Romance Is An Online Game Now And The Internet Is The Playing Field

From Discord to Venmo, here are some of the ways people have tried to find love.

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Spring has begun to melt away the last of cuffing season, and the dating game is now afoot. But between Tinder swindling and West Elm Caleb, cynical online flirtations might have you wondering if it’s possible to meet someone at all.

Finding love is not limited to dating apps, as people are meeting their partners all over the World Wide Web. From Twitch channels to the Target customer support chat, digital platforms not designed for dating have been hotbeds for falling in love, too (or making friends, as the Cut previously reported).

Ray Russo, 23, met her current boyfriend in 2019, on a Discord server for tarot-based dating simulation app The Arcana. They discussed the characters from the romance-based interactive role-play, bonding over their mutual interest for the story.

“A few friends started to make a separate, smaller server and asked if we wanted to join,” she told BuzzFeed News. “Eventually one day he asked if I wanted to date him. So I said sure, and he sent me a DM later confirming that we were now partners. And I said yes.”

Though it’s not explicitly a dating app, Discord has increasingly become a platform for people to make romantic connections. Sydney Hoang, 19, said it’s partly because of the pandemic. “It’s been hard to meet people, considering school is online and everything is closed,” Hoang, who said her friends have met people on Discord, told BuzzFeed News.

Getting to know each other online meant lots of messaging and watching movies over screen share, and for months they texted back and forth on Discord. “Babe what if we kissed and we were neopets,” they would write to each other. Finally in 2020, Russo’s boyfriend flew from North Carolina to Los Angeles for their first IRL date at Universal Studios. “He’d never been before, so it was fun to show him around,” she said. They hit it off, but soon after, the COVID pandemic began.

Because of the pandemic, most of their relationship has been on Discord, but it’s evolved over the DMs. “I feel like this will be us when we get married,” Russo wrote, sending a meme from The Big Bang Theory. They even met their third partner on the same Arcana Discord server, and the three of them met in person in November last year. “It was the best thing ever,” Russo said.

The throuple hopes to move in together someday, though Russo said their plans are up in the air until they can live closer in proximity and make a little more money. “It felt nice to meet online, because we didn’t know what the other looked like, so we got to know each other’s personalities,” she said.

Ashley Kennedy and Ryan Kennedy.
Courtesy Ashley Kennedy

Ashley Kennedy, 35, met her husband 14 years ago on an Internet Relay Chat channel for World of Warcraft. Two children and a house later, she agreed that getting to know each other’s personalities online was part of why they’re so compatible.

“We were in the same alliance, so we started talking because we were a part of this larger faction discussion,” she said. “You have nothing to lose when you’re just talking to someone online — you don’t have a social relationship to maintain, you can just throw it all out there and be your honest and authentic self. It’s almost like an online confessional. We could vent about our real lives because it didn’t mean anything to the other person.”

They met at a sushi restaurant for their first date, which Kennedy said was incredibly nerve-wracking — it was her first time meeting someone she’d only known online. “With dating in person, attraction comes first and a relationship comes second,” she said. “With this, you’re not seeing each other face-to-face, so your relationship is all you have. I feel like you have a stronger relationship early on because you’re only connecting on what the other person is saying. In person, you might be distracted by what they look like or how they’re chewing or any kind of idiosyncrasy about how they present themselves. Online, it is higher risk, higher reward. We got lucky.”

Courtesy Ava Alexis

There are also ways in which the physical and digital realities come together. Ava Alexis (who asked BuzzFeed News not to share her last name to protect her privacy), 26, was asked on a date via Venmo after a stranger covered for her at a cash-only soup stand in Michigan. “Hey this is a little goofy but would you wanna hang out sometime?” he wrote on her payment. “Let’s grab a drink, or maybe some lobster bisque!” At the time, she told BuzzFeed News, she was heartbroken after the end of a yearslong relationship and was flattered to be asked out so unexpectedly.

“It gets exhausting [on dating apps],” she said. “Sometimes I’d get motivated and go on multiple dates in a week, but then none of them work out, and I’d just give up.” The Venmo date invite came at the right time for Alexis, and it wasn’t part of the oversaturated (largely horny) profiles on dating apps that can tire anyone out. And while Alexis said things with Soup Venmo Boy (my moniker for him) didn’t go beyond one date, it was a cute story that she said she thinks fondly of.

The culture around romance has evolved as virtual connection becomes the new normal for meet-cutes — 30% of American adults reported to have used a dating app in 2020. It’s birthed a unique dating environment, with its own set of rules and expectations and vocabulary. Terms like “soft launch,” the phenomenon of posting a new relationship on fleeting platforms such as Instagram stories — before “hard-launching” onto the permanent grid — doubled in searches over the last month, according to Google Trends data. Viral memes such as the Hinge voice prompt and relationship red flags have become a part of the modern dating landscape. Finding love is an irrevocably online game now, and in many ways, it’s allowed for love in ways that you least expect.

The internet is your oyster, and hot girl summer is upon us once again.