Already, the lip bite has taken on a life of its own. It may not have made a sound, but it was the gesture heard round the world. As Meghan Markle took her place beside her betrothed inside of St. George’s Chapel on Saturday morning, Prince Harry whispered, “You look amazing.” And then, friends, he … bit. His. Lip!
As lip bites go, it wasn’t showy. It was ever so slight, understated enough to be appropriate as the queen and stuffy Church of England vicars and archbishops looked on. But it was unmistakable: He did bite his lip at us, sir. Probably most of us would have missed it if it weren’t for one curious side effect of the social media age: It has rendered us all experts, or at least attentive students, in the art of body language, an audience eager to use the instant replay tools at our disposal to endlessly analyze and re-analyze the most minuscule interactions of famous people.
In the first hours after royal lip was bitten, Twitter users posted it gleefully, along with raunchy commentary on the order of, “That lip bite! Oh Meghan getting pregnant TONIGHT” and “Oh you know he bout to smash them royal biracial cakes to smithereens.” NBC discussed the lip bite on air, with anchor Savannah Guthrie mentioning it prompted her to text her husband with vague feelings of jealousy.
The lip bite wasn’t the only viral micro-moment to come out of the wedding. There was also a fateful thumb stroke and umpteen secret smiles and giggles. Together, they all serve to confirm, for social media users who want badly to believe, the narrative that Harry and Meghan’s romance is real. Tweets like these use language out of fanfiction, but royal watchers could hardly be accused of the sin of taking the couple they’re “shipping” too seriously; instead, it’s more like they’re projecting the sky-high, starry-eyed expectations of a fictional relationship (indeed, a fairy-tale one) onto a very real couple. That’s particularly notable when it seems Harry and Meghan’s actual relationship, with shared interests and a commitment to charity work, is much more a cozy, familiar modern one than royal matches have been up till now.
It all contrasts sharply to that other couple whose tiny gestures social media users have been prone to overanalyzing lately. In public appearances with her husband, first lady Melania Trump has been caught several times seeming to reject holding his hand and recoil from his touch; it was enough for the Root to dub her hand “the most defiant member of the Trump administration.” Though a lip bite seems objectively very different than a hand swat, there’s folly in focusing on either one as the ultimate decoder ring for the relationship as a whole. We do it because we’re desperate to confirm our pre-existing narratives: that one couple is in love (and also that love still exists in this broken-down world, period), while the other one is a sham. What can look like a careful breakdown on Twitter thanks to video evidence can turn out to be more about us than the couple at hand. So go ahead and daydream about that lip bite—but don’t delude yourself into thinking you really know what it means.
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