The Princess and the Peach Emoji: A short history of expressing love online

The death of the peach emoji and Twitter's #DMYourCrushDay show that the ways in which we flirt online are constantly changing. 

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In the seventeenth century, a Welsh man who wished to demonstrate romantic interest in a lady would present her with an intricately carved wooden spoon. The existence of the Lovespoon – reminder: an actual cooking utensil used to indicate desire – provides a nice-counter argument to anyone who thinks Tuesday's international #DMYourCrushDay signified the death of romance. 

For those who don't religiously follow trending hashtags, as of this week, 1 November is the official day for Twitter users to send a direct message (DM) to people they fancy. The hashtag couldn’t have come at a better time, as just hours before it started an Apple update revealed that the once butt-like peach emoji now no longer looks like a butt at all. This is a problem because the peach – much like a carved heart on a Lovespoon – is symbolic. A well-placed peach alongside a phallic aubergine emoji is the modern equivalent of Romeo tapping on Juliet’s balcony window.

“Declaring love in non-verbal ways is nothing new,” says Dr Joanne Meredith, a social and media psychologist at the University of Salford. “People have always communicated love in a written way.” Meredith argues that the ways in which technology and social media have changed romance are not necessarily negative. “The same psychological processes are going on online; we just do it in a different way.”

The downside to communicating online, however, is that there is no tone of voice. Meredith explains that a group of theories known as the “cues-filtered-out” theories posit that online communication can often be misinterpreted because of a lack of facial and verbal cues. “The downside of sending a message online is that you don't know how that person is going to read it,” she says. “A receiver of a message can interpret it in their own way.”

But perhaps the lack of social cues in written text is precisely why, over the years, we’ve developed concrete, online-only ways to say “I love you.” Although Meredith argues there is as yet no evidence to support this, she does note that the development of certain, specific meanings for emojis could be a way to combat the lack of cues online. Though Lovespoons and locks of hair show people have been coming up with new romantic tokens for centuries, the internet seems to have sped this process up. Over the last 20 years, a multitude of online “I love you”s have flourished and died. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

 LOL c.1993 – 2000

Before it was used as a non-committal way to end a conversation with someone trying too hard to be funny, “LOL” meant not laugh-out-loud but lots-of-love. This caused much confusion for mothers everywhere during the early Noughties transition. And David Cameron.

  Animated kiss emotion c.2000-2009

Years before the subtle symbolism of the peach emoji came the completely unsubtle animated kiss emoticon – complete with sound effects. MSN users could send this to one another to hint (heavily) about their affections.

 MSN “listening to” c.2000-2009

Shyer MSN users could use the instant messaging service's “listening to” option to showcase to their friends the music they were currently playing. At the moment you were talking to your crush, for example, you could change the song to one that was romantic or happy in nature, hinting at your affections. 

Top 8 c.2003-2008

MySpace's “Top 8” feature allowed people to display their closest eight friends (organised from best to worst) proudly on their profile. Slipping your new boyfriend or girlfriend into that number one slot was easily the biggest rite of passage in any Noughties relationship. 

 Share the Luv c.2007-2009

Not content with ruining friendships everywhere by allowing teenagers to select an “Other half”, the social media network Bebo introduced “Share the Luv” in the late Noughties. The feature would count the number of “Luv” hearts a user had received from their peers (and therefore goes at least some way to explaining millenial self-esteem issues).

Facebook official c.2009-2013 

Although Facebook's relationship status is still available as a feature, in practice, people are less likely to use it than ever before. For a short while, however, being officially “In a relationship with –” your partner was the hottest part of any love affair.

 Peach emoji c.2010-2016

While the heart eyes emoji is probably the most prolific emoji version of “I love you”, the peach was a very reliable iteration of “I want to touch your body.” Long may it rest in peace.

 DM slide c.2013-present

In a rare case of the medium being more important than the message, casually sliding into another person's Twitter inbox is the modern walking-up-to-someone-in-a-bar. With the stamp of approval granted by #DMYourCrushDay, it may be a while before this trend dies.  

Amelia Tait is a freelance journalist, and was previously the New Statesman's tech and digital culture writer. She tweets at @ameliargh