Help! I need dating advice
No, it's not what you think....
Above is a picture of two people on their wedding day, who would never have got to this stage if they were part of the modern dating app world.
I’ve been preoccupied with that thought since earlier this week when my daughter, 18,
told me that she has ‘finished reading Hinge.’ I didn’t even know she was on it.
There hasn’t been a lot of activity in that area of her life so far. By which I mean… none. You might smirk and say there’s probably been stuff going on and I’m just too naive to realise it, but I really don’t think so. Having done a huge proportion of her most difficult school years in lockdowns, and attending, since age 4, a girls’ school, there hasn’t been a great deal of opportunity thus far for meaningful interactions with boys. I don’t think my 18-year-old is the only one who isn’t yet particularly worldly when it comes to romantic relationships. I think the pandemic stole a good two-year chunk of those formative years and she’s a bit more inexperienced than I was at around the same age.
Of course, there are also young people for whom the pandemic only made them more determined to flee the house and cop off with each other and some of them have really set about the task with gusto. Recently, a good friend of mine told me that her daughter - who is younger than mine - dumped her boyfriend of three months. When Mum gave her a hug and asked if she was heartbroken, Daughter said: ‘Grow up, Mum.’ According to her, she was basically test-running her own likes and dislikes with a young man she had no intention of falling in love with. My crusty old lady mind was almost blown off of my shoulders at hearing this. I’m 53 and I have never had that kind of literally ball-busting confidence when it comes to men. It makes me wonder if I have failed to equip my daughter for what awaits in that part of her life. But how the hell would a 53-year-old give anyone dating advice today?
Faced with the 21st century digital approach to dating, I feel I am at a total loss when it comes to advising my daughter on how to handle it all. Can any of you help me?
I’ve never been much of a man-eater, anyway. Before my husband, my bedpost had notched up two pretty ill-advised boyfriends and a few meaningless hook-ups. All of them were met the old-fashioned ways: In pubs, through friends, being shouted at from cars (hashtag Australia).
It was not love at first sight for me and Ross, my husband. The story all our friends know is that I actually thought he was a bit of a tool when I met him. (That’s how all the best rom-coms start though, right?) He came round to visit his friend, my housemate, after she’d been away all summer. Another house guest - a chef - cooked us a lovely tuna pasta dish. He took one bite and pushed it aside, ‘Oh sorry, I’m a vegetarian,’ he said. I silently (unreasonably) did an inner eye roll. In my defence, I was already in a foul mood, having already been stood up that night by one of said shitty hook-ups and I was determined to hate everyone. (I later learned my date couldn’t get away that evening from the girlfriend I had not known existed).
A couple of weeks later, Ross turned up at the pub quiz and knew lots of answers and was very funny with it. A few weeks after that, he was DJing at a friend’s party and played a song I thought I was the only one in the world to like. He was evolving before my eyes, from ‘tuna twat’ to someone I was thinking about more and more. And more.
I had no idea if he was into me or not. We started speaking on the phone for an hour or two at a time, which I took as a good sign. But he never tried to move us on to a real life meet. I was too shy to ask him out, outright. On one of these calls I ventured that I was going to see a film that night that he’d also expressed interest in. ‘Well….’ long pause, he’s going to say he’ll join me…. ‘enjoy that then.’ My heart dropped to my feet: I was in the friend zone.
But then, lo and behold, New Year’s Eve rolled around and good old alcohol finally took charge of proceedings. We ended the night snogging in a corner at the party and ignoring all the people we could hear saying, ‘Oh my good, look at Ross and Jo.’
That was the end of 1993. The point is, we were both crap at this whole thing. We were both nervous about rejection, and neither of us had a great deal of swagger with the opposite sex to begin with. We’re lucky we found each other and we’re lucky that it was at a time when we were both open to a relationship.
My question is: How does this happen in modern dating?
It doesn’t help when beautiful young absolute catches, like the model and writer, Charlie Howard are bemoaning the way modern dating works. Earlier this year she wrote a damn chilling piece for Stylist magazine, where she described it as ‘unbearable… For me, modern-day dating can only be described as a real-life Squid Game (minus the killing part, although hearbreak can often feel as painful. There’s the initial battle to see who can outlast the talking stage, trying to maintain the person’s interest before even reaching a first date; emotionally preparing yourself to be ghosted at any time; and then - if you’re lucky enough to even get that far - figuring out when to have the anxiety-inducing ‘What are we?’ chat… because apparently two people liking each other isn’t enough anymore.’
With my hands covering my eyes, I let my daughter give me a glimpse of her online dating app interactions. It does seem to be the horror show Charlie describes: a lot of competitive chat to see who can remain witty before one of them decides to leave the conversation hanging forevermore. One young man stopped by my daughter’s profile just to let her know he thinks she has ‘a big-ass forehead’. She does not, actually, but this kid, who I now want to punch, proudly displayed his puny topless chest in a cheesy hot-tub shot, complete with sunburn and a blue drink with a little umbrella in it. (I’m aware that this is also someone’s son I’m dissing. But he started it.) In all my own experiences of bad dates, I don’t remember anyone ever just coming out and having a pop at something they didn’t like about the way I looked.
And that’s nowhere near the worst of it.
This is the area where I most feel the generation gulf - where the younger ones have moved on and are living a life I find incomprehensible. I would have been barely equipped to be of any use or comfort if the world was exactly the same as in my day. But now? How do I advise my daughter on this alien world that I admit I find terrifying? How do I talk to her about the porn-fuelled expectations of so many young men? How do I stop myself assuming that is the expectations of all young men? Or is she right when she says most young men are so terrified of being falsely accused of rape that it’s now all up to the women to take a deep breath and make the first move?
(These are both issues tackled brilliantly in Caitlin Moran’s book What About Men? But it’s the start of a long overdue conversation. It identifies I am right to worry, but we still don’t know exactly how to solve the problems. )
Maybe some of you are thinking it’s none of my business. And yes, that’s a fair point. My mother knew nothing of what I was up to. But parents of my generation have been conditioned - brow beaten at times - to be involved in our children's lives. It starts with the expectation to actually stay at the toddler birthday party and make small talk with all the other parents who’d rather be anywhere else. And it doesn’t stop, right up to all the A-level ‘tutorials’ we are expected to attend to learn how our kids will be learning maths and English and how we must ‘support’ them with their studies and exams. We’re shamed into being thoroughly embedded in our children’s lives. How do we just switch that off when they’re adults, when their world is actually now scary?
And it really feels as though this online world, which so coldly reduces everyone to a profile pic which is judged in seconds, is the only way in which Gen Z-ers try to connect. I worry that it becomes a superficial exercise in speed-dating and speed sex. And if that’s what you want, that’s fantastic. But what if you want a meaningful relationship? What if you need some old-fashioned things like conversation and time to feel your way to something wonderful? No way would Ross and I have met in this brutal app-centric world.
I’m wary of being the mouldy old ‘Karen’ who paints all younger generations with the same brush. But I’m speaking largely about what I see. They do speak almost exclusively online. They do cancel each other if their political opinions and moral values aren’t identically aligned. I’m worried it’s too isolating for the ones who just aren’t wired for it: Romantics like Charlie Howard who need the slow burn.
I don’t want anyone to read this and think I’m desperate to get my daughter coupled up and married off. But I want her to have the chance of having healthy relationships that make her happy. I simply don’t know how anyone does that anymore.
Am I wrong? I’d love it if some of you who know more than me can tell me I’m wrong. Does anyone meet in pubs anymore? Or maybe spill coffee on each other in Starbucks? (I know two happily married couples who worked that old chestnut to great effect. But again, they’re my age.)
What can you all tell me?
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