It was one “Nom Nom” post too far for Saj. It wasn’t the image of the Pavlova itself which broke the camel’s back but rather what it represented - seeing the meringue sitting right in front of him in the restaurant repackaged through the fake filters of social media by the woman sitting opposite him on a quest for ‘Likes’ and ‘Comments’ confirmed to him what he already knew - this was the end of the road for him and Mica.
When they first got together he overlooked the constant phone glued to her hand; face full of screened light; thumbs clicking away like some approval seeking praying mantis. They had met online, after all, so it would be pretty hypocritical of him to complain at her internet use. But to him the dating site was a means to an end, not just one of many ‘Favourites’ alongside ‘Chatsnap’ and ‘Chitter’ and ‘Click-Clock’ vying for attention every second of every day.
He let it go on those early dates as she sat there telling the world about how great their date was going and how “Nom Nom” the starter was while he sat and entertained himself by forking onion rings. She would finish and push the phone to one side in a empty gesture saying she was done with it. Then it would bleep or chime again and he could read the desperation in her eyes as her fingers itched and she reached for the phone once more like it belonged with her body.
He remembered going round to see his baby niece in those early days. His sister was knackered but excited at showing off her beautiful daughter. Her husband was equally proud as first time Dads always are. So imagine the looks on their faces when Little Lola was placed in Mica’s arms that already cradled her smartphone and Mica gave one look at the infant face looking up at her before jostling her down her arm a bit so she could see how many ‘Likes’ her new profile picture was getting. Not the first time Saj wished the Earth could open up and swallow him over Mica’s mobile use. And certainly not the last, either.
It was the fakery Saj couldn’t stand. Again, we’re all susceptible, he’d be the first to admit - his ‘Linked-Up’ profile and CVs were massaged more than a Tory back-bencher and the dating site that brought them together positively encouraged aesthetic and emotional exaggeration. But how Mica and her friends kept it up on a day to day basis was beyond him.
Girlfriends with kids would post photoshopped and filtered portraits of their domestic paradises with middle class bun making and potato printing making their home life appear like Nigella Lawson has shacked up with Grayson Perry, when the reality, of course, just like most normal human beings, was swearing at chucked Lego and nuggets under the grill. The worst example was Mica’s best friend Sam who filtered every photo to the point of plasticity and who gushed daily about how brilliant her partner Digby was with her daughter Dee. Saj knew for a fact that Digby had cheated on Sam several times and even left her when she was pregnant because another one of his conquests was also pregnant. When Sam lost the baby Digby came crawling back - leaving the other pregnant girl in the lurch to raise her kid on her own. Work that morality out. And yet to see them on social media you’d think they were The Waltons.
And then there were the other apps. Not just the filtering and photoshopping to hide the odd blemish, but the gimmicks and gadgets that can make you look like a cat or a bunny rabbit or you’re in a Hall of Mirrors. Or a cat or bunny rabbit in a Hall of Mirrors. Because that’s how far the human race has come, hasn’t it, in terms of our relationship with technology? Sure, we’re striving for cures for Cancer and we’re Zooming meetings round the planet - but it’s our ability to see what we look like as a fluffy pet that’s the real zenith of human possibility.
The nadir came for Saj when they burnt his Dad. The thing was, Mica genuinely thought she was being nice - probably. But it was the kind of obtuse, insensitive ‘nice’ that Saj could do without, quite frankly. What she’d done was take a photo of herself and Saj either side of the picture of Saj’s Dad framed in the Crem by his coffin. She’d then seived it through the usual filters and posted it on social media with the caption : ‘Al’s funeral today. Wonderful Dad. Wonderful man. Sad, sad day’ - which in itself would have been fine had she not added an emoticon of a little yellow animated face crying a big blue tear, reducing the death of his Dad to the status of a lost cat or watching ‘Beaches’!
It was at his Dad’s Wake that Saj had met Kira. Re-met, would be the more accurate description as she had been his Dad’s trainee before retirement and Saj had got to know her quite well back in the day when he came home from College during the holidays and worked a summer job at his Dad’s firm. She was genuinely grief stricken at the loss of Al, and seemed to understand exactly how he felt and would actually keep eye contact with him as they talked. And Saj was pretty sure he didn’t see her look at a phone once. Meanwhile, in the corner of his eye he could see Mica propped on a stool in the glow from her iPhone - no doubt making his Dad’s funeral portrait look like a cute little puppy dog!
Cut back to the Restaurant and the Date Night and the Pavlova deal breaker. Saj had tried to talk to Mica about it many times - of course he had - but she still thought he was being playfully scornful like in the early days and would satirise him with little comedy posts and memes. In the end, he realised, there was only one way to end it. Only one feasible means of communication through which he could actually get her attention.
People think it’s an act of cruelty or cowardice - breaking up with someone over an email or a text or a private message; and in the early days of mobile owning Saj was sure this was true. But now. With the ubiquity of smartphones virtually living in people’s heads and no chance of a proper adult human conversation without recourse to thumb icons and photo pouts and smiley faces - it was the only way.
“Mica - it’s over. I can’t stand competing with your first love - your phone - any longer. I’m leaving you for someone without a phone who makes eye contact and speaks to me. I’m willing to talk about it if you are.
PS - You were right about the Pavlova, though - it was very nice.”
After he pressed ‘Send’, he went to the Gents to give her a chance to find it amongst the Selfies and the Surveys.
Mica found it all right. It took her a while, sitting there amongst the plates, to actually compute the meaning of Saj’s message, but when she did it was like a moment of clarity for her. Perhaps she had been neglecting him in favour of technology. Perhaps, in the final analysis, when all the data and algorithms were documented and assessed - perhaps, maybe Men were better than Machines.
She would try harder. She would wait for him to get back from the loo and she would talk to him. With eye contact and everything. Mica knew she could do it.
With some trepidation, Saj made his way back over to their table. But just as Mica was bracing herself for a serious conversation her phone bleeped. Then it chimed a Notification. Then it played some personalised ironic ringtone based on a Little Mix song.
“Well?” Saj asked.
Her eyes fell from his to the phone and her fingers twitched towards it.
Saj paid the bill and left a tip and went to meet Kira in a pub that banned devices.