Love Hath a Name – But it Sure as Hell isn’t Plenty Of Fish
Valentine’s day is looming. Whether you’re into granny-porn, fireman’s-hose wrangling or tying up your testicles with rubber bands, online dating has the answer…
…I think. Maybe… Actually we’re not sure about that.
It’s February. You know what that means. Swarms of love bees have flooded the country, stinging everyone in their path. Hook up situations suddenly undergo a DTR (Define the Relationship) moment, in a bid to ensure there’s no competition for February 14 plans. That, or, one half of a duo goes mysteriously off the grid for a few weeks, to avoid DTRs, boxed-chocolates and cringy slogan cards altogether.
Also, around February time, membership to online dating sites shoots up at an extraordinary rate.
But does online dating really work? The sites of course want you to think so. Match.com reports record numbers of marriages that have resulted from their hook-ups. They also report, though, that 72% of those married couples dated for less than a year and walked into their meet ups “very optimistic” about the marriage potential.
It doesn’t take a cynic to spot the pattern. Marriage was the goal from the off and they just needed someone to tick enough of the boxes to make that happen.
What if that’s not what you’re looking for though? Does online dating have room for people with a different kind of goal?
With sites that claim to cater for every (sometimes horrifyingly precise) romantic and sexual proclivity, the odds seem ever in our favour.
However, with fairly simple objectives – there are not enough nudist dwarves out there – I’ve been surprisingly disappointed.
I hopped on the Tinder bandwagon just prior to helping Ann Friedman out with an article for The Cut, part of the New York Times Magazine, entitled, rather optimistically, ‘How Tinder Solved Online Dating for Women’.
It sounded pretty easy. No laborious profile making, no expectations (only sexpectations).
Let’s set the scene a little bit though. I’ve by and large had a decade of monogamous monotony / monotonous monogamy. I’ve loved, I’ve lost, I’ve been the cheater and the cheatee. There have been marriage proposals, fights (the bad kind and the awesome make-up sex kind) and even heart-breaking separations.
I’m pretty much not in the market for any of that for the time being. Right now, while I’m still in my 20s, the aim is mainly just to have some fun.
And this last year has been SUCH excellent fun:
— I entered into a friends-with-benefits situation with a particular sex-enthusiast friend. It developed into more of a casual relationship, with a few of the perks of romance, but none of the drama of having an actual boyfriend. We came out of it, astoundingly, alive and with our friendship still intact. Win.
— I was sleeping with a much younger guy for a while (before you get your knickers in a twist, we’re not talking cradle snatching here, he was very much legal and certainly not under-experienced), but then he fell too hard and I had to cut him loose.
— I had a hilarious, comedy holiday f*ck with one of my best friends, after drunkenly sharing a saucepan of tuna mayonnaise, at 6am, on the tiny sofa in our cramped rental apartment. It ended explosively, though nothing that we had to give up our deposit for, luckily, before we both sloped off to our separate beds and pretended it had never happened.
— I’ve even toyed with the idea of my potential bisexuality – shout outs to a particularly gorgeous female DJ.
So, Tinder, the hook-up site to end all hook-up sites (except maybe Grindr, but I’m not quite on that level), could only fuel this lusty fire of fun, right?
I don’t want to spread my wild seed all over the place in quite the way that I’ve heard some guys use the app, but I want the bare minimum of strings. Let’s put it this way, I’m not looking to meet anyone’s mother. You’d be surprised at how much of a problem this was.
I’ve been out with maybe twelve different Tinder men, so not exactly an exhaustive list, but enough to stumble across a few patterns. Here’s what I’ve found…
These are the guys that NEED a dating app to do the work for them, because their chat is so frustratingly limited in person that it’s hard to even divine which part of London they live in. One drink, move on, sorry bud.
F*ck Me, You’re Beautiful
Really, really, insanely gorgeous men. Immaculate in all ways. Literally. Sex apparently isn’t a thing.
I met this one guy, visiting from New York – a smart, ex-Harvard educated dude, with model looks and a healthy DJing career. Hot, interesting and not sticking around. PERFECT. Except no….
We had a wild night, drinking in various clubs about town. He wanted to introduce me to his mates so a group of about 15 of us ended up in The Box, watching men in basques, dangling from high places and thrusting their genitals in people’s faces. Perfect precursor to our own sexual performance, right? Nope. I can’t even remember if there was a drunken kiss goodbye.
Then there was the chiselled, unfathomably, almost cruelly attractive Parisian aristocrat. Arrestingly beautiful. Coy in a charming way. We went on THREE dates. Three. He clearly liked me, he kept coming back for more, but then nothing. I was thinking there might be a three-date-rule in play here, but when he failed to deliver on even the third date, I gave up and sent him packing. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
I don’t think you need me to elaborate too much on this one. They believe in love at first sight. They’re falling at your feet the moment you admit to having a degree/career/having read a book. You say, “um yeah I like a lot of music” and they respond with “OH MY GOD! ME TOO! WE ARE DESTINED TO BE TOGETHER…Meet my mother, let’s get a cat, would you like lilies or poinsettia at the bridal table?”
Nope, thank you very much. Or, as my sister said, when recounting one of these scenarios to her: “Kill it! Kill it with fire!”
So much for the tales of men using Tinder to further their weekly hook-up habit. Where are they?! Perhaps I’ve met a few of them, but when confronted with the same agenda, the thrill of the game evaporates and they’re left paralysed by sudden frigidity.
Enough of me. We’ve solicited three other views. There’s Bella, looking for something a bit meaningful, Josh who’s DTF and the lovely Nana, who runs popular high-end dating service: Social Concierge.
Bella Battle was my editor, during my brief stint at The Sun. A brilliant human being. Truly. So this is one of those irritating paradoxes. She’s pretty much f*cking perfect, and looking for something more than a one-night stand. But that’s exactly the problem.
So she’s in her 30s, has been in a long-term relationship, but ended it because it just wasn’t right. Proof, if ever you needed it, that she’s not one of those women doggedly trying to track down a husband at all costs. But, annoyingly, she’s placed in that category, purely because of her age and because of the fact that she’s gone online.
In her own words: “My age is a byword for emotional baggage and ovaries with an attitude problem…Being a journalist for a tabloid newspaper rings alarm bells with most men too.”
“And ‘I’m basically a bit of a dick. And lazy – you should see my room before the cleaner comes’ is apparently not what men are looking for.”
Her take on Guardian Soulmates:
“The main problem is it’s not OK to be average anymore. It’s not enough to have a job, a flat and enough mates to get drunk with on a Friday night. You have to have hobbies too – hobbies so boldly idiosyncratic they make you unlike any other person on the planet.”
“The first guy I went on a date with from Soulmates was into astronomy and 17th century harpsichord music.”
Her take on Plenty of Fish:
“It’s a lower-rent version of Guardian Soulmates – think STDs not PhDs”
She’s turned her findings into a hilarious dating blog: Bored, Alone and Geeky About Films. It’s a paragon of dry-humour and the ability to see the amusing side of any, sometimes dire, situation. Frustratingly, though, it’s probably a major hindrance to the progress of her dating life. No one, it would seem, likes a funny gal, with the ability to hold a mirror up to everyone’s flaws…even if she’s willing to do the same to her own.
This is where it all falls into place. Josh Adams is an example of the one sort of person, it would seem, other than chubby chasers and shy people on the wife-hunt, who can cleave online dating to his advantage. He’s a fit enough guy, got a great career in TV, but it has him travelling all over the world…usually camped out in a jungle for long periods of time, so he’s never around long enough to start anything meaningful and all he really wants to do is relieve the jungle-induced blue balls. Hook ups it is.
“POF is basically the chav version of online dating. Very much a quantity, not quality state of affairs.”
“I’ve got a best strategy. It’s to write two or three sentences max, specific to their profile or photos. A good trick is to comment on something in the background of their photos in a witty way. It seems to be an easy way of saying ‘hey, I perv’d on your pictures, but I took my time about it and noticed the douche in the background too.’”
His tactics are so routine, and transparent, and his regard for the women on the site so low, that he actually gave me his username and password, so I could browse his messages. I thought that might be a fun way of passing a few hours, but I got bored within ten minutes and distracted by an article about men in spandex at Sochi.
Here’s a fun story of sexual frustration though, just to prove it doesn’t always go to plan:
“Strangest date ever. Just before leaving for NZ I was at home with my female flatmate. She was helping me message girls. One of them invited me out with her and a friend. So, I met two totally smoking Romanian girls at 10pm in Hammersmith. We had a really fun time and got quite drunk. Went back to theirs with both of them…. sounds amazing right. Wrong. I slept the night between the two of them and got absolutely no action. Woke early and left as I was so frustrated! Since then the girl has messaged a fair bit asking what I want etc. I have not replied and don’t intend to.”
Lastly, but by no means least, we’re talking to Nana Wereko-Brobby, who runs SocialConcierge.co.uk, not your average dating service…
“Online dating, in its most traditional format, can be perceived as exceptionally cringe, especially when you’re trying to pitch it to people as young as early 20s who feel they don’t need it. I’m trying to get people dating, not because they need to settle down, but because the process itself is fun.”
Wereko-Brobby’s aim is to somehow cut out the cheesiness, or the “cringe” element of the whole organised dating scene. It helps that she’s exceptionally beautiful and sociable herself – as brand ambassadors go, you don’t get much better. But she’s achieving this in other ways too.
“One of the key parts of Social Concierge is ‘quality control’ and ensuring that members and attendees at events have been vetted. I like to meet as many clients as possible, so we set up coffee or cocktails to have an informal chat. If they seem right, their friends can apply through the site by way of a referral. “
“There are certain characteristics that define a SC client. We look for people between 20 and 36 who are sociable, outgoing, career driven, smart and fun. The main pull of the club is that you’re meant to feel like you’re in a room filled with friends of friends, and similar types. The focus is on expanding your social circles in an environment where everyone happens to be single. People do get together, but there have also been job offers and new friendships formed.”
The members’ club exclusivity style of this particular option removes you from the sphere of Josh-style personality-less gaming tactics. So far so good…well, if you’re hot and smart, with good prospects and kind of already have it made, that is.
There’s one last caveat. Social Concierge isn’t reeeeeaally an online dating site at all. You sign up online, have to fill out some electronic forms, you can check out potential date-venues on her handy bar and restaurant reviewing section, but it’s actually an offline agency.
“The focus is on driving people offline, into bars and restaurants as quickly as possible, for some good old-fashioned socialising.”
So it’s clearly super cool and frequented by less weirdos than POF, Tinder and Soulmates, but is it really changing the face of online dating?
When it comes to drawing conclusions, it’s all looking rather bleak:
— Hook up apps are for pick-up artists – unless you’re a girl, then you’re screwed. You’re either going to get gamed, OR you’re going to try doing the gaming yourself and end up scaring people into a eunuch-style retreat. The hypocrisy is baffling.
— Proper online dating is no less formulaic. You present the best version of yourself – usually a doctored instagram photo, you feign delightfully different hobbies, you use a couple of tried and tested hooks to get people interested, you meet them, make a decision, repeat the process.
— Fetishists and geeky wife-hunters are probably actually succeeding way, WAY more regularly in the online world than your average, ostensibly normal person. Go figure.
— Looking for a soulmate online is basically a joke. The only people who seem to succeed are those with either the most bizarre set of parameters that there really are very few people out there who match the criteria, or those who are so willing to believe in true-love that pretty much anyone who is vaguely right will become “the one”.
So, if online is off-limits to anyone sane…what’s left? It’s clear that many of us would still like a bit of third-party intervention. Maybe the answer lies in the Smeeters, Groupers and Social Concierges of the world.
In the words of Miss Wereko-Brobby:
“I genuinely believe you can’t find love through an algorithm. It’s a numbers game and it’s about optimising the conditions of your social life.”
WORDS: Tallulah FreebushImage Credits:
Featured Image: Certified Su
Lesbian sign: Purple Sherbet Photography
Woman Legs: Leanne Surfleet
Kissing Booth: See-ming Lee