A few months ago, having settled in London, adjusted to a new job, a new flat and I new life I realised something. I wasn't going to meet the love of my life, or indeed any man at a predominantly female literacy charity, through my (female) Australian flatmates (with whom I had nothing in common) or through my blissfully coupled up friends. And fun as it was watching Time Team on 4od and learning about international literacy rates my hobbies weren't exactly conducive to meeting new people. So with some trepidation I signed up to internet dating. And because this is the modern world and I am a little too influenced by apple's advertising/brainwashing campaign I downloaded the app too.
To pay or not to pay?
I signed up to the service as the adverts promised it was free. I didn’t read the small print. Free to have a profile, free to wink, free to favourite and free to REPLY to messages. Which basically means you have to hang around and hope that someone talks to you. And being internet dating, there are loads of people doing the same. That creates a dilemma. Stereotypically people paying money for these services are those you are less eager to date- the desperate, the socially inept, those that have literally no other option. The people who don't pay are those who are giving internet dating a try but aren't sure that they should really be doing it. And those are the normal, interesting people you’d most like to date But if all the normal people stand round the edge, winking from afar no one’s ever going to get anywhere. So I took the plunge, signed up for 3 months. Cheaper than one month but seemed less desperate than six. I couldn’t hugely afford it but like so much I can’t afford I put it on my credit card so it will make me poor in two months time rather than now.
To wink or not to wink?
Having decided to go for it the next thing was to actually contact some of the guys on the site. The easiest way to do this is to “wink”. Some thing about the vocab of internet dating puts me off. I don’t want to wink at people. If anyone were to wink at me in a bar I would look the other way. Winking as far as I’m concerned is for terrible double entrendres, Anne Robinson and people who have dust in their eyes. Vocab aside the idea of winking at someone online is a little bit scary. It’s putting yourself out there, its drawing attention to your self, it’s admitting you like someone when they might have no interest on you. None of these things am I any good at (maybe if I was I wouldn’t have needed to join in the first place?) However now I was signed up and committed wink I must. The first few were a little scary- was I sure? Did I really want to be doing this? Should I wink even though he includes Bravo Two Zero in his favourite books? I soon got over all of this though to become something of a wink slut. I was casting the net wide. I still had to like something on their profile. I still had to find something in their description interesting but I made the decision not to worry and started winking a anyone who might be interesting to chat to and meet not just potential husband material. There were several deal breakers. I wouldn't contact people without photos, If they couldn’t think f anything to say except ‘I can’t think of anything to say’ I didn’t bother. And anyone who lists The Alchelmist as their favourite book is no friend of mine. But in general I was pretty free with my winks- what’s the worst that could happen?
My first date was Roberto, Mexican with curly surfer boy hair. He looked friendly, sexy and exotic. Although in reality he wore a blazer and corduroy trousers and a crew cut. He worked in banking and took great delight in mentioning how very much he earned. He was hoping to go back to Mexico and start a business because “you don't have to pay the workers or pay insurance there”. Although, I hope it goes without saying, we never saw each other again I did learn a lot about the mentality of the finance sector and I discovered my Spanish was still good enough to have a full on argument.
The next date I arranged was with a polo player. I do not play polo, I know nothing about it and I don’t really feel comfortable around rich people who value money above all else. And it’s pretty hard to imagine anyone other that the pretty damn comfortably off enjoying a game that as far as I understand requires not only horse but also sticks, a private school education, a love of the Telegraph and the Conservatives and a personal connection to the royal family. I have however read lots of Jilly Cooper. I love JC- I love the gossip, the scandal, the impossibly rich and glamourous lifestyle of the Rutshire elite- bed hopping and playing competitive sport and riding around in helicopters. I don’t know why this appeals so strongly when my objective lefty brain rejects all the characters stand for but there is something just so darn appealing about the idea of getting rogered by Rupert Campbell Black. So I decided to on a date with a polo player, to dress up in my finest and stick to my mantra WWJD (what would Jilly Do). I was excited.
Polo boy cancelled. He had an ear infection. I would've be less pissed off if he wasn’t the third boy in a row to do so. And if that didn’t bring the total to 3 out of 4. All had perfectly reasonable excuses; busy at work, family emergency, inner ear issues, but I couldn’t help but feeling maybe they were just scared. Winking and flirting through a computer or phone is all very well but actually in person is a step too far. And not even necessarily because they were computer geeks who can only communicate through machines. Actually I think it’s the opposite- that they were a bit embarrassed to be doing internet dating in the first place. L. (who seemed the most suitable match) and I had some long text conversations but his work remained ‘mental’ and it was never to be. A. messaged me several times after cancelling and I got slower and slower about replying. Partly because I was busy but mostly because I was put off by his punctuation. I expect I’m being horribly judgemental but I didn’t see myself ending up with a man who is quite so free with is exclamation marks. I was doubtful before the date but I wanted to meet up to see. With every subsequent message and erroneous apostrophe that possibility got further and further away. Polo boy being the well brought up fellow that he is was polite and efficient in rescheduling our date and the following week I found myself at the poshest restaurant I'd ever been to in my life.
My date with polo boy turned out to be far more fun than I ever expected. Despite our diametrically opposed political views (you helped get David Cameron elected leader of the conservatives? ok.... And now you're showing me photos of the two of you together? Ummm....) I had a lot of fun. It was good to know I could hold a conversation with someone about topics we had very different views about and it be just that- a conversation and not a slagging match. I went into the whole experience with the idea of listening and asking questions and not automatically getting into a fight and do you know what- it was great! I've never in my whole life met anyone who is a member of a gentleman's club, let alone someone my age and it was interesting to find out the reasoning behind it, it was fun to drink cocktails and eat in a restaurant with food so beautiful I had to photograph it and it was really enjoyable to know that despite our differences we could find lots of things in common. When the night ended I felt I had made a new friend, not a potential boyfriend but a potential friend who could expose me to different experiences and challenge me to explore and defend my opinions. It wasn't something I expected to find going into the whole internet dating experience but I was grateful for it. Unfortunately due to personal circumstances plans to meet up again fell through and we dropped out of contact but it was definitely a highlight of my iPhone dating career
The end of the road
Sadly there weren't too many highlights after that. I went on a succession of dates with dull, right-wing and/or downright strange men. One practically liked my neck when we kissed hello and kept his sunglasses on indoors. Another ranted against the NHS for over 30 minutes. And I realised while I could quite happily chat rubbish with these guys for an evening, there hadn't actually been anyone I'd either wanted to see again or sleep with. So when my three month subscription lapsed I didn't renew. While I don't regret my first foray into the world of internet dating there are a few things I think let me down. Firstly the service I chose- which I realised too late was far too full of city boys. Secondly I didn't spend the time to really choose who to approach and who would actually be a good fit- the scattergun approach of chatting to everyone meant too many dull emails both sent and received and I invested very little in the relationships I was creating. And finally and I think most importantly, I was let down by the fact that I didn't really, actually, ever expect it to work. And with such low expectations I went out with some wildly unsuitable men. I learnt a lot from my three months of iPhone dating- about Mexican race relations, about Tory party internal politics, about good bars in Balham and mostly, despite being very happy to talk to a meet new people, that I don't actually have a lot of confidence in myself or the likelihood of finding a man who would be interested in me. And unfortunately I don't think there's an app for that.