“So, basically,” I said, while slathering a couple of baked potatoes in olive oil and sprinkling them with salt flakes. “Girl dinner is when you take a photo of the uncooked snacks on your plate, which you’re about to eat. You know… because girls deserve a little treat at the end of the day.” As the words came out of my mouth, I realised how strange they sounded, in the echoey kitchen, my partner listening politely. Still, I continued. “This isn’t girl dinner,” I said, in case she didn’t understand. “This is normal dinner.”
I do this sometimes: explain a bit of random online discourse or meme-speak that my partner might not have come across because she’s too busy living her real life. Nepo babies. Corecore. That time British people on TikTok got mad that Americans don’t understand that we shorten everything, including “having a Chinese takeaway”. My partner is often all ears, and loves to chat about “what’s happening”, but there’s only so much you can say about an online discussion that is often, from the outside, nonsensical. And so, over the years, I’ve come to use these chats as a sort of litmus test. If what I’m saying sounds totally ludicrous when I say it out loud, then maybe I shouldn’t be engaging with it to begin with. Maybe I should, as they say, “touch grass”.
Earlier this year, a Hinge survey found that 73 per cent of people use memes to determine if they share a sense of humour with a match, with 60 per cent prioritising getting a sense of someone’s “meme humour” before going on a date. Memes, then, Hinge proposed, were emerging as a sort of sixth love language (the others being physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service and receiving gifts). I, however, would like to suggest something else entirely, which is this: if someone doesn’t immediately get an internet reference, then that’s probably a good thing. Because it means they don’t spend all their time scrolling online to the same degree that you do.
My partner isn’t an offline person. She has often tried to explain the blockchain to me, and knows more about Twitch, virtual reality platforms and “decentralising the internet” than I could ever even attempt to. But she’s not at all engaged in the sort of strange, pointless discussions that plague platforms like Twitter and Instagram (neither of which are on her phone, which she only uses for messages), or the latest “hot take” or twist on a two-day-old meme. I find this profoundly attractive and refreshing. And I’m definitely not the only one. One friend, who recently started seeing this guy, told me that she wasn’t sure about him until he started texting someone on his burner phone, pressing on the buttons and everything. “There’s something sooo sexy about an offline guy,” she said, biting her lip. “And something sort of meh about a very online one.”
“I find people who are mostly offline appealing because I am so online”
I know I sound hypocritical: if being chronically online sucks so much, why am I always here? But I think I find people who are mostly offline appealing because I am so online (largely for my work, but also because I’m addicted). It’s the combination that works. Kind of like someone who is incredibly energetic being drawn to someone a little more withheld. The two can level each other out; a reminder of what exists outside of their own bubble, and the shared equilibrium that can occur when two worlds collide. Plus, as I get older, I intend to log off more and more until I am logged off completely. Seeing my partner with her feet firmly on the ground reminds me to do the same sometimes.
That said, it’s not hard to see the importance of a shared meme language, if you both have one. And by this, I mean that if the other person is repeatedly forwarding you unfunny or offensive memes it’s probably a sign that you’re incompatible. Because if there’s anything worse than being chronically online, it’s being very online and yet still not quite on point. Consider Elon Musk, arguably the most online person of all: why does he post memes that look like they came from Reddit circa 2016? This facet of his online personality only adds to his ickiness, the cherry on top of a miserable, tasteless cake.
Equally, someone who’s really funny or smart online can definitely be attractive. Years ago I dated this one person who had an online persona that, to me, was like a work of art. Her meme choices were absurd and exceptional, her Instagram aesthetic surreal and knowing, like a wink across the room. We didn’t work out for plenty of reasons—maybe my meme style wasn’t quite up there with hers?—but I’ll always remember how hilarious she was, or is, and the very specific way in which that translated to the online sphere. “Why did no one like this tweet, I thought it was funny?” I asked her once, half-joking, flashing her my phone screen. “I don’t know,” she drawled. “The rhythm of it, it’s just a bit… off, you know?”
There’s joy to be had in someone “getting” your online style. But I also really love existing with my partner outside of that. I love that she has zero opinion about whether people wash their legs in the shower or not. I love that she’ll occasionally ask if we can “sit and watch some TikTok together” because she doesn’t have it on her phone. I love that, like the majority of people probably, our most treasured and connected moments are the simple, real-world stuff: smoking in the garden, foraging for wild garlic at sundown, holding hands at the supermarket. The internet is full of noise, and of people shouting over each other in order to be heard. When we’re together, all of that falls quiet.