CHARLOTTE RUTHERFORD/CLARE GILLEN

The Internet Is For Lovers

Presenting VOL.UME: Love Now, a series of stories chronicling how we search for, find, and experience romance in a culture where everything is filtered through a screen

A funny thing happened when MTV News began building this series of stories about love and relationships: Mine ended.

As my four-year companionship reached its sunset, my comfortable cocoon of perspectives on dating, sex, and partnering up completely cracked, thrusting me into terrifyingly unknown territory. In those four years, how we date and find connection has changed entirely. The ever-growing hive of dating apps tailors to any niche desire. Ghosting has a whole squad of bitchin’ friends, like Caspering and Zombie-ing. And there are all sorts of murky laws on how to slide into the DMs, who pays for the Uber, and what it means when someone doesn’t text you but definitely stalks your Stories.

I’ve realized something in the process. While society tends to ladder everything up to finding The One, as if partners and marriage are the solutions to all our problems, I find myself on the opposite side of my relationship status with no greater or fewer questions about life than I did before. Just different ones. In particular, “How are we?” became “Who am I?”

We’re all just trying to feel ourselves out in relation to those around us, and that’s what this package is all about. VOL.UME mines the meaning of dating, having sex, and falling in love for a generation of new adults — from getting hitched to looking for answers in the stars — navigating a culture where everything is framed by a screen.

It’s as Arabelle Sicardi poignantly writes in her fascinating report on the struggles of online dating: “The internet didn’t change the way we meet others — it’s designed it entirely.” This means that while finding romance is potentially just a tap away, the simplicity of swiping left, rejecting someone without really knowing them, is leaving many of us feeling lonelier than ever. For couples who use Insta-fame to make money, business is booming, but sharing your relationship with the world can be an extremely tricky balance. Meanwhile, the sweeping impact of FOSTA/SESTA on the digital landscape makes what you can share, and what kind of work you can do, increasingly limited.

Despite its hangups, social media has fostered a positive spirit of togetherness and inclusivity that informs much of the media and institutions we cherish. The characters of romantic comedies are more authentic and diverse than ever, allowing many of us to see ourselves in the flicks that show love at its most beautiful for the first time. Unlike generations before us, we’re defining marriage for ourselves, and that definition no longer conforms to the cookie-cutter of heteronormativity. Our universal need for self-love is finally reflected in the music we consume, as Lizzo, Ariana Grande, and Tove Lo inspire us to gaze inward before looking outward.

Always remember that the journey to find that love within yourself is hardly a straight path, even for those who seem to have it all figured out. For global superstar Liam Payne, whose dating life has been devoured by tabloids internationally, it meant reconsidering everything he thought he knew about being a partner and a dad. As the One Direction alum’s debut album approaches this December, he’s a man with nothing to hide, discovering joy in the freedom of defining his life on his terms. For rising pop princess Kim Petras, it came when she turned breakup bitterness into the punchy kiss-off anthems that made her album Clarity one of the year’s most exciting debuts.

If there’s one thing you should take away from these stories, it’s that nothing in any relationship — with others, with ourselves — comes without a lot of work. But there is also value in the process of discovering something new and exciting about who you are. With every tap, swipe, and click, a lover’s landscape feels nebulous and ever-changing. It can be hard, but I promise it’s worthwhile. Welcome to VOL.UME.

Welcome to VOL.UME: Love Now, a new series of stories chronicling how we find and experience romantic connections in the digital age. For the full experience, head to volume.mtv.com.