As increasing numbers of us go online to fulfil our flirtation quota, writer (and feminist) Polly Dunbar makes an unlikely plea...
On a recent night out with my friend Katie, we found ourselves in a pub packed full of men. As we battled our way through the
hordes to reach the bar, we noted that we’d rarely seen so many tall, attractive men gathered in one place – excellent news, you might think, for two single women who were practically the only females in the entire place.
But as the evening wore on, the advances we thought might be made... weren’t. There were no sweet but slightly fumbling attempts to engage us in conversation. No offers to refresh our drinks. Not even any wince-inducing sexual innuendos. The men’s attention was fixed firmly either on each other, or on the screens of their phones. In fact, even if we’d staged an impromptu strip-show in the middle of the bar, I doubt we’d have attracted more than a cursory glance.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming Katie and I are Gigi Hadid clones, accustomed to brushing off admirers wherever we go. But not so long ago, any woman in possession of a pulse would have been guaranteed at least one chat-up attempt on an average evening in a busy drinking establishment. Now, the days when men could be bothered to try and muster any sort of conversational gambit in the hope of pulling a stranger are gone.
Many of my other single friends report the same findings. We’ve concluded that the chat-up line as womankind once knew it, in all its cheesy, unimaginative – sometimes desperate – glory, is dead. And while some women might find this a blessed relief – let’s face it, we’ve all heard more than our share of demeaning and sexist comments thinly disguised as flirtatious banter – I can’t help but feel a twinge of sadness.
The chat-up line is the latest casualty of a dating culture in which swiping the faces of strangers on a screen (hello Tinder) has replaced talking to people in real life. And it’s not difficult to understand how we got here. Chatting up women required confidence (albeit usually alcohol-fuelled). It involved a high level of risk that the target wouldn’t respond favourably, and men who took the gamble had to get used to taking knock-backs on a regular basis. Why bother with all that effort, uncertainty and probable rejection when you can sit at home, on Tinder, making virtual approaches instead, safe in the knowledge that if one of the women isn’t interested, there are hundreds more where she came from?
The outcome from the popularity of dating apps is that many single men are now lazy. Part of me doesn’t blame them. For millennia they’ve been expected to do all the running at the start of relationships, to make the first move even if they were shy, retiring types. Now that they can craft witty repartee on their computer rather than face-to-face, the work is infinitely easier.
Unfortunately, though, just as in real life, there isn’t much in the way of clever conversation to be found on Tinder either. Instead of these apps providing a way for men to do at a distance what they used to have to do in person – make women laugh in the hope of securing a date – they’ve given everyone so much choice that we’ve all become disposable, which means there’s no real reason to make an effort to impress. Which is why Tinder facilitates far more random hook-ups than actual relationships.
And it’s why I miss chat-up lines. Like every woman I know, I’ve heard some real classics in my time, ranging from the endearing – ‘You’ve got a beautiful smile’ – to the execrable: ‘That’s a lovely dress, but it would look better on my bedroom floor.’ Even the most terrible usually provoked laughter. They were ice-breakers, designed to kick-start a conversation, and often they resulted in one.
I didn’t exchange numbers with the majority of the men who used them, but with some of them I did. Someone making the effort to come and speak to you is incredibly flattering. Even if, ultimately, their interest is based on physical appearance (just like Tinder), in real life, it still seems more real. It’s possible to tell pretty quickly if there’s chemistry between two people when they’re in the same room; far less so when they’re typing on their phones in separate locations.
As psychologist and relationship expert Susan Quilliam says, ‘Actually seeing somebody and interacting with them is a far better way of choosing a partner than going by the snapshot you get on Tinder, which often leads to disappointment when the reality doesn’t match up.’
If you’ve been reading this thinking, well, why should it just be down to men to make a move, the answer is it’s 2015, not 1955, so of course I’ve initiated conversations with men plenty of times. But Tinder culture seems to have changed men’s attitudes to women saying hello, too. Try it, and you’re likely to be met with, at best, an uncomprehending stare, and at worst, a panicked one. Why, they seem to be thinking, is she trying to talk to me? Susan’s advice is, ‘Keep trying. If you make eye contact with someone, get talking and ask questions, that’s by far the best way to form a bond.’
I suppose what I feel most nostalgic for aren’t the chat-up lines themselves, but the nights when I got talking to random strangers and the conversations turned out to be far more interesting than I’d ever have expected. Nights like those are heartening reminders that, if even the man you’re speaking to isn’t the man for you, the world is full of possibilities.
I sometimes worry that we’re all forgetting how to talk to strangers; that our increasing unwillingness to engage with people means we’re stumbling into a strange, dystopian world in which we’ll eventually do all our communicating online and order up partners like pizzas, to be used and discarded.
I can only hope that the tide will turn. Maybe we’ll grow tired of treating one another like this and realise that if we want to form genuine connections, we might have to put ourselves on the line, offline. Interact in real, rather than virtual, life. And maybe, after we’ve seen what life looks like without them, the lines we once rolled our eyes at won’t seem so terrible after all.