Considering the utter shitshow that is 2020, you wouldn’t necessarily expect dating to be at the forefront of people’s minds. Somehow, though, we have collectively concluded that meeting a stranger in a pub garden is a fitting distraction from all the chaos. In theory this is an admirable endeavour, but it’s sort of akin to walking past a burning building only to walk straight into a lamppost.
Hyperbole aside, part of me has enjoyed my first foray into dating over the last couple of months. It’s opened up a landscape that is totally new to me, bringing it with it a load of conventions and behaviours to discover. But this is a landscape in which very weird things happen, without the bat of an eyelid. Call me Alice – I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole and my wonderland is the London dating scene.
"Somehow, we are supposed to continually swipe through an assortment of faces, as if we’re playing a video game. We are playing a video game."
Last week, two of my friends, who I know entirely independently of one another, went on a Hinge date with the exact same boy within a period of four days. Another friend went on a couple of highly intense 24-hour dates (sex included) with a guy, for him to turn around a week later and declare, ‘I thought you knew we were just friends.’ These utterly insane things are happening, and no one seems to be questioning them.
Dating apps, for example, are quickly becoming the most common method through which we meet our potential lovers. But the premise of these apps is totally off. Somehow, we are supposed to continually swipe through an assortment of faces, as if we’re playing a video game. We are playing a video game. We grow increasingly numb and eventually we forget that these are real life humans with lives as infinite (and probably just as mediocre) as our own. How on earth can we believe that this lays the foundation for genuine connection?
Whether it be a product of a dating app or not, by the time you actually go on a first date, every eventuality is on the table. Tragically, I’ve found that the dates on which I perform best are the ones where I’m not really attracted to the other person. It’s only when I realise that I might actually fancy the guy that the self-consciousness comes crashing in – a narrative arc not unlike the plot of the 1955 epic war film The Dam Busters, except in this case I am the Germans and the protected resource is my emotional stability.
"...if you and said person have mutually agreed to keep things to casual sex, you are expected to accept some pretty abominable behaviour, particularly if you are a woman dating men."
If you are lucky enough to establish some meaningful rapport with another person, there is always the threat of various dating oddities to bring you crashing back to Earth. A guy I went on a first date with recently didn’t hesitate to psychoanalyse me in full . He insisted (in the throes of drink three) that I had a huge chip on my shoulder due to my relationship with my three older brothers. Brushing aside the fact that it was (devastatingly) accurate, this sudden psychoanalysis might have been fine if my date hadn’t turned around ten minutes later to maintain that he wanted something ‘really light’ from dating and that I ‘shouldn’t expect too much’.
Equally, if you and said person have mutually agreed to keep things to casual sex, you are expected to accept some pretty abominable behaviour, particularly if you are a woman dating men. Commentator Annie Lord recently posited that it is men, not women, who are ‘bad’ at casual sex: ‘you ask for the minimal amount of respect and somehow they still manage to go lower.’
More than anything, modern dating is preoccupied with binaries and stereotypes – on the one hand, there’s absolutely zero human decency and the potential for a ghosting, on the other there’s a performance of the full-blown boyfriend experience after one shag – breakfast and all. If you’re an overthinker like me, these all too common dating ‘performances’ drive you berserk. I find myself preoccupied by the frightening notion that you can go on a date with someone and become intoxicated by them for days, weeks, even months before finding out that your conception of them was totally wrong. Pessimistic though it might seem, it makes me think: are our interactions with other people simply the product of our various individual projections? Can I even trust my perceptions of another person, especially if that trust gives them the power to hurt me?
These preoccupations aren’t necessarily unique to modern dating. Long before
the dawn of mobile phones and the internet, lovers were doubtless plagued by the prospects of vulnerability, deception and misunderstanding. But there is something
"...there is something about the modern age that seems to transform the smallest of blips into utter catastrophe..."
about the modern age that seems to transform the
smallest of blips into utter catastrophe – a drunk text, a delayed reply or the wrong emoji. The stakes feel higher.
I’m self-conscious about veering too much into semi-parental nostalgia about the ‘good old days’. I was born in 1998 and experiencing teenage hood in the 2010s means you are about as far from the ‘good old days’ as possible – instead you’re trapped in an abusive relationship with bodycon skirts and kohl eyeliner. Nevertheless, I can’t help but crave a dating landscape which is not only more authentic, but holds us accountable.
Whether I will eventually end up absorbed into this sink hole of surreal social standards, I can’t tell you. Like many others before me, I probably will. I may even be convinced by it. All I ask is that you step out of the paradigm with me now, just for a second, and acknowledge just how strange it is.