Why Sending Memes Is the New Courting
Internet dating, like most things in the digital world, has transformed at an alarming rate. A few decades ago, suitors who met online may have exchanged wordy emails or thoughtful AOL messages—Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in "You've Got Mail," anyone? But those verbose exchanges are now a thing of the past—in their place are jokes in the form of images, videos and GIFs. *Cough* *Cough* "Memes."
The term "meme" was first coined in 1976 by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins to describe a phenomenon in which genes replicated and evolved from person to person. These days, the term has been adopted to describe a similar process that occurs on the internet when funny viral images or phrases are repeated, altered and passed on.
Memes have become an unavoidable part of online communication. According to a 2019 survey, 55 percent of 13- to 35-year-olds send memes on a weekly basis and 30 percent send them daily. In fact, if you don't "know your memes," a lot of the stuff you come across online probably verges on nonsensical.
But how does the growing prevalence of meme-speak translate into the dating world? Well, it would seem tons of young people are turning to memes as a method of flirtation.
You aren't alone in DMing a meme to your crush
Taylor, a 24-year-old from Chicago, said they enjoy flirting through memes in the early stages of a courtship. For one thing, memes can give people the opportunity to strike up a flirty conversation.
"If someone I want to talk to posts a meme, I immediately respond to start a conversation," Taylor explained. "It's an easy way to chat instead of just texting them out of the blue or talking to them at a party."
Even when things begin to get more serious, memes can become a fun way to send suggestive double entendres and move things to the next level.
In the early stages of a relationship, memes are a great way to figure out whether you gel with the person you're chatting with.
"Sometimes a person will send me something sexual that is meme-related," Taylor said. "Or someone will send me a joke about dating or having sex, and it's a way for us to communicate without actually saying what we mean."
Plus, if the feelings aren't reciprocated, a sexual meme can always be played off as a joke.
As Taylor noted, in the early stages of a relationship, memes are a great way to figure out whether you gel with the person you're chatting with. After all, if you share the same sense of humor and social values, chances are, you'll enjoy the same memes.
Ness Cooper, a sexologist and sex and relationship coach at The Sex Consultant, explained why memes are perfect for this stage of flirting: "When selecting a meme to share with another, we are likely to feel connected to the social-psychological message it is portraying," she said. "This means that when sharing a meme, we're not just sharing something we see quirky or funny, but sharing a deeper side to our personality."
On the flip side, if you find it difficult to exchange memes, it may be a sign that a long-term romantic relationship wouldn't go so well either. As Cooper said, if you aren't meme-compatible, it may indicate "you are more different than you thought."
Memes aren't just useful for striking up flirty conversations or weeding out bad matches, either. Laura Vowels, a therapist at the sex therapy app Blueheart, explained there is a psychological reason why exchanging memes can even be a big part of the process of falling in love.
"Sending memes can show someone that you're trying to connect further with them," she said. "It can form a deeper and more romantic bond because it shows you're putting in the effort to enrich the conversation."
This happened with Aaliya, a 24-year-old from South Africa.
"The first time that he slid into my DMs, he sent me a meme," she recalled. "I sent one back, and it just went back and forth like that, to the point that we were solely communicating in memes for a while."
Aaliya explained the exchange of memes made their relationship "feel special." Every meme felt more and more personal and thoughtful.
"I think in a way it did make us feel like we shared this common language—it's like we had our own little love language," she said.
Following two years of dating, the pair still use memes to communicate on a regular basis. In fact, exchanging memes is clearly a meaningful part of their bond.
"It's so funny because we actually had a fight over the fact that I stopped viewing and replying to his memes for a little while," Aaliya said.
For many people who have grown up alongside the development of the internet, memes represent a pastime and a vital method of communicating and advancing relationships. And while some people may think of memes as being superficial or inconsequential, a tailored meme exchange can quickly lead to very real emotional bonds. So go ahead, slide into that DM. Sparks may fly.