The only way we humans have successfully coped with being as miserable as we are is by wallowing in it together—hence the age-old saying “Misery loves company.” But what brings us together in the Digital Age, which in many ways is so inherently alienating? Memes. The way we now commiserate is via a few cynical, vaguely universal-sounding words on the human condition.
Everyone knows millennials are obsessed with depression. And memes. And depression memes. There are infinite reasons as to why, but I’ve come to observe that the bleakest memes in the vast murky abyss of dark Internet content are the ones that pertain to our current hookup culture. The singles are without a doubt the most depressed subculture in all of depressed social media. Of course you could be depressed if you’re not single, but definitely not as depressed as you would be if you were also without a partner who loves you, or even someone who finds you potentially interesting.
Laugh to Keep from Bawling
The memes I’m talking about revolve around the moments of one’s dating life that are so embarrassing and cringeworthy they make Bridget Jones’s Diary feel like a self-help guide. The tone of it is very “He came all over my face and told me I couldn’t sleep over. Then I walked home in the rain, without a sweatshirt, because he said giving me one was too intimate for him, and when I got home I texted him saying, ‘Thank you for everything.’”
“Rejection joke” memes (read: devastating anecdotes of the singles) are stated with such confidence in the normality of the situation that they surpass the coping-mechanism category and almost become aspirational. To the point where not only do we think this kind of behavior is acceptable but that it’s funny—which it is if you, too, have experienced dating in the Digital Age.
Our current quarantine situation has, to some degree, temporarily blurred our universal feeling of rejection. Everyone wants to text, and there’s a hilarious calm to knowing the person you’re texting is actually not allowed to hook up with anyone right now. The fact that this also includes you is largely irrelevant. For the time being, singles have compounded their daily dose of rejection memes with lonely self-isolation ones. And, honestly, they’re not that different.
So, where did the high art of depicting relatable hookup misery in the form of memes come from? Let me first paint you a picture of what it’s like to be single today. You’re in a boxing ring. Actually, you’re not, because if you really wanted to you could jump over the ropes of a boxing ring and get the hell out of there. So, you’re somewhere you cannot escape from. Here’s who’s in there with you:
- Your exes, fully on the loose.
- Everyone they are talking to and have ever talked to.
- Everyone you talk to and will ever talk to.
- Everyone those people have ever talked to.
- Everyone those people wish they were currently talking to instead of you.
- People none of you have ever met or talked to, but they exist, and online there is no difference.
The entire globe is in direct competition with one another. There are too many fish in the sea, and, as we all know, we don’t know how to take care of the oceans.
A Net the Size of This Earth
I had to make sure my Raya was set to the right city the other day because I haven’t had a match in three months. Do you know how big the city I live in is? —Michael, 32, New York City
Dating apps claim they have widened the pool so that everybody has a greater chance of finding love, but what they’ve actually done is create limitless opportunities for rejection that we never knew could be possible.
Being single in the past was obviously a major struggle. We all saw Little Women. But according to my incredibly vast knowledge, the one day a year you used to be susceptible to outright rejection was the day you asked your crush to the Sadie Hawkins dance. The stakes were high, but the agony of the ask was fleeting. Today, the Sadie Hawkins dance is every day—it’s called Hinge, and you’re one of four million people trying to get asked. At least when a guy ghosted you pre-digital it was because he was off at war, and if you didn’t get a letter it was because he was dead. We could only wish the people who weren’t texting us were dead.
Being single is fine, it’s just like having multiple boyfriends who you can’t rely on and who also have ten other girlfriends who you know everything about. —Not Cazzie, 25, Los Angeles
So much rejection had to happen for us to start feeling empowered by publicly describing all of the brutal ways in which we get turned down. How could it not, when absolutely everyone is looking for a relationship while simultaneously being completely unwilling to settle, thanks to the unlimited offerings of the Internet? You can look to the literal end of the earth to find your perfect person—the end of the earth is one swipe away. You’ll figure out the logistics of a long-distance relationship later, but for now you can text 24-7, until they say something you hate and you move on to the next.
Being single today is oscillating between texting someone nonstop and then having no one to text at all. —Sarah, 22, Boston
The whiplash from experiencing complete digital silence after texting someone constantly creates deep emotional instability. It becomes impossible to recognize if you actually even like the person or if you just like the way their emphasis on your jokes makes you feel. We’ve grown accustomed to deriving slot-machine-like validation from this kind of attention. This in no way resembles a sufficient foundation to a lasting relationship.
There are too many fish in the sea, and we all know we don’t know how to take care of the oceans.
Texting your crush is true mania. The highs are high and the lows are low. Signs of craziness include unabashed elation from receiving a “yo.” How can you feel so happy from something so meaningless? Because the opportunities to get in touch with each other are endless and that person had previously decided to spend their time doing anything else but contacting you.
WHY DOES NO ONE WANT ME —Rebecca, 30, New York City
The journey from textual to sexual is further proof of the tragedy of today’s dating world. There is the newfound dilemma of being too scared to meet someone because the texting is so good. Before, you would have been scared to sleep with someone you got along with, in case the sex was bad. Texting chemistry is the new regular chemistry. If the texting is good, the meetup could be bad, and then the sex will definitely be bad, or at least that’s what we’re programmed to assume, based on the memes.
The dangers of the coronavirus will fade sooner or later, and the singles will go back to living and sharing their regularly depressed (for rejection reasons) filled lives. There’s no way to know if being single in the Digital Age is the catalyst for being depressed or if being depressed is the reason we’re all still single. (I think by this point I’ve made a strong case for both.) I’m no expert, but complaining about everyone not liking you might make it hard for someone to like you. Then again, if someone liked you, you could no longer write funny tweets about being rejected. I imagine that could be a hard choice for some. Regardless, our environment makes us all feel like it’s a hopeless situation and that we’ll be forever alone, but at least we have these memes we can send to six of our most depressed and single friends who will all respond immediately with: “literally me.”
Cazzie David is a columnist for Air Mail