How do you date when you generally suck at the whole talking and people thing?
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man – with or without good fortune – is a genuine authority on the subject of dating. I must therefore have a hundred anecdotes of my time ‘doing the scene’: using chat-up lines, picking up women at bars, shopping for cologne that will drive the ladies wild with desire, searching for that elusive ‘one’.
So I’m afraid to disappoint (yet again it would seem). In these pages you will find no tales of hijinks nor tales of waking up at midday, completely clueless of whose bed you happen to be lying in. Instead you will find a synthesis of one person’s modest involvement in the dating industry. By looking at all the options available to the contemporary Casanova, you might even reach some form of conclusion on the entire industry, deciding whether it’s worth all the time and money. It can certainly cost a bucket-load of time and money.
Rarely does it get asked if dating is ‘the one’ itself. If you’re single and looking for a partner, it’s assumed that you just need to get off your backside and ‘date’ in order to find that special someone. But what if you’re inherently unsuited to the concept of dating? What if you’re more of a fine wine in a shabby bottle, one that needs time to show off its best qualities? What if you’re overwhelmed with all the options? What if you’re simply fed up with the absurd dating ‘advice’ from cosy, coupled-up friends?
Come to think of it, staying single might not be such a bad option after all.
A. Modern Dating
The traditional concept of a date is a get-together between two people. It’s designed to give each person the opportunity to assess the relationship potential of the other.
Hollywood would have us believe that dating should be carried out in an environment of red roses and French restaurants, but the more modern approach to dating requires suitors to be a little more circumspect. A popular option is the reasonably-priced dinner date, one that lasts for maybe a couple of hours. This provides enough time for both sides to get to know one other, without creating an experience that is likely to turn pear-shaped if things don’t go to plan. The dinner date is also carried out in a public space, thus alleviating some of the fears concerning safety and privacy.
So ubiquitous is the dinner date that we often forget other options are available. I personally like the idea of a hiking date, perhaps along a popular nature trail so the other person can rest assured that this is not some sinister kidnapping plot in disguise. I have even tried to implement the hiking idea in the past, however it tends to stall due to logistical problems. A lot of people mysteriously become unavailable during daylight hours, irrespective of whether it’s a work day or the weekend. Perhaps these ladies are vampires in disguise?
If time is limited and you’re a little dubious about the person you’re intending to meet (such as the guy who suggests you go hiking), a café is always a reliable bet. Some people like to choose a movie or a theatre show, although these seem like strange options for a first date. Once you get to know each other better, movies and shows become more of an option, but ideally, the primary goal of a first date is to spend as much time as possible with the prospective partner.
This also implies one of the most important qualities of the first date: the absence of people who either party is acquainted with. Especially busybodies and work colleagues.
Fortunately, we are not alone when it comes to tackling ‘the scene’. The modern dating industry is an enormous, octopus-like entity that touches many aspects of modern life. Delegating issues of the heart to third parties is growing in popularity as lives become more fragmented and free time becomes more squeezed. Someone, somewhere in the dating industry will be willing to offer a service for whatever you are after. A single person is a valuable commodity, and not just to prospective partners either.
B. The Dating Octopus
Next we consider five approaches to dating, all of which I have the dubious honour of being personally acquainted with:
(i) Smartphone Apps
These supposedly make dating a breeze, as easy as ordering your groceries online. It’s no surprise then that the apps have a reputation for being a ‘meat market’, populated by members who aren’t actually single and/or have no interest in finding a ‘life partner’. One night is fine by me, thank you very much.
The process of selecting dates is a simple case of swiping your phone in a certain direction depending on whether you ‘approve’ of the subject or whether you think he or she is a hopeless loser. This means you can cycle through an awful lot of people very quickly, like an airport security officer scanning people’s luggage. It’s quantity over quality, a way to give you the feeling that you are ‘dating’ without leaving the comfort of your own sofa.
In a moment of madness, I once signed up for Tinder. Like many things in the modern digital age, your Facebook account is the starting point for setting up a Tinder profile. You can then set up more dating specific likes and dislikes, but in my case, the thought of spending half an hour typing into a tiny smartphone keyboard put me off completely. So I largely skipped the set-up, preferring to let Facebook and Tinder control my destiny.
I finally got into the (ahem) ‘meat’ of the app and was able to start perusing the photos. My first prospective match popped up on screen… and my mind completely froze. Not through any Disney-like notion of ‘love at first sight’, but more due to the fact of having no idea what to do next. Should I swipe left or right? The pressure was immense. Assessing an individual on a single image alone is more taxing than it sounds. Dithering with indecision, I ended up ‘skipping’ the first person to move on to the next… only to be faced by further paralysis of the brain.
Later I discovered that the majority of people on Tinder only want the ego-boost that comes when you discover you’ve matched with someone. Most people have no intention of meeting up for real. According to a report published on the BBC website, only 21% of women and a paltry 7% of men make any attempt to follow-up after a successful swipe.
This leads me to sum-up the Tinder approach to dating very succinctly: a waste of time.
(ii) Online Dating
Supposedly a step up from Tinder and its ilk is the whole swathe of online dating websites. ‘Match.com’ is possibly the best known example, but there are many others such as Zoosk, eHarmony and the truly enormous Shaadi. The latter, aimed mostly at those from the Indian subcontinent, claims to have resulted in over five million marriages.
The online approach to dating clearly works for many. Whenever you get asked the same question for a thousandth time (‘have you ever tried online dating?’), this advice-giver will then point out that the lovely lass next door happened to find ‘her man’ through an online dating site. In terms of getting people hitched, online dating does at least have pedigree.
I’ve tried probably three or four of these sites over the years. Although I wasn’t exactly overwhelmed with attention on any of the sites, it wasn’t a complete failure either. I managed to arrange maybe half a dozen dates over the course of a year.
Still, as someone who spends too much time with computers as part of his job, I found I had little interest in spending hours in front of a screen trawling through thousands of dating profiles. And I have to be honest with myself: what you get out of an endeavour equals the amount of effort you put into it in the first place. I freely confess that I didn’t spend a lot of time on the sites, so I can hardly blame anyone else for being similarly apathetic. After a while, online dating starts to feel like work.
(iii) Speed Dating
Just typing the words ‘speed dating’ have caused me to cringe, so let’s get this over and done with as quickly as possible shall we?
Actually, this a rather like speed dating itself. Speed dating is designed to give you a little bit of time with lots of people. A typical evening might involve spending three minutes each with fifteen different people. The women typically stay put in the one chair, while the men shuffle forward from one person to the next. Once the session is over, you must then fill in a scoresheet, marking off those people who didn’t drive you completely insane. If you and your partner match each other, contact details are then released to both parties.
My cynicism towards speed data concerns one event in particular, held in London. All the men sat shoulder-to-shoulder on one side of the table, while the women did likewise on the other side, German beer hall style. When the ‘clock’ started, it was a maelstrom of screaming and shouting, possibly my idea of dating hell. After the event, I could barely recall one woman from the next, so didn’t even bother submitting a scoresheet.
Having said that, not all my attempts at speed dating have been a rampant disaster. Another speed dating event was memorable for the fact that I was seriously pumped before the event started, possibly from having come direct from a boozy work function. I thought the session went well and I even went up to speak to some of the ladies afterwards (summoning up rare reserves of courage). However, they basically ignored me, preferring to type on their mobile phones, no doubt telling their friends about all the hopeless losers at the event.
(iv) Mega Dating Events
Anything with the word ‘mega’ in its name should already be ringing the alarm bells. These are massive ‘trade shows’ featuring hundreds or possibly thousands of singletons. They usually lean towards the tacky side, with lots of syrupy pop music, red heart stickers and cupid dolls. One event even had as its centrepiece two ice fountains carved in the shape of human genitalia, one male, one female. (I guess that’s gender equality for you.)
I’ve been to a couple of these events, and can confidently say that they utterly overwhelming to a more introverted person. Most of the women attend in small groups with other female friends. Most of the men attend solo. In other words, it’s like being back on the prairie as hunter-gatherers. The fact that most of the women are rarely on their own makes it quite intimidating to approach someone. You effectively have to approach a group, not an individual. For some of us, approaching one person alone is challenging enough.
(v) Traditional Dating Agencies
Finally, I’ve even tried a traditional dating agency. These prepare an eye-catching profile on your behalf and then send out the profile to potentially interested partners. They can also be hideously expensive, especially for women, who tend to be over-represented in these sorts of agencies. I once signed up for a two year plan costing £1000. If you think that’s expensive, the women faced a sign-up cost of £2500 for the same plan.
I concede that these agencies do make the dating process as stress-free as possible. I appreciated the fact that I didn’t have to stare at a screen looking at profiles. The agency would email me suggestions every two to three weeks. I probably ended up having dinner with about eight to ten women, and I don’t recall any of them being unpleasant.
However, none of the dates went any further. Most of my dinner dates were professional ‘career women’. While I don’t object to this at all – what people do with their time is their own concern – it did turn a lot of the dates into employment interviews. Work was such a prime focus for these women’s lives, so it was difficult for them to snap out of the role so quickly.
C. A Big Fat Fail
I’m afraid the best we can offer the Running Mutty on his dating efforts is a rather mediocre C minus. Why such a poor score then?
Firstly, the Running Mutty prefers to do rather than talk. He’d rather spend his time with a good book than be subjected to puerile conversation. He doesn’t especially like talking about himself, but doesn’t mind listening to others and discussing ‘heavy issues’. Although he thinks his own life is interesting, he fully accepts that other people might not think the same. He does not want to bore people with endless war stories.
Secondly, the Running Mutty has trouble sitting still for more than an hour at a time. He suffers from a bad case of itchy feet. Even a two-hour movie is a challenge for him.
Thirdly, he doesn’t particularly do small talk or witty repartee, which tends to make the initial encounter rather stilted. Most people don’t like to get into heavy issues straightaway. Social niceties insist that you start easy and inoffensive. The agencies are probably right: first impressions are crucial. If it takes you five minutes to get cracking, you are already history.
In short: Running Mutty tries hard – maybe too hard – but ultimately lacks the core skills required for competency.
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