I’ll tell your mom we met at ...

Why ro­man­tic meet-cute sto­ries are in­vented by on­line daters

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I’ll tell your mom we met at the gro­cery story. I’ll tell your mom we met at Star­bucks. I’ll tell your mom we met at church. I’ll tell your mom we met any­where but the in­ter­net.

Many, it seems, are “will­ing to lie about how we met,” at least ac­cord­ing to their on­line dat­ing pro­files. All kinds of be­liefs swirl around on­line dat­ing: it’s not safe, it’s just for va­pid hookups, it’s phoney, it’s maybe even the dawn of the dat­ing apoc­a­lypse, if you be­lieve Van­ity Fair.

Tin­der and sim­i­lar apps have rev­o­lu­tion­ized ro­mance in­clud­ing the how-we-met story, which is now just a swipe away. Yet the Hol­ly­wood meet-cute — a plot de­vice de­scribed by film critic Roger Ebert as “when boy meets girl in a cute way” — has en­dur­ing power for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons deeply in­grained in the hu­man con­scious­ness.

In psy­chol­ogy, the con­cept of “first en­coun­ters of the close kind” was in­tro­duced in 1980. This man­i­fests as a shared rec­ol­lec­tion with which cou­ples seem to have an un­spo­ken agree­ment of the sig­nif­i­cance of the mo­ment, and these first en­counter mem­o­ries “an­chor a cou­ple’s story and re­flect the cur­rent and fu­ture hopes of a re­la­tion­ship,” ac­cord­ing to a 2010 study in the jour­nal Mem­ory.

That sur­vey of 267 adults from age 20-85 found mem­o­ries that were more vivid, pos­i­tive and emo­tion­ally in­tense were re­lated to higher mar­i­tal sat­is­fac­tion.

No won­der there’s so much pres­sure to tell a great story.

When Sarah Sul­li­van, 25, worked at the McMaster Univer­sity book­store as an un­der­grad, an en­gi­neer­ing stu­dent named Sean Wat­son kept com­ing back, first to visit, then to chat, then to fi­nally ask her out.

At least that’s what they tell peo­ple. Sul­li­van and her now­part­ner of more than three years ac­tu­ally met on OKCupid. They con­cocted “a ridicu­lous story” to cre­ate some­thing rosier out of what felt util­i­tar­ian com­pared to oth­ers.

Sul­li­van’s mom is an emer­gency room nurse and her fa­ther was an in­jured pa­tient. He asked her out; even­tu­ally she said yes, and they’re still “hope­lessly in love” 26 years later. Her brother met his wife at the gym. Friends found love at cof­fee shops and on air­planes.

“We felt that our story is not re­motely ro­man­tic,” said Sul­li­van, who was the first among her friends to ex­per­i­ment with on­line dat­ing. With on­line dat­ing, “you’re mak­ing an ac­tive de­ci­sion to find some­one rather than just hop­ing it will hap­pen. It was kind of viewed as a lit­tle des­per­ate by some peo­ple.”

The white lie con­tin­ued un­til this story, even though Tin­der has “blown up” among her sin­gle friends in the past few years.

“The rea­son I’m chang­ing my tune now is that it’s more com­mon than it used to be,” she says. “I found what I wanted in a per­son, and I don’t think I would have found that, as quickly, in the old-fash­ioned way.”

De­spite their re­la­tion­ship start­ing with a lie, Sul­li­van and Wat­son dreamed the story up to­gether — some­thing that ac­tu­ally does bode well for longevity.

“Cou­ples do­ing well will re­mem­ber their his­tory a lot more fondly and will be more pos­i­tive about it. They re­mem­ber neg­a­tives about the re­la­tion­ship but they glo­rify the strug­gle,” said Lawrence Stoy­anowski, a Van­cou­ver-based cou­ples ther­a­pist and Master Cer­ti­fied Gottman Trainer at the Gottman In­sti­tute in Seat­tle, Wash.

“How a cou­ple met is less im­por­tant than whether there was pos­i­tiv­ity and neg­a­tiv­ity sur­round­ing how they met.”

Ac­cord­ing to nar­ra­tive psy­chol­ogy re­search, there are dif­fer­ent

if you’re ro­man­tic the rest of the time, it trumps the story. at the end of the day, who cares? as long as it’s a happy re­la­tion­ship. Chan­dra Sul­li­van, who met her boyfriend on tin­der

lay­ers to self-iden­tity, such as traits, goals and life sto­ries. There has been a surge in re­search on nar­ra­tive and the self — the sto­ries we tell our­selves about our­selves — though less on nar­ra­tive and the self in con­nec­tion with oth­ers.

Re­la­tion­ships are em­bed­ded in cul­tural master nar­ra­tives, well­worn tales such as love at first sight, the hero sav­ing the damsel in dis­tress or the ran­dom but charm­ing en­counter, says Kather­ine Panat­toni, a PhD can­di­date in psy­chol­ogy at Aarhus Univer­sity in Den­mark, who wrote her dis­ser­ta­tion on how ro­man­tic part­ners vi­car­i­ously in­ter­pret each oth­ers’ life sto­ries and how those are af­fected by cul­tural master nar­ra­tives.

“There are master nar­ra­tives of what re­la­tion­ship sto­ries are sup­posed to look like. We’ve all seen ro­man­tic come­dies. There’s sup­posed to be some meet-cute thing,” Panat­toni says.

“If your re­la­tion­ship is not a beau­ti­ful ro­man­tic com­edy (plot), it’s go­ing to take more work to turn it into a co­her­ent story that makes sense to oth­ers and has a pos­i­tive end­ing.”

For Prac­ti­cal Nurse grad Clark, NorQuest Col­lege gave him more than just an ed­u­ca­tion— it gave him a boost in con­fi­dence and per­sonal growth to help launch his ca­reer. health care’s front line Learn more norquest.ca/Clark


sean Wat­son and sarah sul­li­van made up a how-we-met story rather than tell peo­ple they met on oKCupid.

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