Like so many singletons out there, growing weary of set meal A for one person and perching on the end of trestle tables at social events, receiving pitying glances from glowing couples, I caved to the constant pressure from friends and family to delve into the murky, unchartered waters of online dating. I had indeed been holding off, waiting for some epiphany at a bus stop or coffee shop, but losing patience with such a hollywood encounter, I made the conscious decision that it was high time I put myself back on the market. I figured given the bountiful amount of dating apps and matchmaker websites which promise the perfect union, creating long-lasting, meaningful relationships should be a given. Love is now a commodity to be found, not by chance meetings or through a friend of a friend, but by trawling through online pictures and examining digital profiles. In a bar on a Friday night we would meet two, maybe three, members of the opposite sex but here we have the whole single market sitting on our lap, just a swipe away from Mr or Mrs right. My weapons of choice were Tinder, Plenty of Fish and Bumble (all free ones you’ll notice. Well, I’m not made of money) and I must say, if nothing else, they were marvellously enjoyable. The apps are all very social media savvy, playing on our love for the ding of an “x person likes you” and what started as a gentle toe dip quickly became a one or two hour-a-day fascination.
The first port of call was to create my own, extremely flattering, personal brand of PR management, the profile. Now, the photos we upload to the designated site tend not to be the everyday snapshots of real life. Preference tends to lean towards those rare ones which catch us in just the right light, hiding our imperfections and promoting our qualities, while doing an activity which portrays us as thrill seeking adventurers, even though it was actually only a long weekend with family members in Aberystwyth. By creating profiles which boast our love of travel, exercise and companionship, we build up a splendidly inaccurate view of who we are and as a result, the meeting in person can be somewhat flat as there is a realisation from both sides that the reality is somewhat warped from the online presence. After a sip or two of coffee, one date, clearly distracted from my attempt at stimulating conversation, butted in with “I’m sure your nose wasn’t that big in your picture”. Not having a retort other than an embarrassed laugh, I necked my flat white, said my goodbyes and went home to examine this gargantuan snout. My personal PR campaign was just too solid and expectations were clearly not met, leaving us both feeling a little short changed from the whole affair.
Another issue is that of physical chemistry, the strange sensation that makes us want to touch the other persons elbow within seconds of meeting them. It’s such an unscientific, unexplainable phenomenon that merely viewing a picture or even exchanging flirty texts seems to have little or no bearing on whether or not this spark will come to life. One particular date stiffened ever so slightly as I awkwardly lent in to kiss her cheek upon meeting. Again, the rest of the date was null and void, and we spent the next half an hour making superficial small talk until we could both leave and she could presumably disinfect that particular cheek. When we meet people in everyday life, we can sense if there’s something there and act upon it, and it means dates are never over before they’ve begun. Let’s not forget that we humans are fragile creatures and two or three bad dates will often have us giving up on the whole notion and looking into breeding gerbils or investing in multiple sets of pyjamas.
I also found that online dating limited my ability to go out into the world and meet new people. I fooled myself into thinking that I was being far more proactive by signing up to multiple apps and websites as though this is the only feasible avenue to meet and date. Often I found myself politely refusing a friends get together and spending that evening scrolling through profiles online, assuming that I was more likely to find love in my darkened living room than a bustling social event. Whereas there’s no harm in using these digital methods, it shouldn’t overt us from using more traditional techniques and engaging with real people whose elbows are just waiting to be playfully brushed. As cliche as it sounds, taking up a hobby that involves a class or has a social aspect is an absolute breeding ground for new interactions and new relationships. It’s almost inevitable that you will have common ground and meet like minded people if you both enjoy similar pastimes. And even if you don’t feel the immediate pang of cupids bow, these people have friends and their friends have friends so before you know it, you’re being exposed to new people with little effort or resolve needed on your part. I managed to offend a potential partner before we even began our date, trying to be chivalrous, I opened the door to allow her to enter, not realising that this was, according to her, a chauvinistic act, implying I was somehow suggesting she lacked the mental or physical capabilities to move in and out of rooms. As the tortured evening played out, it quickly became apparent that we had a totally different belief structure, conflicting moral codes and almost no common ground. By getting out there and experiencing new people and places, the chances of such a clash in personalities drops to nigh on zero.
Online dating apps and websites entice as they have a rapid-fire, instant gratification appeal to them and as well as this, they are worryingly entertaining. They definitely do have benefits and may well suit certain people depending on what it is they are looking for and how much time they are willing to invest. I have friends whose professional lives are far more demanding than my own and they enjoy the ability to have brief encounters which they can fit smoothy into their busy schedules. However, like most technological advances, I became too dependent on them and forgot that more organic, tried and tested methods still exist and are just as effective. There is a great deal that is subtle and nuanced about human interaction, subconscious gestures, nonverbal communication, pheromone activity to name but a few and, for me, to simplify it to likes, swipes and websites seems reductive, artificial and somehow inhuman. By changing tactics, ditching the apps and taking people up on sociable offers, I quickly met someone I immediately clicked with at an event I may have previously shied away from. My six months in the online dating world was at an end and although I had some beautifully cringeworthy anecdotes to entertain friends, the overall take away was that online dating somehow takes away the thrill and mystery of meeting new people by creating generic caricatures of ourselves through our online profiles and causing too many confidence sapping misfires which have us running for the safety of our box sets and netflix. I’m sure there are many out there who have had far more positive outcomes but for this old romantic, you can’t beat the “eyes meet across a crowded room”, no matter how long it takes to come around.