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Last updated at 12:17 GMT, Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Love in the age of Twitter

Shane Warne and Elizabeth Hurley

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Picture the scene. It is dark except for the dim yellow candlelight; it is silent except for the scratching of a pen. A young lover pours out his heart in a letter to his loved one, who, days later, tears it open with a beating heart and in the strictest privacy.

The love letter has an important place in our cultural imagination, but does it have a place on social networking sites and microblogs? What is the shape of 21st century courtship?

A man writing

Samuel Barnett as John Millais in a recent BBC TV production

The end of 2010 saw the kindling of a romance between the Australian cricketing star Shane Warne and the British model Elizabeth Hurley on the social networking site Twitter.

Hurley and Warne didn't just update their relationship status. The celebrities exchanged flirtatious messages in public, before Hurley had announced the end of her marriage to Arun Nayar.

So can a tweet ever count as a grand romantic gesture? Judge for yourself, with this recent message from Hurley to Warne about her parrot Ping Pong:

"Baby Ping now says 'Hello Darling' and 'Hello Little Girl'. Sweet!"

But although the pair have flirted openly online, in real life they still enjoy their privacy. Special screens around Warne's home prevented photographers from snapping the couple during Hurley's visit to Australia last week.

Questions about the article

What phrase means to be really honest about your feelings to someone?

To pour out one's heart

What is an old-fashioned word meaning the relationship between a couple before marriage?


What word literally means the starting of a fire?


What adjective describes being romantic but not serious?


Now practise your pronunciation of those words:


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