A twenty-something man takes out his phone at the office, chewing on the last bits of his wrap. After a moment’s scrolling and another moment’s contemplation, he double taps.
At her office, or in her work from home set up, a girl’s phone pings. And she grins.
And this is one of the defining visuals of a budding courtship in 2021.
Of course, it may be the girl who initiates the digital interaction by ‘liking’ first. But that comes with its own implications of a power shift. And if there’s one thing the digital age has made more conscious of than anything else, it is that modern dating is still painfully heteronormative. Girl’s profiles are as beautiful and selfie-stuffed as possible and guys’ profiles are either non-existent or consisting of experiences that in some way, symbolise his personality, masculinity and privilege. A picture of him in the mountains, him with a dog, these are mundane and snooze-inducing yet surprisingly popular.
When we post, Insta makes sure we pop onto the top of his feed, in our svelte little dresses and Paris-filtered faces to pierce his consciousness. And if he’s checked out your profile enough times, his name will be at the top of your ‘story watchers’ list. That’s just how the algorithm works. It facilitates engagement between the voyeur and the poster. Just like Cupid.
You know, if Cupid only shot arrows for the girls who post.
The highest level of male engagement is unfortunately, with female users who frequently post ‘bikini pictures, lingerie and workouts.’
The evidence is this : If she posts; does a peacock dance version of her beauty, he looks.
Sometimes, he likes.
And perhaps that is how it’s always been. Evolutionarily, men are supposed to be ‘visual creatures’ and women are supposed to be decoratively on display to attract a mate. But weren’t years of feminist and social revolutions supposed to move us beyond this most primal ‘look at my genes’ version of ourselves?
I, regrettably, find myself posting my face or OOTD more when I like someone new.
And I talk to other twenty-somethings to see if this trend is more widely true.
Dreamy Romances In My Instagram DMs
M (24) a law student who flits between London and Bombay, and is a self-professed DM queen affirms my theory. ‘I definitely story more when I know someone I like is watching,’ she says. ‘If I’ve been on a date with him already and he hasn’t texted yet, then the selfies get really glam. But like, in an effortless way.’ She laughs. I know it’s performative and all that, but it’s really really effective.’
So is posting a pretty story on insta a prerequisite for progressing in romantic interactions these days?
Is it more important than, say, meeting IRL?
When I ask G, a 29 year old investment banker in Bombay, whether he thinks a girl’s stories affect his level of interest in her, he responds firmly in the negative. ‘I don’t really care what she’s sharing with the world,’ he says. ‘The ego stroke is getting something personal, right? It’s getting a whatsapp selfie her followers didn’t get. Or a text about planning to meet on the weekend.’
Intimacy then, according to G, is built only in real life.
But also, G, I’ve noticed on more than one occasion has spoken to me with delight about a girl’s series of selfies before. And he texted her after. Even if he refuses to recognise it then, she has stuck herself in his brain through an insta story. And he’s been nudged into making an action.
I suppose now that we live in an attention economy, it’s only natural that we preen and pout digitally via stories and posts to get the attention of the person we’re interested in. It can even be good, young fun.
But that being said, if he or she is putting you in a position of feeling like you need to perform constantly, with too long between in-person interactions, then it’s probably time to mute them and move on.
Love, after all, isn’t made in the DMs.