Hearts, Flowers & Emojis: Romance In The Digital Era:

Have you ever read a book published by the Mills & Boon organisation? If yes, you might not want to admit it: Their novels have been depicted by many feminists as “escapist fiction for women, misogynist and reinforcing gender stereotypes” – with titles such as “Nurses In Love”, “Runaway Bride” and “Moonlight Over Manhattan”. Despite such criticisms, the company – as the Daily Mail journalist, Sarah Oliver, has pointed out – continues to prosper, more than 100 years after it was founded in 1908: “Mills & Boon sell 5.5 million books a year – that’s one every four seconds. They are printed in 26 languages across 109 countries with 150 new titles added every year”. According to the Guardian columnist, Laura Bates, the company publishes 75% of all romantic fiction sold in the UK.

Mills & Boon, however, have now themselves acknowledged that, in the 21st century, “the definition of romance and what being romantic means is no longer clear”. Although Britons spend £1.6bn on gifts and treats for Valentine’s Day “many are unsure whether to convey their affection with cards and flowers, or just a text”. Which is why the company – who insist its books have always kept pace with changing social attitudes and values – has produced a “Definitive Guide to The Art of Romance”, consisting of 20 rules which it believes will “make it easier for reluctant romantics to be successful in finding love and happiness”. The top ten recommended gestures are: Holding hands, having a cuddle, buying a surprise gift, giving flowers to your partner, planning a spontaneous trip away, a candlelit dinner, breakfast in bed,cooking a home-made meal and writing a love letter. Also included in the list: Running a bath for your partner after they’ve had a long day, organising a spontaneous date night, waiting up for your partner to get home, watching the next episode of your favourite TV series together and letting them choose the TV movies, giving your partner a foot massage, sharing an umbrella with your partner. Among the apparent “Top Ten Passion Killers” are (at No.1), mobile phone addiction (especially using it during dinner), being stingy with money, talking with your mouth full, rudeness to those around you, criticising your partner and dominating the conversations between you.

Research conducted by Mills & Boon has indicated that 37% of 18-24 year-olds “do not think that traditionally chivalrous acts, such as standing up at a table when your partner arrives – have a place in the modern world.” Furthermore, even more significantly, that 52% of those questioned said they communicate most with their partner digitally on social media, by text,WhatsApp, video chat and emojis, compared to 46% who communicate most in person. These figures correlate closely with the statistics on “Dating Sites Reviews.com” revealing that half of British singles have never asked someone out on a date face-to-face, only online – which has rather raised the question (as the Daily Mail correspondent, Deni Kirkova, has emphasised) as to whether “flirting in person has become a lost art with young Brits hiding behind their keyboards” in order to chat up a potential partner. Moreover, notes the DSR, 48% of singles have never broken up with someone in person – it was done online or via texting.

The Pew Research Centre (PRC) in Washington DC has concluded that a third of people who have used online dating haven’t yet met up in real life with someone they initially found on an online dating site – which of course also means that 66% have indeed progressed to getting together in person. Around 22% of online daters, say PRC, ask someone to help them create their “perfect profile”.

Does this suggest, as the Media Post.com commentator, Erik Sass, has asked, that “social media is actually sort of anti-social when you consider its tendency to displace real face-to-face communication”? He has quoted the results of a survey by IKEA of 12,000 people in 12 big cities around the world, 68% of whom admitted that they prefer to communicate with other people online, including people in their own home – “the classic scenario of messaging someone in the living room from the kitchen”.

The main disadvantage of online dating, in the opinion of the New York magazine, Psychology Today”, is that it is “a category-based rather than an interaction-based process and people never fall in love with categories”. Blake Eastman, an American body-language expert and founder of “The Nonverbal Group” would seem to agree. He told the CNN reporter Ashley Strickland that, although “ we feel that we don’t need to look people in the eyes to communicate any more, at the end of the day, we’re designed for human contact, not a computer screen”. He did, though, accept that “real life dates” may have lost some of their charm, often because they are too “standardised”, especially in restaurants: “A table between two individuals staring at one another can become an interview with adversarial posturing”.

The self-described “ world-renowned relationship expert” and founder of “Sexy Confidence”, Bostonian Adam Lodolce, (similarly cited by Strickland) shares Eastman’s view that there is a real risk we are killing off our social skills “by retreating behind a glowing screen of of information that offers no chemistry” – but he is also convinced that there are many of us who want to go back to the day when you’re sitting in a coffee shop, making eye contact and there is this mysterious moment when you don’t yet know each other. “As a society, we are seeing that there is still a real way to meet people”.

Happy Valentines Day!

Filed under: Society | Posted on February 6th, 2018 by Colin D Gordon

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