I’ll tell your mom we met at...

Why ro­man­tic meet-cute tales are in­vented by on­line daters

StarMetro Toronto - - Culture -

I’ll tell your mom we met at the gro­cery story. 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 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.

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


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

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