The drift of users on and off apps is often driven as much by dissatisfaction as it is by users finding a secure and lasting romantic relationship. However, in the heightened circumstances of the pandemic, the fluidity of this process–its liquid nature, to use Bauman’s (2003) terms–disappeared. There was nothing fluid about going from maniacally swiping and chatting, deleting, to returning to the apps. Participants were clearly rattled by the jagged cycle, expressing in a consistent sense that they were personally ‘broken’ or there was ‘something wrong with [them]’ (heterosexual, female, 30 years old, living in Sydney). The pandemic saw a desperation from participants to emplot themselves in the romance masterplot, to attain the security that provides, to not miss their ‘right’ moment for love, and an excitement about the unique affordances of the lockdown for a particular kind of romantic narrative. However, it also saw despair about the difficulties of proceeding beyond small talk to more intimate levels of conversation, and the inability to determine romantic chemistry without physically meeting. Trapped in the jagged love cycle, participants found themselves both strongly desiring romance, but unable to reach the apotheosis of the romantic masterplot.
This is a small study, but it clearly demonstrates the ways in which the romantic masterplot affects how people approach romance on dating apps. 6 Participants express their desire to meet ‘the one’ and for ‘organic’ relationships, developing in line with dominant cultural narratives of romance. They must negotiate the fact that apps offer the best chance to meet someone, but are also an environment characterized by logics of premeditation and strategy, which runs counter to the artlessness inherent in most romance narratives.