“I want to gently move your wet panties to the side so I can place my socks on the radiator”
Some guy’s intro quote on Bumble
Welcome to my life. A month of online dating. It feels like a Fyre Festival anxiety dream - beauty, fantasy, possibility… stress, endlessly lowered standards, a limp cheese sandwich.
In the good moments, it’s an explosion of hope and hilarity. The messaging clicks, you have each other in stitches, your fingers can’t type fast enough for the iridescent back-and-forthing and witty ripostes. And in others, it feels like a shit job you’re not getting paid for. You put in the long, painful hours and clock off feeling hollow and ever so slightly suicidal.
Dating is Thorpe Park: queuing, impatience, nausea, thrills.
One minute you're ascending; giddy, bursting with anticipation, and then suddenly you’re upside down, feeling like you want to be sick, desperate to GET THE FUCK OFF THE APPS. But then you’re cruising, seeing the world from above, the queen of the castle with a lovely studly view, until down you whoosh into a dark tunnel where it feels like the walls are closing in.
And then you queue again. Because to ride the ride, you gotta queue. And as much as you hate the ride, you’re hoping it will make you pregnant and marry you. Jk. Buy you dinner and go down on you. Jk. Make you laugh and restore your faith in love. Not jk.
Keep your standards high and your expectations low.
My best friend teased me that I could fall in love with anyone. And it’s true, if I fancy someone I can always find the best in them. This, coupled with a boner for commitment and a fool’s devotion to ‘making it work at all costs’, means that I have spent years dedicated to relationships that weren’t right. I think with my heart, knuckle down and flog a dead relationship horse because LOVE because DESIRE, because PEOPLE EVOLVE, because I find it hard to let go.
But I can’t afford to do that anymore. I’m ready for the good stuff. I want a family and an equal, balanced, sustaining partnership. Natasha Lunn, in her wonderful essay The Guest, says “true love will surprise you with its quiet sturdiness. It won’t dwarf or consume you; it will make you feel bigger. It will feel heavy, not in a way that weighs on your shoulders, but in a way that makes the ground feel solid underneath your feet. It will make you look out, not in. (Be a woman that looks out, not in.)” Amen!
I keep noticing healthy, happy relationships, like beacons. I keep reading hopeful words that make me feel safe and warm and excited about a new kind of love. I have spent far too long letting myself be swayed by passion or familiarity. But now I can see a stark distinction between nurturing, nourishing relationships, and my hitherto ravenous heart; gorging on love-scraps as if they were a ten course meal.
The problem is, with 37 fast approaching, it feels like everything is at stake. Deciding you are ready to meet your equal is all well and good, but what if he’s not adequately signposted?
Dating apps are like using a metal detector to scan for sausages. How will you know if you’re hovering over a good husband?
At first I decided to make it simple. I’m looking for a best friend I fancy, so I only swiped ‘yes’ to guys that looked warm and smiley. First pitfall. Not many men smile in their photos and the only one I found that was grinning warmly in every picture, and who looked deeply sweet and lovely, messaged me back sporadically before finally asking for my number and never texting or calling. Two other men that looked really kind and reliable, blocked me after I didn’t write to them for a couple of days when I was first getting used to the sites. Dating is so fucking delicate. Fraught with landmines that could explode at any time. You’re walking merrily along and then BOUFF your self esteem's in tatters. BIFF you’re picking up scattered shards of hope from a desolate dickscape, clumsily trying to reassemble the pieces into something that makes sense.
Dating puts you in a precarious and confusing position. I don’t want anything causal, I don’t want ‘just a bit of fun’, I only want to invest time in someone who has the potential to be the person I’ll be attending to pooey nappies with (our children’s if we’re lucky and each other’s if we’re lucky enough to make it that far, but unlucky enough to suffer late life incontinence). And yet, how on earth can you know that from an app? It’s totally bizarre and deeply absurd to look at a photo of a stranger and a few facts they’ve chosen to share and decide if there is any potential for them to enter your body, your heart and be trusted with the shape of your future.
I’ve now realised that the only possible way to proceed is to just be curious. Take it ever so lightly. In general life, I am fascinated by people and their mores. But I’ve been so desperate to find something meaningful and so full of scowling disdain for the dating process, that I’d forgotten all that’s required is an interest in people. Dating feels scary but really it’s just spending time with new people and getting to experience yourself in different scenarios. If it didn’t feel like the stakes were so high, could it perhaps be… fun?