From Tinder to ghosting, modern dating is complicated writes Suzanne Harrington. So read on for the new rules
So, you’re dating. It’s brutal out there. You’ve watched the Black Mirror episode on dating (‘Hang The DJ’, season 4) and didn’t even realise it was darkly parodic sci fi.
But the good news is that everyone is equally scrabbling around, negotiating the pitiless swamp that is swipe culture. You’re not alone. Well, you are, or otherwise you wouldn’t be using your phone to find a soulmate, but so is everyone else. Be brave. Be fearless. Be prepared.
Resistance is futile. If you wait to meet someone in the traditional manner — face-to-face, IRL — you will die alone and be eaten by your cats. Millenials know this, but pockets of Gen X are still resisting. Download a dating app. Nowadays, even dating sites are old school — get swiping, baby. It’s all about first impressions, location, and instant matches, rather than six weeks of emailing about a possible coffee, because you both like country walks and log fires.
Never mind that Tinder is like running through the monkey house at the zoo, marvelling at some splendid individuals, as others fling dung at you. Tinder’s traffic involves 50m users per month, resulting in one billion swipes and 26m matches a day. Nobody knows how many dates come from these initial matches, but, anecdotally — a straw poll amongst dating friends — it’s quantity over quality. Dating apps are location-based, so you won’t see anyone from Aberdeen, unless you happen to be in Aberdeen. And while the majority of Tinder’s users are under 35 — 45% are aged 25-34, and 38% are 16-24 — don’t let that put you off. 13% are 35-44, while a brave 1% are over 55. Although, they’ll probably lie about it.
Everyone lies. Everyone lies online. As a woman swiping through a dating app, you will be astonished at how many men aged ‘49’ look over 65. Men also lie about their height, while women lie about their weight. People use words like ‘toned’ and ‘athletic’, when they really mean ‘collapsing soufflé’. And everyone lies about their job, to sound more interesting, affluent, and powerful. A survey by research agency, Opinion Matters, of 1,000 daters in the US and UK, found that women lie 10% more than men, with 20% making themselves younger and thinner. Forty percent of men lie to make their job more prestigious. Bizarrely, both sexes lie about having assistants, knowing celebrities, and being rich — some lie so much that they render a second date untenable.
“My daughter selects potential dates for me, because we have both been dating at the same time,” says Susan, 69. “Younger men just want sex, and older men lie about their age, or are looking for an affair. They use out-of-date pictures, and are looking for much younger women. But I don’t want to be with someone who is ten years older than me — they have no energy. I’m currently taking a break from it — the last person said he was 70, but he was 75. Why can’t people be honest?”
Don’t mention country walks and log fires. Be original, be snappy. Remember, dating apps began life as hook-up sites: Grindr in 2009, followed by Tinder in 2012. They are not like traditional dating sites, where you write reams of earnest stuff about your likes and dislikes; swipe apps are to dating what McDonalds is to dining — fast, disposable, addictive.
When completing your dating-app profile, avoid generic stuff about liking dinners and films. Everyone likes dinners and films. Also, research at the University of Iowa found that heavily filtered and posed photos are a turn-off, as they are ‘coded as bragging’ — instead, use a variety of natural-looking pics. Keep it real, and don’t make up a bio that says you’re a CEO, if you work in a call centre.
“I take it all with a large pinch of salt, because half of the stuff on there is nonsense and the rest is like reading somebody’s CV,” says Susan’s daughter, Maxine, 45. “People only mention the good bits. They don’t tell you that they split from their wife because they
were unfaithful, or that they’ve got OCD, or that they drink 15 Guinnesses on a Monday afternoon.”
Know how it works. Swipe apps offer a seemingly infinite selection of prospective dates — if you like the look of someone, you swipe right; and if you aren’t interested, you swipe left. If someone you like also likes you, the app puts you in contact. So you are only matched with people you like, rather than having to respond to unwanted contact. Swipe apps have gamified dating, using a feedback loop to create a sense of both endless possibility and endless dissatisfaction. What if your next swipe reveals someone better?
Research from Queen Mary’s University London shows the difference between male and female behaviour on swipe apps. The male/female Tinder user ratio is 68% male to 32% female, which has led to research from the University of North Texas reporting how male users have lower self-esteem, because they experience more rejection. Women are more selective, but, once a match has been made, will invest more energy in writing an introductory message — 122 characters on average, as opposed to 12 from men, who tend to stick to ‘hi’ or ‘hello’. Men and women who posted more than one photo, and included a short bio, were more successful in being matched.
Know what to expect. From smiling at the camera, surrounded by children and pets, to headless selfies in their pants, swipe apps contain an astonishing smorgasbord of humanity. From steroidal posers to those who look like they’ve slept in a bin, from Ed Sheeran fans to suggesting sexual activities not printable here, the range is astonishing, as swipe apps move from hook-up facilitators to accommodating people looking for actual relationships. From ‘I’m just here for the sex, lol, get swiping’ to ‘I am a monogamous man, shock horror’ via ‘No kids or pets, never been married’ and ‘Disease-free, no zimmer frame’, there is something for everyone.
However, many photos just have a first name, and their proximity in kilometres. Who said romance was dead?
Romance is not dead. Don’t listen to Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, professor of business psychology at University College London, who told an interviewer that “if it weren’t for Valentine’s Day and the engagement industry, we would have officially moved beyond romanticism by now. The realities of the dating world could not be more different. People are time-deprived, careers have priority over relationships, not least because they are often a prerequisite to them, and the idea of a unique, perfect match or soulmate is a statistical impossibility.”
Listen, instead, to professional romantics Mills & Boon, who surveyed 2,000 people and found that while six in 10 are ‘confused’ by 21st century romance (possibly because ‘21st century romance’ is an oxymoron?), three-quarters would like more romance in their lives. Favourite romantic gestures include holding hands, cuddling, unexpected gifts and flowers, going for a walk, weekends away, romantic dinners, breakfast in bed, cooking together, and love letters. The biggest turn-offs are phone addiction, poor personal hygiene, rudeness, drunkenness, being critical, talking with your mouth full, laziness, being mean with money, one-sided conversations, and going on about your ex. Although, surely, all of these could simply be filed under ‘having good manners’?
Have good manners. Don’t be the woman who went to the loo and never came back, after a leisurely two-hour dinner with her date. That’s just rude and mean. If you don’t feel a romantic flutter, be honest: ‘I’ve really enjoyed meeting you, but I don’t feel that there’s chemistry.’ This is far kinder than climbing out the nearest window. We are all adults — frame it so that there is no such thing as bad dates, only good stories. Manage your expectations, and remain open-minded and humane.
“You get to meet people that you would never cross paths with,” says Maxine. “Online chatting is quite a fascinating and stimulating part of the dating process. Even if it comes to nothing, you can have a series of mini relationships with your matches, without ever meeting them. The downside is that you might see somebody who seems perfect, but because the swiping is so easy and addictive, and it’s based on a one-second flash of photo, you might decide not to match with them and then you never seen a profile again.” When they’re gone, they’re gone.
Know when to stop. When you meet someone you like, practice what the Buddhists call the liberation of commitment and stop swiping. Just stop. And delete the app.