This weekend, a Twitter moment captured a “modern love story” – or, at least, half of it. It played out a little like this: boy downloads Tinder and begins browsing. He comes across a profile of a woman he likes the look of named Claudia (important), but alas he’s not concentrating. Reflexively, his thumb swipes left, sending her soaring into the Tinder abyss of lost loves. A missed match. A potential fling flung. But this boy – Hayden Moll, our protagonist – was not about to give up.
Instead, Hayden took the little information he could remember about his mysterious Claudia – her university, her age, details from the pictures she presented on her profile – and decided to contact every woman he could find within those parameters – all the women at Missouri State university named Claudia. That, by all accounts, was a quite lot. (And, presumably, for all the Claudias he didn’t want, extremely annoying.)
“Hello all Claudia’s [sic] of Missouri State,” he began. “First off, my name is Hayden, and I made a rookie mistake on Tinder. I accidentally swiped left on a Claudia’s profile (left is bad) and I really wanted to swipe right. If Tinder provided last names this would be so much easier but it doesn’t, so I have to describe the profile to you.”
Spoiler here: he described the profile, it went viral and, of course, he found her. She was on Twitter, like everyone else, and the internet loved it. “You HAVE to go on a date with him,” replies squealed to Claudia’s ALL-CAPS tweet, her first line in the love story of which she was the subject. Let the boy get the girl! Complete the narrative arc! Isn’t it romantic?
But, is it romantic? Or is it wildly creepy? Is it an act of pure, unfiltered adoration – or another reflection of our tendency to confuse behaviour that verges on harassment? There are nuances to this story that are important to consider: they are young (around age 18); the “date” Hayden proposes involves eating doughnuts (nice); he didn’t know if they were a “match” because of his clumsy thumb, so added a caveat to his love letter. Claudia should just reply “left” or “right” to let him know whether she was interested in a date, he said – he didn’t “expect” that she would say yes. (Although, the fact he was careful to point out that it was “cool” with him if she rejected him should tell us an awful lot.) It should also be noted that the Claudia in question, when tracked down, didn’t appear to be perturbed by Hayden’s behaviour.
The trouble is that culture like this creates and feeds a prism through which we view the world. And, in cases of romance, it means we’re not satisfied unless we’re presented with a perfect cadence
Her reaction is exactly what we’d expect to see from any other woman in a modern romcom. As brilliantly documented by one Letterboxd user (an online platform that allows film fanatics to create a film diary or share themed lists of films with each other) this week – and many other commentators in the past – stalking for love is a tremendously common plot device. So common that, as of today, Letterboxd fans have already identified 157 films wherein stalking behaviour is wrapped up as romance – and the list is being shared and added to all the time.
As they point out, the growing list shows that, time and time again, we’re asked to champion men for swapping “respecting women who reject them” with “persistence”. Male characters are “nice guys”, even when spying on women through their bedroom windows or warbling at someone’s window, and the victims of “difficult”, “unobtainable” women. More often than not, eventually the “stubborn” female object of affection “gives in” and accepts her fate.
It is, of course, fiction – but the trouble is that culture like this creates and feeds a prism through which we view the world. And, in cases of romance, it means we’re not satisfied unless we’re presented with a perfect cadence – that the romantic struggle is resolved, that the unseemly man is appropriately rewarded for “effort”, no matter how invasive. That’s why we see verging-on-weird-stories like Hayden’s Claudia celebrated and why men like the viral piano player, who thought he could force his ex to take him back last year, pop up in the non-fictional world. It’s why we’ve all had guys we didn’t “like” on Tinder persistently contact us on Facebook anyway. And why, as I wrote last week, they steal our personal details from increasingly bizarre places.
They think this is romance. They think we like it. They’re told that we should like it. And because women are told to like it, too, it’s frowned upon when we say that it turns us off – it makes it a little bit harder to say no.
We’re giving out all the wrong messages by accepting this sort of behaviour – not least that we’re setting an incredibly low bar for what we see as romance. Maybe, this year, we could change the narrative – and make room for love stories that we can all enjoy.