May 15, 2021


Can we truly peg our relationships on an algorithm?

More by Mona Ombogo

ELover: Romance on Screen – Kenya Online Dating

ELover: Romance on Screen – Kenya Online Dating

A few weeks ago, a couple I knew got engaged at a beautiful spot on the Athi River, a magnificent rock overlooking an incredible view of the Kenyan Savannah. I remember thinking as I watched the lady glowing after her engagement, how did she do it? How did she manage to navigate her relationship from dating to marriage in this age where people hardly ever meet physically.

I met my ex-husband on an online dating site in 2005. It wasn’t something people did back then, in that sense we were Avant Garde, living ahead of our time. In fact, our story became even more sensational when we got married after just nine months, the first three of which we only knew each other’s online personalities.

Do people have to meet anymore?

In today’s scene, this is the norm. It’s almost as if people don’t have to meet anymore. We judge the level of our relationships based on terms like, ‘Last seen at’ ‘Delivered at’, ‘Read at’, ‘Deleted,’ ‘Liked.’

We interpret the level of importance we hold in someone else’s life based on how quickly they respond to our texts, if they leave us on ‘blue tick,’ if they were online five minutes ago and didn’t respond to our message which was sent five hours ago.

We live on the last thing they posted on Facebook. Did they like our Instagram story or not? Did they retweet our thread or not? Did they accept our friend request?

Relationships by algorithm?

I heard this intriguing analogy by relationship guru, Matthew Hussey, of how to determine if your relationship has a great chance of survival by weighing it against the colours of your WhatsApp conversation. For instance, on iPhone, when you send a WhatsApp message, it appears in green, and the responses appear in white.

If you look at a thread and see more green than white, it’s called being ‘in the green’, which means you are sending more messages than the replies you are getting, which means you are giving more to the relationship than you are receiving, which in turn means, chances of your relationship surviving under the current trajectory are less than they would be if you had balanced white and green messages.

It made sense, but can we truly peg our relationships on an algorithm?

Hiding behind the screen

I feel like it’s a slippery slope when we start determining our value to another by using their online or texting proclivities. I feel the screen is the perfect place to hide, to write out the perfect text, to manipulate the response you want. Or to fail miserably despite your greatest attempts because it just isn’t a skill you possess.

I find it interesting that there are courses and websites on how to ‘text your way into love.’ How to ‘Get the Guy, Keep The Guy’ using your phone. Millions attest to these methods working for them. But the end result is not necessarily an indication of ‘the best person winning.’

In person: what you see is what you get

We are different behind our keyboards. We are different because showing up in person requires all of you, not just your words but your expressions, your vibration, your essence, your touch.

It requires being with someone without the lengthy ‘waiting for a response’ bits in between. It requires being yourself without editing. You can’t delete what you say in person, you can’t send a picture to describe what you mean. There are no emojis, no bold text, no GIFS, no stickers.

It’s just you. In person literally what you see is what you get.

Behind these phones, laptops, tablets, we are all just avatars putting our best foot forward and worse yet, judging the other party based on their capability or incapability of navigating the online space.

Will we remember what it’s like to date?

I am on all these platforms, FB, IG, Twitter, WhatsApp, Telegram; I am writer, I am a thinker, a planner, a plotter. In essence, I could be the master at relationships if I never left my room. But I am still human and the very human condition demands actual interaction, actual emotion, actual feelings. Touch.

No matter how hard we try, these cannot be accomplished behind a User Name and a pretty profile picture.

Online interaction has its place, I just think it shouldn’t perpetually be the predominant space where we meet; and it certainly shouldn’t be the benchmark on which we judge our relationships.

Somewhere down the line, the restrictions we face because of COVID-19 distancing, which has enhanced online interaction, will end. At that point in time, will we still remember what it was like to go on an actual date? Or will our future partners be determined by how great they are behind the screen?


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