Memes are now officially a love language

According to Hinge, anyway. Can you make it through the early stages of romance if you're more @loveofhuns and he's more @browncardigan? Brit Dawson investigates.

There are few things more jarring than being sent – or worse, shown in person – a meme you find cringe-inducingly unfunny. And yet, as social norms dictate, the only proper response to such a crime is to muster up a laugh, no matter how meagre and insincere, silently judging the offender in question.

Maybe you didn’t know them before and now you don’t want to. Maybe it’s a first-time transgression from a close friend, so you reluctantly let them off. Or maybe they’re showing a pattern of Liking Shit Memes, and now you’re forced to reconsider the friendship altogether.

Obviously, meme compatibility isn’t make or break, especially in friendships. I have pals who are into more esoteric memes than me, some who match me perfectly, and others who favour normie millennial memes. But your meme humour, which is, essentially, just your regular sense of humour, does go some way to predict how well you’ll get along with someone.

The same applies when it’s someone you fancy, only the stakes are higher. How’s a @loveofhuns meme going to go down when there’s potential sex on the line? Would you be repelled by an utterly generic @fuckjerry number landing in your Insta inbox? Maybe you’d like to receive a specific-to-you @socks_house_meeting meme, or feel seduced by the downright strangeness of accounts like @bad_lord_bean_bone. The flavours and possibilities are endless.

You’ll be pleased to know, then, that this once-casually observed dynamic has become so quintessential to modern relationships that it’s now being recognised by capitalist corporations. A recent Hinge report has declared memes to be the sixth love language, joining the already-established big five – words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service and physical touch – as an official way to express and experience love. According to the report, 73 per cent of those surveyed said they use memes to determine if someone has the same sense of humour as them, while 60 per cent actually prioritise understanding someone’s meme humour” before going on a date.

After all, people are increasingly meeting their partners on dating apps – it’s even been predicted that by 2035 more than half of couples will get together this way. It makes sense, then, that people are digitally testing the compatibility waters. When you can’t physically see or interact with someone, texting and memes are all you’ve got to sell yourself. A lot can be discerned from a single meme – not only sense of humour, but also a person’s general cultural interests, which goes a long way towards decking out your 2D digital persona.

They’re a great way of avoiding the dreaded, How’s your week going?’, while injecting a bit of [a laugh] into the conversation,” says 24-year-old Isabella. They also allow you to see if they consume culture and content in the same way you do.” But she doesn’t go straight in and use memes as an ice breaker. I usually wait until I know the person a little more, as I like to look for and send the kind of content I know they’d find funny or interesting.”

That’s not how 27-year-old Siana does it. In fact, the second ever message she sent to her now-boyfriend was a meme – one that she laboriously searched for after they’d been to a festival together. I sent this one about having no brain cells left,” she says. I remember searching for it while on the Megabus home, feeling rough as fuck. It’s lame and cringe but I just wanted him to think I was cool and funny. When I want to impress someone with my meme choices, I know I have feelings for them.”

A potential partner’s sense of humour – and, by proxy, their meme choices – is particularly important to Siana. I need someone to match my humour; a silly, goofy guy who sends me dumb shit that makes me laugh during a boring day,” she tells me. If they send you dry ass memes, then what’s the point?

It’s also a way to show someone that you’re thinking about them,” she continues. You don’t just send memes to anyone. They can have subtle hidden meanings, too. In the early days, my boyfriend and I used to flirt by sending [each other] ironically cringe flirty memes.”

The partners I’ve had have absolutely shared my meme humour. Those who haven’t I can’t remember, because they didn’t last long”

Siana, 27

So, how did we get here? By now, it’s common knowledge that memes have become omnipresent over the last two decades, transcending niche digital spaces to become a mainstream method of communication, as well as tools for advertising campaigns, political subversion and even the topic of academic research.

They’ve infiltrated our everyday language, too, for better (“gorgeous, gorgeous girls”) and worse (“smol bean”). This means the line between actual language and memes is increasingly blurred. It’s no wonder that we naturally lean towards meme humour – it’s a way of vocalising our shared experiences and distilling culture. It’s humour as a coping mechanism.

There’s also the possibility that, because we so regularly use memes in a self-referential way, we’ve started to rely on digital references as a way of articulating our feelings when we can’t find the words to do so otherwise.

What does it mean if you and a potential hook-up don’t have the same meme language? Well, science tells us that while a shared sense of humour is important for a happy relationship, it doesn’t always impact relationship satisfaction. Essentially, a shared sense of humour is nice, but not a necessity. The same thing probably applies for memes.

But while potential partner’s bad taste doesn’t have to be dealbreaker, it can quickly kill the mood. In the early days, it’s about figuring out if we vibe, so if you send me boomer-level, unfunny memes that do well on Facebook, then you’re going to give me the ick,” says Siana. I’m quite chronically online, so I appreciate someone who knows what the current popular meme formats are, and we can build it into our dumb real-life patter. The partners I’ve had have absolutely shared my meme humour. Those who haven’t I can’t remember, because they didn’t last long.”

24-year-old Kitty is less steadfast in how much importance she places on memes. Although she similarly considers them to be one of her love languages, she says she wouldn’t want someone to have the exact same meme taste” as her. I wouldn’t want to date someone who was [also extremely online],” she tells me. I’m very aware of how cringe I am.” She says her current partner’s meme taste is pretty different” to hers, partly because they’re extremely offline. And even though their meme tastes sometimes overlap, often they both get it wrong.

I’ve dated people in the past who I gel with so well over memes and internet humour, but when it comes down to hanging out in real life, we just had nothing to say to each other”

Kitty, 24

There’s different levels of meme mismatch, though. If someone’s meme humour is bigoted in any way, that’s definitely a red line; if they’re a bit millennial or Facebook mum, that’s probably a bad sign, but could be redeemable. If they’re similar to you in most ways, but are particularly into, say, niche music memes that you don’t understand, that’s fine – there are plenty of other people you can send your hyper-specific memes to. That’s what the internet’s for, right?

Besides, you can’t talk in memes forever. I’ve dated people in the past who I gel with so well over memes and internet humour, but when it comes down to hanging out in real life, we just had nothing to say to each other,” says Kitty. “[But my current partner and I] both find each other hilarious in real life, and I know for a fact that they have the best sense of humour. I know what I prefer.”

I’ll close with a similar story of hope for the meme incompatible. Before writing this, I searched for a specific meme in my chat history with my boyfriend, only to realise that he’s rarely – if ever – acknowledged a meme I’ve sent, nor sent one back. We’re basically internet chalk and cheese. TikTok? I love it, he loathes it. Keeping abreast of the latest pop culture trends? I once went as the fish tube meme for Halloween; the other day, he asked me who Hailey Bieber is. If I can go four years having my memes ignored and still be happy in my relationship, I’m sure you can too.

More like this

The best of THE FACE. Straight to your inbox. 

00:00 / 00:00