From Bumble and Hinge to Match and Tinder (not to mention Raya for celebrity singles), these days there are tons of dating websites and apps apparently making it easier to meet someone new. But what if online matchmaking has left you jaded, or you just miss the feeling of meeting someone by chance and feeling that uncontrived spark? Has digital dating ruined offline love?
Tinder may be brilliant for taking the guesswork out of mutual attraction, but it also gives the impression that there’s a conveyor belt of dates just waiting for everyone. Save this app for casual hook-ups or rebound flings only, because it really is commitment-phobe central. You can see their logic: why start a relationship when you could date a list of people and keep your options open, copying and pasting the same opening line again and again? Commitment seems conservative when someone better might come along and swipe right for you. The buzz of getting a match is addictive, along with the overzealous self-esteem boost, but don’t expect fairytale endings from Tinder.
As for more serious daters, there used to be an unwritten rule that paid subscription sites had a better calibre of men (read: less likely to send pervy unsolicited messages) than free ones. Ask anyone who’s taken out a subscription in the last few years and they’ll tell you there’s rarely a clear divide between the people on paid-for and free channels; spammers, scammers and genuinely lovely humans appear on both. Some daters meet long-term partners without paying a penny – we all have a friend who’s found a diamond in the rough on Plenty of Fish – whilst others shell out a hefty monthly fee and get lumbered with lotharios. Until someone sets up ‘genuinelyonlyinterestedinlongtermrelationships.com’, there will always be timewasters lurking on so-called serious sites, whether you pay or not.
Online dating does have its advantages, mainly that you can quickly spot a narcissist or a gym addict. Anything that cuts down time wasted on terrible dates is surely a blessing. Just try to avoid weeks of incessant instant messaging with your matches – you’ll only know if there’s chemistry, or whether you’ve been Catfished, when you meet in person. Case in point: one friend spent time with an up-and-coming actor, who turned out to be even more photogenic in the flesh, but also (in her words) “unbelievably dim. He could barely hold a conversation.” OK for women who put male model looks before brains, but not OK for her. FYI, you also need to know if your dream date on paper is secretly racist or if they think rape jokes are hilarious…
So how do you improve the odds of meeting your match? Niche dating sites are touted as a solution but they don’t appeal to everyone. My Jewish friend isn’t swayed by J-date; my Disney-obsessed friend refuses to use Mouse Mingle, a Disney-themed app. However, if there’s something you won’t compromise on, like Brexit hatred or a bacon obsession, it’s worth joining a related website (Better Together Dating, or Sizzl, respectively).
Speed dating shakes things up: see if there’s chemistry in person, then get online chat access to your matches afterwards. Sounds simple, right? Sadly the wide age brackets and the struggle to sign up men for speed dating can lead to a lacklustre evening. More successful approaches combine speed dating with learning a skill, yet this can feel forced. Surely there must be an easier way to meet?
Eyes-meet-across-a-crowded-room can happen in 2016, however it takes a lot of effort to get someone to look up from their smartphone. These days, striking up a conversation with a stranger can make you look desperate; equally, a stranger sidling up to you feels unnatural. What’s more common is to sit on opposite sides of the bar, both scrolling through Happn or Tinder, putting potential rejection and embarrassment at arm’s length. For all the #YOLO philosophies spouted by Millennials, we’re still quite clueless when it comes to taking the opportunities in front of our eyes, preferring the contrived possibilities delivered by our phones and tablets.
To meet someone IRL, you have to be persistent. Ask friends, and friends-of-friends, if they can set you up on a date; throw yourself into the horror of the office Christmas party, or any conference your boss suggests. Go to gigs instead of listening to endless Spotify playlists; accept wedding invitations from people you barely know. Above all, focus on real interaction with like-minded people, through groups listed on Meetup.com, casual evening sessions with Drinks Thing (aimed at culture lovers in London) or Travel Massive (for anyone who works in the travel industry or enjoys travelling – current groups meet in London, Edinburgh and Bristol).
Digital dating hasn’t killed romance, but it has made things more clinical. By looking beyond web algorithms or the snap judgements of strangers swiping left or right, you’re increasing the chances of finding someone who isn’t just motivated by looks or matching taste in films. Besides, your Mr or Mrs Right might not be into social media or apps at all, and that doesn’t necessarily make them a luddite; sometimes it’s because they’ve been badly burned by their own online dating disasters. Keep your online accounts by all means, but balance them with offline opportunities so you don’t miss catching the eye of a tall, dark stranger. Or a short, fair stranger. Whatever you’re into.