Half-Hearted: When It Comes To Dating, When Did We All Start Being So Horrible To Each Other?
The Debrief: A frank discussion about sex, love and monogamy in the digital age...
It’s happened. I have a dating column. I’m officially Carrie fucking Bradshaw (if Carrie Bradshaw lived in Hackney, on a budget and dated men who have lots of MDF furniture.)
More on that later…
I am hoping, in my own little way, that writing this column will dispel some of the stigmas that still persists when it comes to women writing and talking about sex and love. I’ve been told time and time again that writing about dating isn't ‘proper’ journalism, to some extent I can understand why. Low hanging fruit as such topics are, women’s publications in the ‘90s did a pretty good job of bulldozing the topic straight out of the integrity ballpark and into the lowbrow arena with ‘How To Please Your Man’ type features. Yes, ‘tut, tut, tut’, but, still, I can’t help but wonder if dismissal of the topic doesn’t reek just a little bit of sexism.
Love, good sex, casual sex, orgasms, relationship - all impact our mental health, lynchpin our existences and help determine our overall happiness until death do we part from this world. They are issues that shouldn’t be sneered at, or dismissed as ‘women’s lifestyle issues’ pfft! Just as Brexit will affect us all, modern dating practices affect all of us - gay, straight, bi (or trying it), recently singled, just wed, or contemplating cheating - at some point and can cause great anguish. And, in less than a decade mobile technology has caused a kaleidoscopic multiplication of what being with someone in 2017 entails; dating culture today is as repetitious as it is disorienting. Even for digital natives like me and probably you if you’re reading this the landscape of dating and relationships is now evolving so quickly that every day is a brave new world. This year will be my fifth consecutive single year, and I think I might be drifting up Jacob’s Creek without a paddle.
Now, let me set the scene: I’m sat, facing a wall in Hackney (that's East London just in case there’s actually anyone out there who doesn’t know where it is) looking at a picture of Jamiroquai that I printed out yesterday and I’ve just made a pot of tea. It’s from here that, our journey into the world of London dating begins.
And the big question is this: when did we all start being so horrible to each other?
One industry that has either ignited the fluid-dating trend or cashed in on our footloose and fancy tendencies, depending on your perspective, is the booming business of dating apps. Ohhhhh- ‘dating apps’. Do sexier words exist in the English language? Yes, yes they do, because dating apps are essentially sterile Pinterest boards filled with strangers (with potential back hair) who may or may not be your next lay. Worse still, these stagnant pools are (potentially) poisoning our interactions; making me [and you] into a bad person.
That’s quite a claim isn’t it. Let me share some context as to how I’ve arrived at this conclusion. I often make excuses that start, ‘It’s not me, it’s 2017, everyone’s a dick’. You see, despite what the resurgence in popularity of Sex and the City courtesy of viral memes would suggest, it’s not 1998 anymore. No one has time to have a date on a Friday night with someone they don’t know (as if), and if they do - maybe run because they obviously don’t have enough mates.
No one meets their future wife at their friend’s dinner party. We are not living in a Richard Curtis film. Nobody has the time to sleep, exercise, party, relax, make it to that exhibition everyone’s talking about, or see their parents whose faces they’ve all but forgotten. So, texting them - the stranger danger you drunk-swiped right on - back falls about 105 places down on your iNotes.
Whether we want to admit it, or not, dating apps have given us all carte blanche to treat the people in a way (I hope) we wouldn’t dream of treating someone we know IRL. I know I am not alone in this bad behaviour. When the topic arises amongst friends one person admits that if payday is still a week ago, she might ask ‘x’ from Happn if he’s free for dinner. I feign shock, but know that in the past I’ve messed app-romances about too; using them as a means to an end and occasionally, just full throttle ignored them with no explanation after an encounter. Which, by the way, doesn’t stop me from being comically offended when I’m on the receiving end of such shitty behaviour.
It is important here to add a serious side note too. Everybody is talking to multiple people at the same time on apps and this fuels our low-grade behaviour. Do not kid yourself. You are doing it too. And so, we’ve all become a lot more dispensable to one another, complicit in a game of virtual Top Trumps. We’ve become professional window-shoppers, constantly wondering if our next match might outdo the last and never being able to shake the feeling that the grass will be greener.
Apps provide a different greenhouse for relationships (weeds) to blossom under than say, meeting someone at a party might. I am unlikely to meet a magician or a Neo-Nazi through friends, but on Happn it’s very feasible. It is also impossible to evaluate how attractive you’ll find someone via three flattering photos (if you don’t believe me read this) . Impossible, but nonetheless, we’re using apps do a lot of the legwork now. No one chats anyone up at a bar or flicks through a yellow pages to find a number anymore. People born after the year 2000 will never know the feeling of waiting outside an Ocean cinema genuinely not knowing if the date you arranged via your dad’s phone two days ago will arrive, i.e. ‘I have never needed to wee so much in my life’.
This is not to say that apps haven't spawned real, true love. My best friend lives in Israel with a wonderful man she met on Tinder. Another friend of mine has a baby with a girl he met on Bumble. I think my point is more aimed at those of us who aren’t using apps in an earnest pursuit of romance. What initially began as dating services have dissolved into something more borderless. I know apps are often used by my peers like panic cords in warden flats. Feeling blue? Chat to a stranger. On a comedown? You basically have UberSex in your pocket, so feel free to use it. Drunk? Here are three people to hassle. Been spurned? Go on a date tonight and don’t pay for anything. Sunday? Go sex-free sex shopping. Last week my flatmate and I were in Tesco when I recognised a guy. I couldn’t place where from and, then, it hit me. ‘Jesus fucking Christ, he’s off fucking Tinder’, such is the ubiquity of using an app today.
Apps show no signs of abating, and why would they? They’re a more convenient way of meeting a mate than we could ever have hoped for. We’re walking around with Argos catalogues filled with future partners (sexual or otherwise) in our coat pockets. But as much as they have solved the problem of how to meet people, they have created a whole host of new problems.
I’m sorry if this is a bit of a downer, I’m sorry if it sounds really dismal but using and abusing someone on an app only makes you feel good for a short period of time and the potential to actually hurt someone, however removed they might seem, is very real.
Last year I wasn’t very vigilant. I was unkind to someone (even if I didn’t realise it at the time) and I hurt them. Then, they hurt me and I regret it - a lot. I know people who have put themselves in such compromising positions via apps that it makes my stomach flip. One friend went and stayed with at a stranger’s flat one night when we were on holiday in a foreign country and we didn’t stop her. I’ve had friends fancy themselves in love with people they’ve only chatted to online. I know men who have sex with different girls four times a week thanks to apps, just because they can.
Now is the time to resurface. I’m not petitioning for anyone to stop using dating apps, nor am I calling the second ‘Tinder apocalypse’. But, I really do think we all need to come up for air and take a moment to assess our own bad habits. Oh god, I’ve ended this in a really serious way. I don’t know how to finish this without a crude repackaging of the old maxim: ‘treat others as you would wish…’ you know how it goes. I just think it would be a good idea for us all to take a step back and ask this: what do we actually want from dating apps? Does using them make us feel more good than it does bad about ourselves and our behaviour?
We’re more connected with other people than ever before but are we actually connecting with them?
In short: be wary, be kind and, most importantly, always use a condom.
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