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Tilda, Online Romance and Unexpected Connections

Tilda, the second film from Shorties, a gal-dem series of short films by POC filmmakers is a nearly 7min film that sees what starts off as an online cam show transform into a meet-cute. When asked who he’d want to fuck alongside the cam-girl, the client responds “old white chick [who]…played a mother to a little evil ass kid.” The cam-girl, whilst gracefully swaying to the music, deciphers this vague description to be of Tilda Swinton from We Need to Talk About Kevin.

The short film sets up what we think will be a pretty mundane sexual experience with a manufactured sort of intimacy- the engineered nature of this exchange enhanced by the camera work constantly reminding us that the interaction is virtual.

It abruptly changes once the client offers that he finds Tilda Swinton sexy and that he would “beat the brakes of her ass.” The latter is said with the kind of intensity reserved for things we are decidedly into. When the performer admits that she too, fucks with Tilda Swinton, we are quickly launched into that familiar space we go to when we first realise someone shares some bizzarro fascination we have. At first you are shocked that a sentiment you thought was specific to you also exists in someone else’s world, and then right after, you cosy up in that space the two of you are now sharing by diving into a conversation about it. It’s such an acutely intimate feeling for someone to recognise something about you, and be able to reflect it back in a way that makes you feel understood. Because truly, what is more you than whatever odd desire you currently have? Or in this case, whatever older white celebrity you want to fuck.

There is so much promise, so much possibility after that initial connection. What else do we have common? Can we do this again? What will this connection grow into? The short film ends right before the point at which my curiosity hits its peak; what happens next after this serendipitous moment?

Sabrina*, a journalist from the UK once commented on an Instagram workout post by a mutual follower from Kenya. Her comment initiated a back and forth of sharing workout routines with each other before the two eventually swapped Whatsapp numbers. “Lockdown hit and since then we somehow fell into the habit of sending each other voice notes everyday,” Sabrina* details, “maybe 3-4 minutes long- we say whether we exercised, what our mental health is like, our nutrition, our mood.”

She tells me they have never met prior and only started following each other on Instagram because of their mutual interests on an entirely other app, Twitter. That it is their shared passion for exercise (and politics too) that became the bedrock for a consistent connection via voice notes seems unanticipated. “It is the most pure connection I have felt in a long time,” she reveals.

There is something to be said about the connections that grow to inhabit space in our daily lives- that transcend the initial spark and seek a little more permanence. What struck me about this story is all the series of choices the two made to keep it going. The initial realisation that they are both really into working out is perhaps the only part of the story entirely out of their control. The rest of it though, sounds like a daily recommitment to stay in touch; it’s deliberate.

Of course, there is some kind of safety to being this deliberate over the internet (as opposed to face-to-face and perhaps even on a phone call), ”I do feel that part of the reason we’ve been able to be so vulnerable and honest with each other is because it’s virtual.” But it is also this safety net that makes a little more reassuring that the eventual face-to-face interaction will be just fine. “I think we would meet for sure and I think it would remain pure,” Sabrina* confirms.

For Nissa*, a DM response to a tweet about music birthed a relationship they didn’t see coming. Unlike with Sabrina*, this is someone they knew but had never interacted with in this way. “The [online] space they offered me felt super familiar...we found ourselves bonding on topics and experiences that made us super vulnerable.” She details the “reciprocity in creating and sharing space for expression, grief, joy, bad days,” that she has been able to experience within this connection. Nissa* tells me that beyond texting, they have also video called several times as well as watched documentaries and films together over zoom, and that she looks forward to eventually meeting up.

It stands out to me that she stresses on the ease of their interactions. To find this kind of comfort in online spaces is not unheard of. Different groups of people have carved out pockets of spaces on these apps to confide in each other in a way that can often feel like you’re talking to people you’ve always known really well. I think of folds of spaces where people, with their almost already established lingo and etiquette, are able to divulge the kind of experiences that only make sense if you share an uncanny amount of experiences in common. A little like when someone from black twitter tweets about a memory from their childhood that is both extremely specific to them, as well as universal to black kids almost globally- like the danish tin with sewing appliances or the ice cream container with frozen stew.

I imagine this is magnified when there are only two people in a fold. “A familiarity that cannot be explained,” as Nissa* puts it, and also one that perhaps shouldn’t need to be explained. Put simply: if you know, you know. How lucky is it to connect with someone who *knows* off the back of a DM response?

For Chloe*, what began as an initial connection via DM response transcended beyond the virtual space. Towards the end of last year Chloe* lost her mother. Grief made her already tedious schedule nearly impossible, and she began to resent having responsibilities- a consistent one being having to care for her three dogs. Following a vague tweet alluding to her exhaustion, Chloe* received a DM from a friend of a friend, offering to take the dogs on daily walks for her. “Honestly, I wasn’t sure how serious she was until she actually showed up at my door the next day.” One day in the midst of planning logistics for the pickup, Chloe* gathered that her now good friend, was also dealing with loss, “but while I would have done anything for just some alone time, she really wanted the distraction of not having to be alone for those few hours a day.”

When I asked Chloe* why she hadn’t asked someone in her life to help her out with her dogs, she responded that she didn’t want to feel like a burden. A lot of people have poked fun at those that use twitter as a pseudo-diary. To me, the obvious reason this feels favoroubale is the fact that it can be far easier to vent to the ether when you don’t quite want to subject anyone in particular to your venting. The responsibility of having to care and respond is spread out thinly across your followers, as well as whatever other twitter user the algorithm has decided needs to see your tweet. Naturally, when someone actually decides to take up the responsibility to respond, it's surprising. “I can’t believe she even offered. Everyone is dealing with their own problems so the fact that she was willing is crazy to me. I’m just glad she enjoys it too.”

For others, the connections weren’t quite as wholesome, albeit still very enjoyable. 24 year-old-Marissa* attended an intimate virtual poetry night hosted by a classmate. Here, she met Joe* who she describes as “so goddamn sexy” and whose poem “literally wasn’t cheesy at all.” She bravely decided to shoot her shot with a joke via the personal chat option on zoom and right after the event they jumped on a zoom call of their own where they spoke for hours and exchanged almost every social media handle possible before hanging up. The next evening he reached out via text and this time things got real steamy, real quick. “I realise how wild this sounds but I shit you not maybe two hours into the conversation, we were sexting.”

Unsurprisingly, a lot of singles in lockdown are as Chante Joseph puts it, are “living through a double-dip sexual recession.” And for some the lack of sexual intimacy has not been for lack of trying. Marissa admits that she was willing to break lockdown rules to meet an ex sex-buddy if it meant satisfying her needs. So when she hit it off with her sexy poet, she was more than glad to let this escalate. “I mean in the beginning it was pretty regular stuff,” Marissa explains, “but then we started trying new he got me a toy and we would just get really open with what we wanted from each other.”

It may very well be coincidental, but it’s hard to ignore the fated nature of a connection that satisfies a super specific and current desire you have, whether you realise you have it or not. What all these stories and Tilda have in common is that they serve as a reminder of how good it feels to experience such tender reciprocity from another human being. Ultimately, it absolutely skewers whatever is left of the already disappearing idea that virtual interactions are less authentic than in real life ones.

*names were changed.

Directed by Ray Smiling and written by Konyin Ayuba.


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