(I once read that one clear symptom of being British is that it is impossible to intone the word ‘great’ without sounding sarcastic. ‘Great’ is a word most naturally reserved for sarcastic occasion. Ever since, in cross-cultural exchanges, and due to this absolute truth, I have performed a small inward giggle and self-enquiry whenever I allow the word to flutter free from my voice, which isn’t often (but the word is usefully efficient and gleefully positive, so it does get out now and then in emails, etc.); and also, unlike most of the people who self-describe their category of humour on dating sites, I don’t think sarcasm is a particuarly inspiring humble-brag, so I usually err on the side of the gentle, far more British and authentic ‘quite good’ or ‘quite nice’. Therefore, please take my use of ‘great’ in the above title as evidence of my uncertain and unstable opinion on the subject of today’s pondering.)
Note: some of the following may or may not contradict previously held views (admittedly, it’s hard to tell at this point, because I haven’t written it yet). Also, just in case it becomes necessary, I additionally reserve rights in perpetuity to contradict any of the following in future. (Good. Glad we talked about all this.)
Now, in many ways, I am the ideal candidate for online dating:
- I have an unpredictable schedule that makes meeting (or being met by) men difficult. I am not going to be found sipping tea in the same cafe every Thursday at 4.53pm; nor will I catch the same train to work every morning or meet anyone’s eyes across the office photocopier (do offices still have photocopiers? Genuine uncertainty here; I wouldn’t know).
- I am open minded, love trying things and love adventure/novelty.
- I like the idea of meeting someone I might never meet or come across in my everyday life.
- I believe that things happen for a reason, at least a hefty amount of the time, and so the sparkly part of me feels quite excited about the thought that, on the day I open a profile on a dating site on a whim, he will too (he being Mr Wonderful). We will then have a brilliant summer of festivals, nights out, private jokes and cooking together (he being brilliantly good at being delegated to, me being hands-on manager and artistic director), go on a quick holiday somewhere shamefully holidayish, where we realise we have astonishingly similar interests in and tolerance levels for snorkelling/art galleries/sun/sand/alcohol/books/freedom/conversation about the structure of the universe/background music in cafés; and, also (sidenote), when we are together, the world feels bigger, closer, gentler and wilder than ever before.
Furthermore, I’ve recommended online dating to many people over the years. I’ve had a lot of fun dating – occasionally quite ferociously – and still think it’s a wonderful thing to be able to try. Just the other day, in fact, after a long break and suddenly craving a bit of excitement, I created a profile on a popular dating site. Why not? I thought. See what comes up.
It was great(!) for about 5 minutes, drunk as I was on the ‘search’ function, but, after a mere 24 hours, I closed my profile again. Here’s a quick (/long) rundown of why (I hope you’re sitting comfortably):
I think it’s a reasonable rule of thumb that any ‘fresh meat’ on a dating site gets a lot of interest and my inbox did explode, rather… However, 97% of the messages I got were ‘hi’ or ‘hey’ (hardly heart-flipping communication), one was ‘you again, let’s see if I make it past two messages this time’ (er, sorry? This is awkward) and after a scattering of copy and pastes that seemed utterly irrelevant to me, showing no evidence of having read what I’d written along with an ardent desire to marry, and a few other things, I also received the following gem (I almost wish I’d screen-grabbed it now, for posterity, and not simply replied with constructive criticism before deleting my profile):
‘Hey. Let’s smash open the ice by you telling me about your mother. I find knowing what a woman is going to be like in the future can be either a turn on or off-putting for me, so it’s important for me to know. Then I can tell you about my father.’
I think the oddness here (let us join hands and remember: this was his opening message!) is only magnified by the fact that it’s almost not that odd. I quite enjoy people who don’t spend years on small talk. I’ll give him that. However, I also value a jolly decent mindset (one that doesn’t talk nonsense, revealing a sub-par understanding of the nature of inevitability) and not one that reeks of arrogance – the implication that I ought to be aiming, first and foremost, to impress this magnificent upstart by jumping through his weird hoops, at his generous guidance, so that he might better evaluate my potential success in reaching the second stage of his potential interest (I wonder what the second level of analysis would require)! So, anyway, let’s just say I smashed that ice, and all the assumption that went with it – and, also, in a P.S., kindly informed him that my mother happens to be lovely.
Hhm. I don’t think online dating is for me at all, even despite my initial love for it. Ah, bullet points, how I love thee:
- I really don’t have a type when it comes to physicality or anything much at all in the sense of circumstance or detail (the last few men I’ve been interested in have been different races, from different backgrounds and with different accents). If friends are reading this and raising their eyebrows, I will admit here that height is important to me, a fact which I have traditionally felt enormous guilt about, but now blame entirely on my family background, the men of which are all at least 6’1, so this must be an instinctive, Freudian thing over which I have no control. Kthankssorry. But really I think that’s sort of it; I like beauty, yes, but find it in quite unexpected and diverse places.
- The traits I am far more interested in and find compelling – things like presence, curiosity, kindness, confidence (the quiet, not loud kind), integrity, leadership (I reserve the right to be a feminist and love a man who is fiercely masculine, who knows how to take the lead now and then so I can take a rest from being strong just occasionally; I don’t care if it’s an uncomfortable word for some; I stand by my love of fire-starting polarity), humour (but writing ‘I have a really great sense of humour’ is not sexy, BTW) and unconventional thinking – these are all things which can’t successfully be expressed or self-acknowledged or judged through an online profile. This means that attempting to be interested in the presentation of a person online is about as productive for me as spinning myself around in a dark room and trying to imagine a future with the man I end up facing. A website algorithm really doesn’t increase the odds of success. It can, certainly, make for some really pleasant evenings with men who have ticked similar interests to me (and how pleasant many an evening has been!); it just doesn’t up the chances of the je-ne-sais-quoi rush you get from unexpected connections with (what I find often to be) the most unlikely candidates, because, for me, that level of connection is completely unpredictable and not common. What I am interested in is how I feel when I am with someone, and that bears almost no relation at all to anything expressible by text and a couple of photos.
- Related to the above, having ‘fun’ is nice, but deeply-irritatingly (for myself) I happen to have this terrible disease called ‘what’s the point if I don’t feel a real connection?’
- In my imaginary romantic utopia, which I frequently frequent, I am not in a board room with a clipboard, asking pertinent questions and nodding at rehearsed and careful self-representations, weighing up my interlocutor’s suitability for the role. I’m probably out in a garden, actually, or maybe on the set of Kenneth Brannagh’s Much Ado About Nothing. I think I have mentioned my discomfort with offices. I also stopped catalogue shopping quite a while ago (I prefer ramshackle markets).
- I’m weirdly happy being single anyway. I know this. I’ve even worried about it, occasionally. I love the idea of having a man by my side – really I dream of it, but I also quite enjoy things exactly how they are and won’t be devastated if it takes years to find someone I connect with on various levels. I’m a bit like a clichéd man, actually, in the sense that I tend to focus on my own projects and goals and get quite busy and preoccupied with that. I only mention this dare-I-say-it-contentment to explain that online dating can feel like quite an effort, at times (after a long day, I don’t want to have to feel guilty for not replying to a deluge of ‘Hey’s for fear of risking the ‘you again.Let’s see if…’s – etc.). Meanwhile, because I am simultaneously an enormously trusting-in-the-universe sort of romantic, and quite a huge fan of divine timing (luv his work), I quite stubbornly don’t think finding what was meant for me all along has to involve the heaving of myself into website boxes if website boxes aren’t particularly inspiring at the time. I hope my future person doesn’t mind that I’ve been quite busy and not put the effort in to find them; I hope my previous stints have shown that I have sorta tried a bit.
So yeah, basically: height, presence, gardens, fate. That kind of thing. I’m not sure you get that through a website. I reserve the right (as mentioned) to have a quick click sometime again in the future, perhaps… but for now, I’m kinda busy dontcha know.*
*Unless Mr Wonderful knocks on my door, with a secret knock (plus maybe a declaration of his real name).