He cancelled an hour before we were due to meet with a mysterious fever that had just set in. “Unless it’s Ebola,” I wrote back, “I’m hard pressed to know how a fever sets in so quickly.” We did not reschedule.
I had been dating for the last two years, but started taking it seriously only in the last eight months. In those months I’d treated it with newfound commitment – and, to an extent, vigour. But my efforts were not met with results: I reached a dating wasteland for four months, because the guy I was talking to would either cancel or vanish on the day.
I asked my friends and colleagues what on earth was going on – I didn’t understand it. But they just said that this was modern dating. I was merely in the all-too-familiar landscape of trying – and failing – to meet someone in 2019, with the blame largely assigned to dating apps.
A recent survey revealed that 40% of men on apps use multiple apps, they spend more time swiping than women, are more likely to right-swipe than women. Yet the same survey also found that 25% of women on apps haven’t been on a date in six months – and I can believe it.
I’ve come to believe that it’s due to a combination of pretty miserable factors – one being that saturation of too much choice renders people indifferent, flaky and jaded. And whereas before, when people met through a network of friends or family, now it’s a free-for-all of dick pics and ghosting because there is almost no social accountability.
Aside from the obvious – that the men cancelling on me were idiots who didn’t deserve me – the most common response was that I just needed to keep things light and breezy and ‘not care’. Apparently, I needed to ask guys out rather than waiting for them to ask me out (despite this being a tactic that has NEVER worked for me), and I needed to be as indifferent as they were.
The prospect of neutering myself emotionally in order to date, made me not want to date at all. Having dated some great men (and terrible ones), and having also been married to an amazing guy, I know that one of the best feelings about dating is actually that you do feel. Yes sometimes it’s intense and unpredictable, but compared to the autopilot of work and socialising with the same people, it’s reassuring to feel something, anything.
For the first time, I felt like I didn’t fit in with whatever modern dating was becoming. Was I being old-fashioned?
Someone said ‘quit dating apps’ but quite honestly, I don’t see how else I’d meet people, and the problem with modern dating isn’t necessarily all down to apps. Frankly, dating has always been mirror of social evolution. As societies adapt, change and are shaped by progress and technology, so does romance.
For instance, I am sure that back in the day, there was an uncomfortable transition between asking someone out via a handwritten letter to making a telephone call. Or meeting your partner in the local pub versus your parents’ drawing room.
But there does seem to be a new level of indifference and detachment to modern dating, that almost seems unprecedented.
I asked Sharan Dhaliwal, who is the editor of Burnt Roti magazine (https://www.burntroti.com/) about her experiences. Sharan is bisexual, and she said: “I’ve been on dating apps for casual hook ups for about a year but it’s only recently that I’ve started taking it more seriously.
“The problem with apps though, is that it’s based on aesthetics over personal connection and my busy and impatient self can’t hold a conversation on an app to get to know someone. It’s too impersonal – they become a photo, not a person and it becomes easier for me to dismiss potentially brilliant people. I’ve actually cancelled almost every date that has come my way because I talk myself out of being involved with the photo I’ve been briefly talking to.”
The disposability of dating, met with the ‘keep it light and breezy’ advice sometimes runs the risk of lowering your standards. Concerned that I might have had unrealistic expectations, I started agreeing to dates I would not normally have done, with fairly meh results.
I asked Shannon Murray, who is an actress, writer and disability campaigner. We regularly swap stories of our dating disasters, and she agreed with me.
“I did go through a phase last year of 'lowering my standards', whether that meant going on dates with guys I wasn't really that interested in or accepting poor behaviour from someone I liked. I then woke up to myself, I'd rather be single than with someone who didn't rock my world and correspondingly that I didn't rock their world.”
A big problem for me, is also the rhetoric that accompanies dating. I understand, for instance, that at work, you have to tidy your emotions away in order to appear professional. But the advice that you should appear to be aloof and indifferent when it comes to romance simply doesn’t work for me, because that’s not true to who I am.
Whether it’s purposefully delaying a reply to someone’s text message, or not being truthful about my emotions, just seems to feed into this grand lie that we have about dating. If I want to see someone again, I’ll say that I want to see someone again. If I want to reply to someone, I’ll reply to them. Anything less than that doesn’t fit the expectations I have of myself when dating, and it sure as hell doesn’t fit the reciprocity I expect in return.
Plus, if everyone subscribes to this notion of pretending to not give a shit, surely we run the risk of never going on dates, ever?
I decided that since it takes twice the amount of energy to pretend to not care, I’ve decided to be upfront with my emotions and simultaneously, I don’t entertain the wastrels who seem to want to text endlessly with no intention of meeting up.
Since then, I’ve had a few dates in the last month, and each of them – while they haven’t always translated into second dates – were great in their own way. For me, a good level set was to remember that the volume of actual dates before apps, weren’t very high. You had to physically meet someone in person, arrange the date and slowly progress from there. So what might be perceived as a lack of dates is actually still higher than before they were created.
Because there is a higher volume of people, and because what you mostly have to go on is a WhatsApp interaction, it can can create the false idea that if it doesn’t work, then you are the one who needs to work harder at it. Which inevitably means accepting behaviour you aren’t comfortable with.
“I don't need to be celebrating when someone replies to a text within 48 hours,” Shannon says. “It literally takes seconds to reply to a text, even just a f**king emoji.
“I appreciate I sound like I was born in the 1930s but ghosting after prolonged correspondence is my biggest bugbear. I just think it so cowardly and rude. Have the courage, respect and manners to simply disengage politely.”
Rather than being made to feel old-fashioned or high maintenance, what it should do is offer an opportunity to consider what you do want from another person. And what is it about them that you do consider worthy? That, to me, isn’t old fashioned. It’s just common sense.