In short, the constituent events of the romance masterplot can be expressed in the form we gave in the introduction: two people meet, have sex, fall in love, marry, have children, and live happily ever after
(This is generally considered to be a fairly heteronormative plot; however, we have seen it mapped onto queer couples increasingly more in recent years, not least via inscribing queer leads into generally heteronormative forms of popular culture, such as the Hallmark-style Christmas rom-com.) Not all of these milestones must necessarily occur–a couple might not choose to ;but these are still generally considered exceptions rather than the rule. These constituent events are often framed in specifically temporal terms: for instance, a couple that has a child and then later ;out of order’, where ‘order’ refers to the chronology above. The chronological position of sex in the masterplot has become increasingly mobile since the twentieth century saw the view that sex should only happen within atically less prevalent. Broadly speaking, it was replaced by a view that romantic love should be a necessarily precondition for sex (especially for women); however, this is also becoming increasingly more complex (McAlister, 2020).
These temporal concerns regularly provoke anxiety. Angus McLaren (1999, p. 220) argues that ‘[t]here emerged in the twentieth century a “right time”… to reach sexual maturity, to lose one’s virginity, to ;. Because of its recent chronological mobility within the romance plot, among other things, sex is often the locus of a lot of anxiety about the ‘right time’. This is evident in a significant amount of the conversation around dating apps, especially when the baseline assumption is that people are using them to hook up. These concerns are usually framed as moral, but they are also temporal and narrative: if sex occurs immediately after the meeting of two potential partners (ie. too early to be the ‘right time’), then, this line of thinking goes, how can a romance plot ensue?
However, these are not the only temporal anxieties provoked by the romance masterplot. As one participant indicated in relation to meeting a significant other (33 years of age, female, heterosexual, living in Sydney), ‘Certainly I get the sense that the clock is ticking… I hate that phrase, but yeah, I think it.’ As can be seen in the findings section of this article, people often feel a distinct anxiety that they have missed their opportunity, their ‘right time’, for a committed and lasting romantic relationship. We can relate this back to cultural understandings of romance and the masterplot and the promise of security and happiness it brings. The jagged love cycle, theorised below, is a direct result of this temporal and narrative anxiety, as people repeatedly attempt to trigger the narrative cycle of events of the romance masterplot (wherein the first step is meeting someone), and despair of ever managing to successfully emplot themselves in it.
Bauman contends that the twin forces of individualisation and social change which shaped modernity ‘liquified’ the solidity and security provided by romantic partnerships and family structures. A tension between security and freedom is exacerbated by these forces and creates a frailty in human bonds, with the result that enduring relationships are significantly less common. Instead, bonds formed under these new conditions are tied loosely, prepared from the onset for an easy unravelment. Bauman specifically identifies ‘computer dating’ as symptomatic of this ‘liquid love’, a place where love and enduring relationship bonds are reconfigured as entertainment, where users can date ‘secure in the knowledge they can always return to the , 65).