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The Nevermets: love is weird in this evil version of First Dates
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The Nevermets: love is weird in this evil version of First Dates

When the internet was invented nobody used their real names on it, and I am starting to wonder if breaking that covenant was a mistake. “Starting to wonder” – correction, I am fully sure that was an error. We need to go back to usernames – xX_tha_0rin0c0_Xx, that sort of thing – and anonymity and no webcams and, ideally, screeching 56k modems. The internet is too fast, too accessible, too always-on. Our phones can suck internet out of the sky and the idea of “logging off” is extinct. I am planning to start one of those one-topic political parties that always get obliterated at London mayoral elections about this, by the way, so keep your eyes out.

Anyway. As we all know, what Channel 4 excels at is documentaries that can be described as “sweet but weird”, and this week The Nevermets starts (Friday 24 May, 10pm), which is a classic of the genre. The Nevermets follows a series of, as narrator Dawn French keeps describing them, “ordinary Brits”, as they look at their phone screens and smile in bed. This is because they are all in love with someone across the world who they met in a chatroom or on Snapchat, or from extended Instagram or Facebook conversations, and – despite, in many cases, the couples professing to be in love with each other – they have never actually, you know, met. So we get to see them meet.

One curious thing I started to wonder about as I watched all these people meet each other was what this documentary would have looked like if it were made at five-year intervals over the past two decades. So, in 2004, if you told your family you were in love with someone you met online and were planning on spending all your savings flying to Malaysia to go to see them in real life, they’d attack you with a straitjacket. In 2009, as Facebook started its burbling spread out of colleges and universities, it was feasible-but-weird that you might become erotically enamoured with someone who kept accepting your daily login bonuses from Farmville. By 2014, Twitter was essentially a dating website, and everyone had been to at least one Tinder wedding. In 2019, if you told me you were in love with someone you were maintaining a 600-day Snapchat streak with, I would have yawned in your face. What does long-distance internet dating look like in 2024? Well, in theory, by now it should be so domestic and ordinary as to be tedious.

Jgoy and Sarah in Philippines.View image in fullscreen

That, of course, would be assuming that the “ordinary Brits” meeting their long-term lovers for the first time were enjoying themselves, which, in The Nevermets, they rarely are. We see Sarah meet her Filipino online boyfriend of two years, Jgoy, wiped out by two-day, neck-breaking jet lag, a complete lack of sleep and food, and the oddly haunting sentence when she gets to her accommodation for the fortnight: “I like your house. It’s very … yellow.” Jay, a sweet heavy-fringed A-level student whose favourite food is “sausage roll”, meets his Indian girlfriend Veena for the first time, and is immediately presented with a gold chain, two dozen family members and a banana leaf full of curry that he picks at limply with the wrong hand before asking if they have any fish fingers. (The pair met on a Game of Thrones roleplay chatroom and I don’t want to see a single word of the content of their previous communications.) In to-camera interviews, isolated family members close to the Nevermets tell us how, yeah, no yeah, it’s a bit unusual isn’t it, but I suppose, you know, if they’re happy. Then they fold some laundry and go all quiet.

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First Dates is one of the great TV shows because it shows you that first lightning moment when a pair of people really click, and The Nevermets might well be its evil counterpart: you see long, drawn-out instances of people who have spoken for months, years, hours every day, simmer down into churning non-small talk. Jgoy is – I think the adjective I am looking for here is “horny” – and keeps telling Sarah: “I’m going to do it to you every day until you’re pregnant.” (“OK,” she says, in response. “Thank you”). “Have you eaten?” we watch one conversation go, across continents and time zones, as she drives and he plays video games. “Yeah,” he says, while negotiating a multi-kill. “What’d you have?” “Brownie.” There are thousands of people in my postcode I’d personally rather be bored by, but what The Nevermets teaches us is not to judge. Love is weird, whether there’s a computer involved or not. Good luck to everyone.

Source: theguardian.com