Every good Hollywood film romance is united by one great plot device. Surprisingly, it’s not Hugh Grant. It’s the meet-cute. In other words, the romantic, comical, or super awkward scenario where two lovers-to-be first meet. It’s Leo talking Kate from jumping off the Titanic ledge. It’s the side of the road where Richard Gere picks Julia Roberts up from the red-light district. It’s the elevator when Zooey Deschanel hums to the Smiths blasting from Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s headphones. As cheesy as meet-cutes might sound in the movies, they’re just as charmingly iconic in real life.
“How did you guys meet?” It’s potentially the one exception of small talk where we actually genuinely love hearing the response. Some couples met as high school sweethearts. Some met by serving their future spouse in the bar. Others by locking eyes across the freshly shattered remains of a coffee table at a breather’s flat party. Whatever way you frame it, there’s something sentimentally, serendipitously sweet about that very first encounter. It’s the kind of vivid memory you rarely forget. Unless, of course, you were ridiculously intoxicated. But still.
For uni students, the title question might be something of a straw-man argument. In the sphere of student social circles, it’s not hard to connect with a perfect stranger. Even if only for a night. And certainly when alcohol’s involved. Yet, while all our years in education provide the perfect storm for meeting a potential amore mio (think: your high school crush; the hottie in your marketing group; that absolute piece you always flirt with at Saturday night kick-ons), there’s already a burgeoning sense of frustration among our peers that lies along the lines of ‘How the fuck am I supposed to find someone?’ That’s even said when we’re still thick in the social scene. So it begs the question – what happens when we graduate? When’s the party’s over? (I’m so sorry about the Billie Eilish quote. And the onslaught of rhetorical questions.)
I can recall a moment in my earlier days at uni when I was in the library, reading exam flashcards for a psych elective. A guy came up to me, introduced himself, and kickstarted a deep conversation with me about whatever content I was revising for a good half hour. And it definitely struck me as weird. Nice, but weird. And I seriously hope he didn’t think I was a psych major. No offence, psych majors.
It makes me wonder about the strangers that we saw, we liked, but we never approached. We say we like spontaneity, but when someone strikes up a conversation completely out of the blue, without the mediation of mutual friends, the safety net of combing their social media, or the dull of alcohol, there’s something about it that feels…strange.
So, that begs the question; has the internet murdered the meet-cute? Unfortunately, there’s data to back it up. Since around 2013, studies have indicated that meeting online is facing an upwards trend, replacing other forms of meet-cutes. A fundamental outcome of the internet has been a removal of that human facilitation to creating a burgeoning relationship. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. In fact, maybe we need to change the dialogue so that meeting online doesn’t have shameful connotations (it’s okay, you’re allowed to admit you met on Tinder). But from my perspective, most of us would wistfully prefer a real-life meet-cute to tell the kiddies about than an online encounter. Don’t you think?
It could be said that in our modern world, we’re scared of rejection. Or of hitting on people and offending them. Maybe the online world offers a kind of safety blanket from potentially scathing rejection. As we leave the relative comfort of a tight-knit, undoubtedly horny student community, our chances of making those meet-cutes will probably decline. Maybe meeting on the internet is just as good. The plain truth may even be that we’re just more fearful and less courageous than previous generations, and that’s why the real-life meet-cutes are on the decline. Or maybe it’s just not a priority for our generation – much like preserving our virginity ‘til marriage – so we don’t need to be as ballsy. You tell me.
As much as I seesaw between a romanticist and a realist, and as much as some old-fashioned dating attitudes deserve a fateful death, I’d like to think that our generation will still be able to share the ‘aww’-inducing stories of chance encounters that hallmark the stuff of simpy songs and Shakespearean-esque dramas. Fundamentally, basally, archaically, that connection is what we all want. Whether it be from lovers, friends, family, pets, our vices, or even our apps.
Romance isn’t dead, team. The meet-cute isn’t dead. Not yet.