Instagram, Millennial Dating and Ambition: Author Hannah Orenstein on ‘Love at First Like’

Screen Shot 2019-08-06 at 9.34.35 PM.pngLook, we’ve all been there. We’ve had a little too much wine, gone on social media and did something we maybe shouldn’t have. We made a dumb comment, shared a questionable meme, accidentally liked a 83-week-old photo of our ex’s new girlfriend’s cousin’s best friend, posted a fake engagement photo to hundreds of thousands of followers when we’re drunk. Ya know, the usual.

Us millennials, especially us younger ones, have spent our entire teenage years and adulthoods learning how to swipe through life. From Snapchat and Instagram stories, to Facebook and Twitter feeds, to dating apps like Tinder and Bumble, it’s easy to get caught up in obsessing over post after post after post. Having an “Instagrammable” relationship is all the rage, and sometimes that comes at a cost, as what happens to Eliza in Hannah Orenstein’s sophomore novel, Love at First Like. Eliza is shocked to learn an accidental Instagram post announcing a fake engagement skyrockets sales at her jewelry store. The questions is, how long can she keep up the guise until her followers figure out the fiance is missing?

We sat down with Hannah to learn more about her writing process, social media, the balance between relationship and career, and more.

Congratulations on Love at First Like being released! How does it feel?

Thank you! It’s an exciting time. When my first book was released, everyone told me that there’s nothing quite as magical as your debut book launch, but I’m thrilled about the second one, too. It comes on the heels of Instagram influencer Marissa Fuchs’ viral engagement, which so closely mirrored the themes of Love at First Like, so I feel like this book couldn’t have launched at a better time.

Were you worried at all about the sophomore slump? If so, what did you do to combat that?

Truthfully, I was. After writing and publishing my first book, Playing with Matches, I knew exactly how tough the process was, and that made me nervous to settle on an idea for my second book. I tested out a few different ideas by writing five or ten thousand words of each one over the course of about a year. But when I finally hit on the idea for Love at First Like, I found that I had so much fun writing the first few chapters — I knew this would be the winning idea. (And for any writers out there dealing with the sophomore slump, once the pressure of figuring out a second idea was lifted, brainstorming became a thousand times easier. The idea for my third book, out next summer, came to me in a snap.)

Neither of us has read a story about jewelry store owners! What was the thought process behind that?

After I sold my first book, I wanted to celebrate by buying myself a piece of jewelry. I researched jewelers on Instagram before ultimately settling on one (Greenwich Street Jewelers) and found myself down this rabbit hole of jewelers who have massive followings on Instagram and who function almost like influencers do. That concept really fascinated me, and at the same time, I started thinking about how ironic or frustrating it might be if you were a single person who made a living selling engagement rings. Love at First Like came from those two ideas.

Instagram is seriously one of the trickiest forms of social media. Something like this can totally happen. Was the idea that we can create havoc on social media, and sometimes when we’ve been drinking, the catalyst for the story?

To an extent, yes! I was also interested in exploring the phenomenon of how Instagram can sometimes make people feel as if there’s a certain pressure to present or perform your personal life in a certain way online. Do you share a little bit? A lot? How do you know when it’s the right time to introduce a new significant other onto your Instagram grid? And as a follower, what happens when an influencer is candid about their personal life? Does that make you feel more connected to them? I love social media, but I also know that it can create a lot of anxiety and stress. Eliza’s story was the perfect opportunity for me to write through all of those questions, while also writing a story about ambition, love, and sisterhood.

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It’s also such a fantastic tool for anyone looking to launch a brand in the way Brooklyn Jewels did. Things escalated so quickly for Eliza once that post went live and it was obviously intoxicating. Was that meant as a glimpse of how far Millennials are willing to go for their brand to succeed?

I love that Eliza is so ambitious. She makes some questionable choices while fulfilling her drive for career success, but I was curious: how far would someone like her go to achieve their dream?

As we were reading, we realized how easy it could be to make a Bachelorette style casting call via dating apps if you were really pressed. How fun was that to write?

Definitely fun! I won’t say which ones, but a few of the dumbest lines that the men in that scene utter are pulled from my real nights out at Dorrian’s, the bar Eliza and Carmen visit that night.

Blake is such a dream, but you knew that at some point she had to tell him about everything. Did you know always know when that would happen? Or did it change throughout edits? 

I always knew that she should come clean to him, but I wasn’t sure when. In the first draft, she waited longer, and the timeline of the book was a little different — but I like this final version better.

Eliza is so stuck on Blake that we kept help but notice how she doesn’t catch on to Raj’s feelings. But something we enjoyed was that you didn’t present it as two polar opposites. Both Blake and Raj are great at what they do and have found success on their own terms; something Eliza can respect and find attractive. Was writing them on a somewhat level playing field instead of as polar opposites intentional?

They’re polar opposites in terms of the way they make her feel, which was intentional. Eliza knows that the two men are very different, and she deeply considers what her life would look like with each of them, were they to have a relationship. In doing so, she has to also consider what her values are and what she really wants out of life. That’s one of the aspects of dating that interests me most — dating can also be an act of self-discovery.

Something that really works in this is not only its modernity, but its relatability. Schemes aside, the dating world is like a minefield for Millennials. Were you hoping readers would be able to see themselves in that aspect of the story?

Yes! Whether you’re single and dating, annoyed at your ex, feeling the pressure to get engaged, or happily in love, there’s someone in the book whose love life hopefully mirrors yours.

Eliza is at the heart of this story and it’s her ambition to see herself as successful in business rather than a relationship first and foremost that we see highlighted. Did you want to put career above love in this? (Because we’re here for that.)

Eliza is tremendously passionate about her career, and at times, she’s tempted to put it above love. By the end of the book, without giving too much away, I think it’s safe to say that she realizes that that’s a false dichotomy — ambition and success don’t have to be sacrificed to also enjoy love and intimacy.

Before I even had the idea for Love at First Like, I knew I wanted to write a protagonist who was confident, capable, and ambitious. I wanted to write someone who had her shit together. In my first novel, Playing with Matches, my protagonist Sasha is 22, fresh out of college, and new to the professional world. She faced impostor syndrome, insecurities about her age, and the overwhelming sensation of feeling lost while trying to grow up very quickly. Her character development was important to me, and I loved writing Sasha — but I knew that my next protagonist would be her polar opposite, in some ways. I even chose the name Eliza because of the intense, long vowel sounds. I really enjoyed writing a character who wasn’t afraid of her passion, her drive, and, yes, her love of her career.

We can definitely say that we’re guilty of going through Instagram and looking at those perfectly targeted engagement ring photos. So, tell us. What are the best pages you’ve found in researching for Love at First Like?

Great question! I love @victorbarbonejewelry, @erstwhilejewelry, @ringconcierge, @stephaniegottlieb, and @marrowfine.

What are you reading right now?

I’m halfway through Summer of ’69 by Elin Hilderbrand. This is my first time reading her work and I’m hooked!

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