(ESSAY) Musings on love online, by Maisie Florence Post
‘Love, love, love’, said Effy Stonem, ‘what is it good for? Absolutely nothing!’ Is 21st century L O V E the entropic experience of pure human emotion or just the haywire discharge of the ~ALGORITHM~? As much as we wish we were still 15, with an array of exchangeable MSN crushes and hair big enough to rule the world, here we are still puzzling over what love means. This Valentine’s Day, put all the heart emojis on ice, grab a cherry coke and read this brilliant wee piece from Maisie Florence Post on love in the time of web 2.0.
> We are all looking for a connection. Be that an internet one or an IRL one, whatever the connection is, we want it. This feeling has become immediate. It is obsessive and sometimes narcissistic. We have to have it now, and we can – because of the internet. Gone are the times of wondering whether someone fancies you or not, now a simple swipe tells us. We can stay online and up to date with hot spots and airdrops. We can stay in love with dating and porn sites.
> Whilst perambulating online I stumbled across the word l i m e r e n c e, coined in the 70s by Dorothy Tennov, a psychologist studying the experiences of being in love. Tennov created this new word to describe her findings of the emotional feeling her participants had when they felt an infatuation with someone that was often unrequited and/or obsessive. They wouldn’t be able to commit to a simple task without thinking of their LO (limerent object) aka loved one. Something as normal as reading, Tennov noted, would become a thought bridge back to their limerent lover. These intrusive thoughts that Tennov described seem to be more apparent today, with the Instagram attention spans of millennials and addictive apps that allow you to obsess over complete strangers.
> Anna Biller’s 2016 film The Love Witch main character Elaine has many a love affair, desperately trying to find a man. She becomes completely obsessed with her LO’s (limerent objects), one being her friend’s husband. The film focuses on her infatuation with them and how she casts spells on them that make them her hapless dim victims. She is seen to quickly cast them aside when she realises they just aren’t good enough, before moving onto the next. Elaine retorts, ‘What I’m really interested in is love. You might say I’m addicted to love.’ The protagonist is obsessed with love itself, rather than the person she falls for.
> In Real Life Magazine Alexandra Molotkow argues that limerence is a narcissistic act in her essay Crush Fatigue, ‘the great irony, of course, is that in chasing the idea of someone else, it can only wrap yourself up in you.’ Love online could be just another way digital natives are obsessing over themselves. An ultimately selfish act. Or maybe it’s with the internet that we are becoming disassociated with love, enjoying fantasy escapism as we compare ourselves to people we’ve never met…
> Love is ubiquitous and if we peel it back to what it actually is: pure human emotion, it can’t ever be a waste of time or seen negatively. It is almost as if the internet has teamed up with society’s current turmoil to give love a bad name. Love is considered for losers, much like the ‘live laugh love’ signs that we see on forgotten bedroom walls. No one wants to admit when they love something and no one wants to be caught with one of those tacky wall decorations. Maybe we have finally reached a level of such melancholy and nihilism that living and laughing and loving is considered totally lame. Anna Biller tweeted, ‘We’re living in a culture now where love and sex are equally shameful concepts.’ People are ashamed of being in love or showing love, just like it isn’t considered cool to stalk your ex, no one wants to be the first to say the ‘L’ word.
> It could be that people’s perceptions of love have changed due to the different corners of the internet that allow you to encounter moments that would otherwise be an intimate affair between two or more human bodies. More people are buying sex toys (Amazon stocks 10,000 various types) than actually having sex. More people are hooking up via their phones but fewer people are having sex and c o n n e c t i n g on a personal level.
> In the article Why Are Young People Having So Little Sex by Kate Julian for The Atlantic, the sex recession is raised and the internet is blamed. Julian argues that even though we are in the age of acceptance and sex before marriage is considered very normal, even ‘Anal sex has gone from final taboo to ‘fifth base’—Teen Vogue (yes, Teen Vogue) even ran a guide to it.’ Yet we are having much less than generations before. She goes on to say, ‘Further outside the mainstream, the far-right Proud Boys group has a ‘no wanks’ policy, which prohibits masturbating more than once a month.’ The alt-right group’s founder, Gavin McInnes, who also co-founded Vice Media, has said that porn and masturbation are making people ‘not even want to pursue relationships.’ Albeit a rogue choice of comparison, there are corners online where the Proud Boys rule supreme, behind greasy laptop screens.
> Porn and masturbation are addictive, just like how Elaine from The Love Witch is addicted to love, people can be addicted to online behaviours that come with watching porn and masturbating. Today it is far easier to watch porn and jerk off than it is to go out and chat with someone and sleep with them.
> In Geraldine Snell’s book overlove (2018), the reader is taken on a journey of obsession and complete fantasy, with the crux of it being limerence. This lover imagines writing to someone she has never actually met. It is an addictive read, much like love itself is addictive, and being online itself is addictive; the marriage goes on and on. Snell perfectly captures the all-encompassing feeling of love that is inherently ~female~. It draws my easily distracted attention back to The Love Witch and Elaine’s fantasies and then the fantasies that we are able to make reality due to the World Wide Web.
> Love is holistic, it is a feeling felt by everyone at some stage. We are in a world where we are taught to value commodity culture over nature and emotion. Love online is predominantly as obsessive and addictive as the webspace allows it to be. What seems to be missing online is a type of love that translates to tenderness and romanticism. The internet has made it easier than ever to share, so why not share kindness and build foundations of sentimental sincerity rather than a narcissistic, individualist state of mind. As love, as primitive as it is, might be the most (dare I say the word) a u t h e n t i c thing we have left.
Memes: The Internet
Text: Maisie Florence Post