Opinion: How TikTok’s dating story time trend offers a glimpse into the sometimes weird world of modern romance
The following opinion piece by PhD candidate, Lisa Portolan, Institute for Culture and Society, was first published with full links on The Conversation (opens in a new window).
In the ever-evolving realm of social media, TikTok has emerged as a dynamic platform that has reshaped how we engage with content and share our personal romantic stories. Within this vibrant ecosystem, one phenomenon has caught romance raconteurs’ attention: dating story time.
The #DatingStoryTime hashtag has transformed into a virtual stage where users narrate their dating experiences, weaving a colourful tapestry of narratives that mirror the complexities of modern romance.
To unlock the depths of the trend and its impact, I examined a series of TikTok accounts that actively employed the #DatingStoryTime hashtag. My research encompassed several crucial dimensions: the milestone that users discussed, the situational context and the audience engagement.
Milestones, context and comments
The study explored the nature of milestones discussed in the TikTok videos, which ranged from the excitement of a first date to the heartache of a breakup.
Another vital aspect was the context in which users chose to share their dating stories. Were these stories recounted during everyday activities, such as knitting, breakfast or makeup application? This sought to unveil the ordinary scenarios that users engaged in as they participated in the dating story time trend.
The study also delved into the responses generated within the TikTok community, examining the types of comments and interactions these videos attracted. Were users met with support, trolling or a blend of both?
Scrutinising the audience’s reactions provided insights into how this trend influences perceptions of dating.
Humour and horror in dating
Among the TikToks examined in the study, many showcased humorous tales from first date experiences. These stories often revolved around socially awkward behaviours, such as unwanted public displays of affection, conflict about paying the bill or other unusual behaviours.
In addition to recounting in-person encounters, users also shared quirky and entertaining dating app conversations. These interactions offered a glimpse into the early stages of modern romance in the digital age – weird and abrupt, filled with ghosting and often strange or unwarranted sexual and personal requests.
Some TikTok users opted to compile their dating experiences into aggregated summaries. For instance, several users created a lighthearted PowerPoint presentation summarising their dating adventures throughout the year 2022. The presentations included statistics on first dates, compatibility ratings and even the types of dates, ranging from movie nights to weddings.
Subverting dating norms
Overall, the study revealed a challenging of cultural norms in relation to dating. TikTok influencers within this space often subvert conventional dating norms and invite their followers to engage in discussions on difficult topics (like consent) and invite them to demonstrate support.
This is exemplified by users who share stories of boundary violations and encourage their audience to deliberate on whether such behaviour constitutes a red flag. These discussions are conducted in a humorous, ironic way. But they also cut deep and tell a powerful, validating story about modern dating.
Most TikTok users participating in dating story time recorded their videos in ordinary and intimate settings. This practice not only mimics vlogging video blogs but also fosters a sense of intimacy, friendship and community.
By sharing these experiences in familiar surroundings, TikTokers extend their digital reach to a broader audience, creating a culture of care reminiscent of real-life interactions with close friends.
The comments section on TikTok offers a unique space for further negotiation of romantic milestones, support networks and audience engagement. Users can reinforce or challenge behaviours seen in dating experiences, thereby creating or disrupting communities of care.
TikTok has also emerged as a platform for addressing issues such as sexual racism, where users share and challenge stereotypes they have encountered on first dates.
TikTok’s #DatingStoryTime has the power to normalise the idea that dating is a journey filled with potential missteps and pitfalls. It is also a space where inappropriate behaviours should be called out.
Risks and rules
TikTok’s subversion of cultural dating norms fosters a culture of exploration and encourages viewers to challenge conventional ideas of love and connection.
Similar to the characters in romantic comedies who are willing to take risks and break the rules, TikTok influencers within the dating story time space are altering perceptions of dating and relationships.
In the spirit of humour, camaraderie and cultural critique, #DatingStoryTime on TikTok has evolved into a space where romantic cultural norms are questioned, challenge, and reconstructed.
Through humour and authenticity, TikTok is reshaping the narrative of modern romance, allowing users to share their stories, build coalitions, create safe spaces and ultimately reclaim agency in the world of dating.
In a digital landscape characterised by irreverence and absurdity, TikTok’s influence on contemporary dating culture is undeniable and its impact continues to be a subject of fascination and exploration.
13 September 2023
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