W ell, I don’t remember his name and I only vaguely remember what he looked like – he had eyes, I suppose he wore trousers. But I’ll always remember my first online date. I remember the day after, when my flatmate asked me how it went. I beamed at her over my cup of tea. “It’s like I picked him from a catalogue,” I said.
I met that man about 10 years ago. At various uncoupled times in the intervening decade, I’ve found myself slinking back to online dating, like so many other people. Millions of other people. So many other people that the Match Group, the US company, that owns the world’s biggest online dating platforms – Tinder, OKCupid, Match – is to float on the stock market with an estimated chatfriends value of ?2.1bn.
Our lonely little hearts are very big business. But for people trying to click and swipe their way to love, it’s also a confusing business. In all of my years of using the internet to meet men who turned out to be on the short side of 5’8”, here are 10 lessons that I’ve learned.
1 It’s still stigmatised
Online dating may appear to be the swiftest route to love, or something like it. But until you win the grand prize – never having to do it again – it always feels a last resort, the sign that you possess a fatal flaw that has prevented the achievement of true love through one of the more classic routes: pulling a stranger in a bar, meeting someone at a house party, sleeping with your employer. “I’m so glad I don’t have to do online dating,” your married friends say, “it sounds terrible.” Then you ask them if they know any nice single men to introduce you to and they declare that their friends are all awful.
2 … but everyone is now doing it
In your 30s, at least, when people tell you they’ve gone on a date, it’s safe to assume that they met that person online. In the last two years, in which I’ve been mostly single, I have been asked out by a man in the “real” world just once and he was married. These days, if you do go on a date with someone you meet out in the world, everyone is very surprised and will get very excited: “You met him how? In real life? Tell us again about how he talked to you on the tube!”
3 Lots of choice means it’s hard to choose
The proliferation of websites and dating apps has not necessarily been a good thing. I know quite a few people who have found love through OKCupid and Tinder – marriage, in a couple of cases – but I know far more who have been on two or three dates with nice people who have drifted and disappeared after a promising start. Meeting people is one thing, but getting to know them – well, that’s a lot of effort when there are so many other people lurking in your phone. The rise of Tinder as the default platform has especially increased the speed and volume of choosing and rejecting. Once we read long-form profiles. Now we maniacally, obsessively screen candidates in milliseconds. Most apps put a time stamp on everyone’s profile, so that you can see when anyone has last been logged in. For example, you could find out if the man you went on a date with last night was looking for other women while you popped to the loo in the middle of dinner (he was).