There was a recent trend on TikTok where couples filmed themselves sleeping together. (Sleeping in the literal sense, that is ‒ it’s an age-appropriate app after all). It consisted of a lot of cute cuddles, whispered sweet nothings, and subconscious clinging to one another. That really is amore, isn’t it? My inner romantic took over and I liked the video. Shortly after, by the grace of internet cookies and spy software, I was bombarded with similar depictions of true love. These fifteen to thirty second clips managed to capture such intimate moments. From the comfort of my android, I was blessed enough to witness once-in-a-lifetime love stories; glimpses of humanity in its purest, most authentic form –  in love and at peace.

Wait a minute… Did that guy just stroke his girlfriend’s cheek and plait her hair? In his sleep? And that girl…did she just sleepwalk to the camera to get a better angle? And here, why is this person wearing lipstick and foundation? Something wasn’t adding up. As more of these relationship trends came along, I noticed a common theme that permeated them all: inauthenticity. I was watching fictionalised fodder where people had staged scenarios and presented them as their true reality with such conviction that it seemed not only that I had been fooled, but that they had been too. 

I’m not upset by people recording an experience. It’s cute that you’ve decided to share that clip of Harry Styles winking at you during his acoustic version of Little Things. It’s not cute, however, that you only smile at your partner for the ‘gram. It’s adorable that your kid’s first words were “mama” or “dada” or “pandemic”; however, it’s concerning that you’re faking a pregnancy because it’s good clickbait. It’s sweet when you post a video of your beau and you on a date to immortalise that moment; however, it’s less sweet if you only went on that date to publicise it in the first place. Fiction and non-fiction are mutually exclusive concepts, yet in an age of online personas, it is possible to share fictitious moments of relationship bliss whilst merely tolerating one another. This reality isn’t just toxic, but also speaks to a failure to protect what is sacred: the joy of joy. In our race to virtualise love, we stop ourselves from experiencing it at its fullest. Sacrificing the present to secure a perfect future means losing your chance at both. What is so beloved about love is its privacy, its specificity, its intimacy and its authenticity — there is none of that here.

So how did we get to this point? Is it truly kids these days with their Instachat, Twittering, and Love Island obsession that started this ruse? Of course not. As humans, we have always tried to capture emotions and exhibit them through art, music, literature, and film. Our issue is that previously we were able to differentiate between fiction and non-fiction. That is fantasy and this is reality; this is life and that is theatre. But this is no longer true. We’re now fictionalising actual humanity, inserting artificial living in our non-artificial lives. Understandably, in a capitalist society, we’ve started to commercialise everything, but if this is what we’re giving to the world, why does it feel like something is being stripped away from us?

Initially, I hesitated to write this piece primarily because it paints me out to be a bitter cynic who hates social media (which is fair), but also because it’s strange to be opinionated on a topic such as this. What conclusion do I want to reach? Surely, the people that dislike recording their personal lives aren’t going to start now, and the people that do record their personal lives aren’t going to be dissuaded because of one rather exceptional rant. But that is not what I want to propose. My point is that life is not meant to be aesthetically pleasing and prettily packaged; it’s meant to be fully and honestly experienced. If a tree falls in the forest, no one might hear it, but it still fell. The tree isn’t concerned about how pretty its fall was, or how jealous all the less impressively fallen trees were, so why are you? Your relationship exists with or without a comment section. 

Whilst we are so anti-thought police and pro-privacy, we need to understand that this call is coming from inside the house. As people so afraid of A.I. and deep fakes – technology that offers a false representation of us, orchestrated by a stranger – we should consider that perhaps we are fearing the wrong thing; a concept even worse than strangers stealing our identity. The doctored, inauthentic, staged, empty shells of ourselves that are now depicted online are self-inflicted crimes, a false representation of us, by us, for… strangers? When a host of invaders want to enter your home, you fight with everything you’ve got; you don’t give them the keys and make them a snack.

Your relationship is your relationship. It’s a concept, not an object. But once you find yourself editing it and packaging it up into little pieces for the consumption of strangers, you’ve not only lost that concept, and your home…you’ve lost yourself.

Cover image: MITCH BOEHN on Unsplash