“You and Hope should meet” is what Hinge tells me every evening without fail, and if it’s not Hope then it’s Hannah, Helen or maybe even Hazel.
A month or so ago, I would have opened this alert with all the mindless interest of a middle aged man reaching for his fourth custard cream after Sunday lunch – imbued with a mild level of desire for the sweet treat but knowing deep down that it would likely have no great bearing on my emotional, spiritual or psychological constitution.
Today, however – in the midst of the corona-rapture – my reading of this notification, informing me of who the algorithmic overlords of my love life have selected as my soul mate, is quite different.
The thought of beginning any kind of courtship is simultaneously amusing and troubling, as it poses the question of how romantic and sexual life can possibly progress in a world of lockdown, quarantine and social distancing.
Multitudes of questions have already been asked and answered regarding sex and coronavirus – Can I get coronavirus from having sex? How can I conduct my extra-marital affair during lockdown? Is it socially responsible to go dogging if I suspect I have Covid-19? The situation for many seems dire and, for those who are single, enforced celibacy is the only option.
My more dirty minded associates have informed me that Pornhub have responded to this libidinal crisis by removing the paywall to their premium services, in a bid to encourage self isolation. The even dirtier minded ones have reported that erotic videos relating directly to coronavirus have too surfaced on the cyberspace.
These reports from the field reveal to me that the reality of sex and romance in the pandemic seems somewhat less grand than I first imagined; more auto-eroticism than quarantine-defying covert meetings between star crossed lovers under moonlight.*
“Where were you during the great plague of 2020 Grandad?”
“Well Jimmy, I was sat in my bedroom wanking.”
Alongside these more immediate changes and concerns regarding sexual behaviour for Britons under the plague, there is also a greater potential change emerging above the mooning arse on the increasingly apocalyptic horizon. In our already hyper-digitised world, there seems now a greater chance than ever for cyberspace to push its forces forward and claim greater territory in the world of love and sex, previously ruled by the ‘real’ and the ‘actual’.
Dating, my dear reader, and more broadly romantic life itself is under threat of full digitisation.
I would like now to return to Hope, one of my daily elected soul mates, according to Hinge, and consider a few key questions: What would it be like to ‘meet’ Hope under our current circumstances? How would our first date take place? What happens if we hit it off? What happens if we don’t?
The first stage I imagine would take place like most others, with nervous attempts of flirtation and then the swapping of monotonous tales of how we’re coping with the perils of the pestilence.
Then, however, where one might usually suggest meeting for a drink, we might exchange Skype details and arrange to video chat for our first virtual date. Perhaps a bowl of canned mushroom soup for me and a cup of noodles for her? Or maybe a room temperature tin of Sainsbury’s own brand lager for me and a Gordon’s and flat lemonade for her, all under the romantic glow of LCD screens.
The full digitisation of romance makes it entirely possible to date without ever leaving the sofa. All of the stresses over location, how bad you smell or how you completely forgot to cut your fingernails are now gone. Your dates perceptions of you are now mediated by a webcam.
A bad date can be escaped with a click of the button, while a good one never has to know how you haven’t showered in 4 days, or see the immovable pasta sauce stain on the crotch of your jeans, or know that, beyond the edges of the frame, there is a bin overflowing with Pringles tubes and empty cans of diet coke.
I can only assume that dating in cyber-space will be in keeping with the rampant dishonesty and fraudulent self-image manipulation inevitably found in all virtual beings – manifested to the extreme in the posturing pillock on Instagram, who stands beside a sports car despite not having a driving licence.
Similarly, within the virtual date, all that is shown and all that is seen is limited through the framing of a low quality webcam.
So is this what the future holds – a complete dissolution of physical intimacy and face-to-face honesty in favour of further abstractions of the virtual from the real and an even greater encroachment on authenticity? Well for this cynic, quite possibly.
*For legal reasons, this writer would like to stress he has not attempted any clandestine quarantine rendezvous and does not intend to in the future, if there even is one.