In her latest column on navigating the modern dating jungle, Northern Lass discovers the pitfalls of using social media
In my last stint as a single female 13 years ago, I distinctly remember technology playing a fairly minor part in the dating process.
The technology involved was simple: one phone to swap numbers, text, call and play Snake on; one tape-to-tape or CD burner to make meaningful yet vomit-inducing playlists; and lastly, for a very short period of time as a 16 year old college student, we all acquired pagers.
The primary purpose of the pager was so our hormone-driven admirers could call some poor unsuspecting woman in a call centre and relay bilge such as "I think you're well fit. x Simon". Meanwhile your mum was simultaneously relaying a message to another poor woman in the same call centre, yelling "Where are you? If you are with Simon you are in BIG trouble lady."
Back then, if you wanted to stalk someone, you had to get off your backside and physically follow them around. Or just sit on their garden wall for a few hours – as one of my dear school friends did with Richard Madeley for a short while. It took real effort and just wasn't possible at the swipe of a fingertip.
However, the reality of modern dating involves not just the mobile, but mobile apps, dating websites, Facebook, Skype, meaningful yet vomit-inducing Spotify playlists and, with one particular person I met last year, an interesting reliance on Words With Friends to flirt. The ways to communicate, connect and follow what someone is up to are now legion.
When I first wrote about my internet dating frustrations, struggling to meet someone I clicked with in Manchester, people began offering up some appreciated alternative solutions to try. There were a lot of people that suggested salsa dancing. Have I missed something here? Has salsa suddenly become the single man vacuum while I was off being married? Sucking them in and snaking them about on the Northern Quarter's Copacabanas dance floor? Unfortunately, lacking any sort of passion for the music, I'd just be a badly dancing salsa fraud attending for no other reason than to perv, and so figured I'd look into some of the other suggestions first.
Another idea (possibly my favourite), was to prowl around my local supermarket, judging a potential partner's shared moral values based on the contents of his shopping trolley. I've always viewed Hulme Asda as a vortex of sexual tension. When the students are around, you can hardly move in there for the pheromones floating down the aisles, as sexy eyes are made over the instant noodles. But to walk up to someone going about their daily life, and strike up a conversation because we both pay that bit more for some fair trade bananas … well, seemed just that: bananas. I just don't have that sort of confidence. Neil Strauss I am not.
So once again I turned back to technology. Someone had flagged up True View, a subscription-free dating app designed to match you to people based on a "true view" of who you are and what you get up to. The concept is a good one: you use a drop-down menu of Facebook-style updates to log things you are doing, and the little True View robots start to match people to you who are logging similar activities. So far, so good.
I set my preferences to men within a hundred-mile radius.
Ahh. Five men. Five whole men who were "eating their dinner", "watching TV" or "going for a jog". Nevertheless I was determined to give it a go. So also started logging when I was "eating my dinner", "being a ninja" (there was no option for climbing) and "working on a proposal". Fantastic, I was to the world of True View a hungry ninja with a desk job.
One of the five men did get in touch. But, by his own admission, this was not because he was intrigued by my ninja skills, or even that he liked my profile picture, but because I was the only woman in a 50-mile radius on the app. He then informed me he likes long walks down the side of quiet canals, which is probably perfectly innocent, but happens to be in my top three things not to do with a man you just met off the internet (along with strolls down dark alleys and jaunts in secluded woodlands). He seems like a perfectly nice person, but other than basic human instincts such as eating, we seem to have very little common ground and the conversation fizzled out.
Overall, True View is an interesting idea, if you live in London you would probably have a far different experience with more people to chat to. But for now, there just aren't enough people on there north of the gap to make it a realistic option.
I turned back to the cynical comfort of my online dating profile, where I could see there was a message in my inbox. It was a lovely message. It was funny, it didn't accuse me of having a penis or contain anything sexually explicit like some I had received in the past. I replied, and over the course of a couple of days we had a bit of banter and found out we shared a similar passion for certain genres of music, sports and pastimes. He signed off one message using his full name.
As fellow internet daters can testify, the person on the end of the keyboard could be a far cry from their pictures or who they claim to be. This is a very obvious pitfall of meeting in this way. So when the opportunity presented itself to increase safety and check he was who he claimed to be, I took it. I typed his name into Facebook and up he popped.
Ooh, we have a mutual friend … Ooh, he has an open profile! As I had a quick look – predominantly to ensure there was no wife – I went back to writing my reply, referencing, to my horror after I pressed send, something I'd seen on his Facebook page.
Shit! Shit! Shit!!!
This is where the cruelty of technology comes into play. With online dating, you can see when someone has logged on, you can see if your message has been read, so you fully know when you are not being responded to. BECAUSE YOU ARE QUITE EVIDENTLY A STALKER!
The next 24 hours were spent cringing, peering through my fingers at my dating profile, while my friend at work repeated in a less than convincing tone: "He might just not notice?!"
But he HAD logged on, and he HAD read the message, and HAD NOT replied. Of course he hadn't replied, because in my attempt to check he wasn't married or bonkers, I'd outed myself for seemingly acting a bit bonkers. The first man in months I had been truly excited to meet and I'd blown it because technology had allowed me to get my stalk on.
I'd had it with technology and dating, I was ready to try Salsa. I logged back onto my profile to cancel the auto renewal, If I was going to make a prat of myself on the dancefloor, I was going to need beer funds.
But to my surprise, my inbox had a message. And it was from him. I cringed, expecting it to be a question on how the hell I would know he had a "lovely looking camper van?!" But it wasn't. It didn't even mention it, there was no reference to my evident Facestalk faux pas. It was a message simply asking me if I'd like to "meet up for a drink … ?"