Dating in the 21st Century.
Five years ago, I arrived in London. Fresh off the boat, I rented an apartment in Victoria and met up with my cousin, a seasoned Londoner living in Notting Hill, within my first week. She knew all you needed to know about surviving in the city as a single female in her early forties.
Following a few bottles of Malbec and winding down to a nightcap of whisky, we got into what really matters: love and all its complicated accessories. My cousin could not emphasise the necessity of an internet dating app enough. ‘How else could you meet a half decent bloke in the big smoke?’ she asked. I was recently out of a long-term relationship and had not considered internet dating until that point. Ever.
Within moments, she had me registered with a free dating site and was providing eccentric and witty answers to the site’s otherwise generic profile questions. When I answered, ‘The Alchemist’ to the question ‘What is your favourite book?’, she typed, ‘Shantaram’. Both are an enlightening journey, the latter possibly a little more nail-biting.
Italian food, my all-time food delight, became ‘Cambodian or hand wrestled crocodile meat’. ‘How will you stick out amongst the masses?’ she impatiently queried.
For those viewing my profile, I was a single woman in her early forties who had grown up in Africa avoiding wars and famines, arrived in Europe when she was 30 and sailed the high seas as a pastime. Now I was in London working for a multi-billionaire mining tycoon, who, with the help of my efficiency, was set to light London ablaze. There were tiny glimmers of truthful facts taken from my otherwise very mediocre life in that. With a flash of her phone camera followed by an edit and Instagram filter, I had photos to accompany my colourful bio. You would be foolish not to at least give the profile a read or, better still, leave a like.
She smiled, put my phone down to rest, lifted her glass of whisky and chanted, ‘Cheers, cousin, welcome to London!’ I smiled, took a sip and watched my phone dance across the table, vibrating and lighting up like an emergency call centre amid an earthquake. Men, boys, grandads and husbands hit ‘like’, left comments and even suggested dates.
The following morning…
Whilst nursing an unplanned hangover, I looked at my ‘admirers’ and my representation to the ‘world’ a little more closely. After a few phone calls with my romantic prospects, I realised that I was possibly not ready or adequately prepared to carry out the charade of such an exciting individual and deleted my profile.
A year later…
I was talking to colleagues at lunch and the subject of internet dating came up. To my surprise, I learnt that the financial director had met her husband via internet dating, as had the HR manager. Others were also enjoying dates via their apps. Sober this time, I agreed that, possibly, choosing a site for a small premium and being more honest which meant, a little less ‘electrifying’, was a better angle. I walked home and typed up what I thought to be a more truthful portrayal of myself. Though how accurate can we be when it comes to ourselves!
I met, among others, an artist, primary school teacher, business analyst, lawyer and psychologist. Some were in their 40s, some in their early 50s; some were widowed, divorced or never married. I experienced dates in the east, west, north and south of London. I walked along the Thames with a picnic box and a bottle of prosecco, toured the Tate museum, travelled by boat to Greenwich and dined at elegant, and some not so elegant, restaurants.
- Many, if not most, of my dates showed that they would go nowhere. Still, it was a pleasure to see how the men where consistently kind and polite. Possibly, our attitudes were different because we were all older. We had been to the puppet show and were now more mature and honest than before.
- I learnt a lot about myself. Being suddenly thrown into a ‘playground’ of prospective partners with each new encounter, an audition to market myself meant that I began to see more of who I genuinely was. The good, the bad and the downright ugly. I have an unfortunate quality of being, shall we say, nonconfrontational? I would rather endure an unpleasant situation than just claim, ‘Lovely to meet you, but I am going to wrap things up here’. Having this character flaw means that I have previously stayed in relationships longer than I should have. My life of dating soon made me used to being more honest with myself and others. Another phenomenal defect of my character is that I want the world to love me. This journey has taught me that I have to be prepared for the fact that not everyone is going to like me – a hard fact to stomach in the beginning, but I got better at accepting it (even if just a little).
- Realising that the other person felt as awkward as me showed me a kindness and vulnerability I hadn’t imagined or even considered before. I realised that they too had most likely not envisaged themselves on a date with a stranger in their 40s.
A combination of tips I discovered on my own and that were taught me:
Tip #1: Put a little effort in. If you’re serious about trying to find Mr or Mrs Right, spend some time looking into sites that might better suit your character and your vision of the person you’re looking to meet. The site my financial director met her husband on was quite different to the site my HR Director met his wife on. When they told me this, it made perfect sense.
Tip #2: Be yourself. Yes, we all hear about being our true, authentic selves, but it’s very applicable in this specific environment where you are meeting so many people (virtually or physically). Try not to waste your time or theirs. I remember the anxiety that ensued when talking to a man about the book Shantaram at the start of this journey. It’s a minor example, but he kept quoting the book, which I hadn’t read, and I felt uncomfortable that I was trying to be someone I wasn’t throughout the call.
Tip #3: Don’t take it personally. You’re meeting a stranger that has read maximum three sentences (if that) about you and viewed a few of your best photos that you probably edited and put through filters. If he’s not that into you, it’s okay, you’ll get over it.
Tip #4: Be honest with yourself and him, whilst remaining kind! In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell teaches us that we make a snapshot judgement of someone within the first few minutes that is most often correct. I am not suggesting you promptly walk out of a date after a second if it doesn’t feel right. However, you will have a good idea of whether you really want to spend more time with the person or not once the date is over. This is where honesty helps. Sometimes we stick it out because we don’t want to be alone or we find this whole process of dating quite exhausting, which it can be.
Tip #5: Be sensible. It is a big world out there. Remember, you are meeting a stranger. Meet up in a public place, ideally, for a coffee or a drink on the first date or two – or three. Tell a friend where you are going and apply a little common sense and intuition. Your gut is seldom wrong.
And most of all, enjoy! Enjoy discovering different places, meeting new people, learning about yourself and, better still, possibly finding someone you can enjoy walking this path with.