Why David and Liza are the Ross and Rachel of the digital age

David and Liza’s break up video has been viewed more than 15.6 million times. 

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Remember Ross and Rachel? She was a popular, pretty high-school cheerleader, he a geeky boy with unfortunate hair and a love for dinosaurs. It was an unreciprocated, unrequited love till fate brought them together again in their 20s, one half hour Friends episode at a time. 

But then Rachel got herself a successful career in fashion and Ross got jealous – it was the 90s, men weren’t woke then. They decided to go on a break. Ross, in a shocking twist, slept with someone else that very night! A teary confrontation later, they broke up on 20 February 1997. And people on their sofas around the world were left wondering: if a couple as perfect as Ross and Rachel couldn’t make it work then is love even real? What hope is there for the rest of us?

Just a few days ago, on 4 June 2018, the world witnessed yet another breakup of that magnitude. Liza and David have broken up after being together for about two years. They had actually parted ways about six months ago, and only now told us they weren’t together because they wanted some time to process what was going on. They’ve assured us that they are still friends, that the break up was amicable and that they had nothing but respect for each other. In the two days since it was published, their YouTube video “we broke up” has been viewed more than 15.6 million times. 

For those of you who don’t know Ross Geller and Rachel Green – you were not one of the 50 million people who watched the American sitcom Friends at the height of its popularity in the early 2000s.

For those of you who don’t know Liza Koshy, 22 and David Dobrik, 21 – they are a pair of social media influencers who, among other content, create YouTube videos about their lives for an engaged audience of over 20 million followers between the two of them.

They met, fell in love, had their first kiss, swapped anniversary gifts and eventually broke up all in front of this audience – many of whom have taken to social media to grieve the uncoupling. If a couple as perfect as Liza and David aren’t together anymore, they wonder, then what is love? Is love even real?

There is of course a difference between Ross and Rachel and David and Liza. The latter two are real people. Or are they? If I knew nothing about the human race and had just landed on Planet Earth from elsewhere in the universe, I’m not sure I would be able to tell the difference. Both pairs are characters in stories that we view on screens. Both are there to entertain, and part of this entertainment is weaving narratives of love that their viewers emotionally invested in. Both couples hugely profited monetarily by our consumption of their story – while Ross and Rachel collected cheques using their aliases David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston, the YouTubers get a cut of ads run on their videos and sell merchandise, enough to be rumoured to each be worth several million dollars. 

Does it really matter that the latter are a pair of actors reading from a script and role playing on a set in a studio, while the former is a couple of “real” people making videos on a cell phone in their own homes and Tweeting daily updates to followers? Unless our last name is Schwimmer, Aniston, Koshy or Dobrik, we may only ever see these people through a screen. Can we say one is more real than the other?

The Liza and David romance has been critiqued for making a private relationship public entertainment, with questions raised about the dangers of taking real life itself to the screens. But I wonder years in the future when all that is left of our times is a series of digital narratives, will our descendants even be able to tell apart the sitcoms, from the Vines, from the real lives and loves? Perhaps not.

Salonee Gadgil is on the editorial team at Creative Review magazine. She co-hosts a talk series called The Swipe Hype: a modern-day salon held once every quarter in London to discuss the dilemmas of dating in the digital age. The next episode is on  20 June 2018, tickets here.