Going on a meeting with a stranger that is prefigured as a “date” gives you permission to ask outlandishly personal questions, which is how I learned fascinating things about a man who grew up in an extreme religious sect, a C-list BBC celeb, an ex-naval officer, and the saxophonist in the touring band of an ageing rock star. I didn’t fall in love with any of them but, gosh, what a bunch of characters. I would have met none of them in my local.
I am great at job interviews and I’m sure that online dating has influenced that: once you’re proficient at having an hour-long conversation with a stranger over a beer it’s not a far leap to do it with one over a desk.
It’s so much easier to get drunk with a stranger who can’t hurt your feelings when it feels like there are hundreds of other people in your pocket who adventist singles in principle could be better than the person you’re with (everyone you haven’t met is better). Online dating may have (sort of) solved the supply challenges of romance, but it hasn’t solved the biggest problem of all: emotional intimacy takes hard work. It means allowing yourself and your partner a kind of vulnerability that is often regarded as a sign of weakness and a source of fear. It’s still the case that nothing is less socially acceptable than admitting you’re lonely and longing to be loved.
Remember the guy who I picked from a catalogue? After two dates he cancelled the third with an email in which he described a fanciful scene wherein he’d arrived home from a weekend away to find his best friend sobbing in his flat, declaring her undying love. “Can we be friends?” he concluded. I was upset. Ten years later, I’ve learned to remember that if things don’t work out with someone I’ve met online, it’s less likely to have anything to do with me and more likely to be related to the many years of real-life experience that he had before we met.
In my early days of dating online I reckoned that I should give men a chance if I found their messages tedious but their profiles intriguing. “,” I’d think. But the ones that I doubted beforehand never turned out to be men I wanted to get to know in person. If they don’t intrigue me with words before we meet now, I delete them.
In theory, it should be easy to find a relationship online because there’s a presumption that the other people you’ll come across want one, too. That’s why you’re there. In practice, mutual attraction is not enough: you also have to want the same kind of relationship at the same time. The most successful relationship I’ve had from online dating was a six-month liaison with a French sanitation engineer who, like me, was at a transitional stage in life when he was friendly but not interested in commitment. Having this in common with my ami avec des avantages was as important for sustainability, if not more important, than any other measures of compatibility.
Last winter I signed up for some gym training. Lo and behold, there was an attractive single man of appropriate age in my class. Each week, the flirting increased. First, he complimented me warmly on my discount Gap leggings. The next week, he volunteered to pair up with me in an exercise. In the penultimate week, he hit me gently in the face with a piece of equipment (by mistake, I think) and took it as an opportunity to caress my forehead several times. “This is happening!” I thought, but when the class ended and it was time to part, he just pulled out his phone and stared at it, frowning and silent, as if hoping that a photo of me would appear on the screen. I never saw him again. Except, of course, on Tinder.