lives together – of course sprinkled with cute Instagram momentsâ€
But what about love?
Speaking to people around me – the millennials – I have figured that the concept of love has remained the same: an unattainable fairy tale. But now instead of an occasional movie or TV show, itâ€™s bombarded on a daily basis at us through the well-curated social media accounts of influencers and celebrities. With this constant reminder of one not living a perfect life, everyone is looking for the next best thing. This has, worryingly, crept into dating as well. With many putting up detailed profiles online and Instagram accounts documenting every moment of the day, along with â€œdigital datesâ€ where every question is asked and answered, a physical encounter becomes meaningless. It perhaps then serves only as a way to judge physical attraction.
Another aspect that worries those around me is the ease of access to the previously inaccessible. It is now very easy to â€œslide into someoneâ€™s DMsâ€ and begin conversing with several people at once; these people can be regular Joes and Jills or your favourite celebrity that you could only write fan mail to a few years ago. This level of open interaction lulls everyone into a false sense of what they can achieve in reality.
The problem is that in the midst of this the human connection is lost. Fairy tale love was unattainable in the analogue days but at least people went out and interacted with each other and tried to win the other personâ€™s affections through their personality. Now itâ€™s your Instagram engagement rate, the best profile picture you can put up on Tinder or how wise you sound on Twitter. How many of us are guilty of posting on social media just to get someone elseâ€™s attention? Almost all social media users are.
Where does this leave us? This increased interconnectivity is being used to reach out to celebrities, models and influencers, but we have become wary of a simple â€œhiâ€ to the person next to us. We donâ€™t realise that online profiles are meant to attract attention and the lives of online couples donâ€™t represent love. Our concept of love has remained warped. Instead of the digital age making real connections possible, it has only fostered further confusion. Love isnâ€™t an airbrushed photograph, but is a bunch of compromises, arguments, and the daily struggle of two people living their lives together – of course sprinkled with â€œcute Instagram moments.â€
What we need to remember is that love at its foundation is a human feeling and giving in to the power of a DM or the digitisation of love, we have removed its essence. Love might be a many splendoured thing, but it is definitely not always â€œrainbows and butterfliesâ€ as Adam Levine from Maroon 5 rightly suggests in She Will Be Loved.