Content warning: This post contains descriptions of ridiculously bad dates!
I resisted dating apps for the longest time. I had always gone out with people I’d met in real life and my 20th century approach to dating had worked for me reasonably well (ha, who am I kidding?!), but being a millenial, I suppose it was inevitable that I’d have to get on board with the 21st century kids sooner or later.
So it was that when I woke up one Sunday morning with nowhere to go and nothing better to do, I surrendered and downloaded the new Bumble app (as it was then).
I’d heard Bumble had feminist leanings so I was hopeful of finding something interesting. Instead I found a lot of middle class white boys with names like Ben, Dan, Oli and Sam often pictured in ski gear, wearing fluorescent face paint at a Full Moon party or awkwardly holding a small child (always with the disclaimer “not mine” in the caption).
I whiled away an hour or two swiping left and right, mostly left (left means no) until I had exhausted the selection of eligible former backpackers. Then I got a notification; someone likes me, how exciting. I sent a message, I got a reply, well you know how it works.
Most of the dates I went on were unbearably dull. I really have to hold my hands up to that; my vetting process consisted of one very shallow question, how cute is his profile pic? I sold my soul for their topless gym selfies and paid the price in unrelenting hours of answering and asking the same insipid questions; where are you from, what do you do, what are your travel plans for the year, blah blah.
If I’ve learned one thing from the 2020 lockdown it’s to always do the first date via video call, then you can fake a technical issue and cut them off at the first sign of a gap year monologue or other more serious red flag.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten myself all dressed up and travelled for an hour across town to meet up with someone I could tell five minutes in was not a good match… but I can tell you about some of the more memorable disasters:
I once turned up to meet a date and I could smell him from 5 feet away (outdoors) as I approached. I should have kept walking. He had committed the cardinal sin, the thing that cannot, will not be forgiven under any circumstances. He was wearing Joop Homme *cue uncontrollable wretching. Sadly, technology hasn’t yet advanced to the point where a video call would have sniffed him out.
There was the guy who went to the bathroom about 6 times in two hours, returning each time more animated, although he also appeared to be fighting sleep. I soon suspected he was covering a huge hangover and lack of sleep with copious amounts of cocaine.
There was a very sweet young Dutch lawyer who got blind drunk on a single glass of white wine and announced we were soulmates. One coffee, one date, one awkward kiss outside the wine bar.
There was the Nigerian guy who insisted at an inappropriately early stage in the conversation on demanding to know what I was “into” (in a sexual context, you understand). I felt outraged at the time, but the conversation yielded fruit, as it was he who introduced me to a dating app I might not have discovered on my own…
Welcome to Feeld. It was a lightbulb moment; here were the ‘freaks’ and the ‘weirdos’ – people with unusual interests and kinks, some of which I’d never even imagined. There were far fewer Dans and Olis in this dark neck of the woods! The conversations here were much franker and more honest that anything I’d encountered on Bumble or anywhere in real life up till then. There was no need to pretend there because there’s something for every taste, every quirk, every secretly held fantasy.
The people I dated from Feeld were fascinating, and the tales I returned with afterwards fuelled many hours of bottomless brunch cocktails with the girls (and their bewildered boyfriends)!
There was a strange South American I met once for a coffee at lunchtime. He asked me if I liked “creampie” (if you don’t know what this is do not google it at work) then tried to kiss my face with his whole mouth in the street outside Pret. Blocked and deleted on the way back to the office. Consent is key, young man.
There was a wealthy Indian banker who was heavily into BDSM. On our second date we went shopping in Soho. He bought leg restraints and a spreader bar. Between him and the leather clad Romanian biker I dated very briefly, I discovered that I am not the kind of woman who submits to being told what to do by men!
There was an odd young Italian I never met in real life, but who bombarded me for months with messages about how he’d like to be enslaved by me and begging me to let him come round to do all my chores. It was an interesting prospect, but I’m too much of a socialist to allow someone to work in my employ without a fair day’s pay. That, and half of me was thinking he probably wouldn’t clean the house properly anyway…
There were the two Davids, (Spanish and Portuguese) who I dated at around the same time, hence the need to distinguish between the two.
Spanish David took me on a date to a nightclub featuring various rooms including a dungeon and another with a lot of chiffon curtains. I won’t expand on what happens there because my mum’s probably reading this. I didn’t go on any actual dates with Portuguese David, but we did drink a lot of whisky in my flat.
At some point, the novelty had worn off and I started to get bored and disheartened with the swipe apps. Feeld was becoming a watered-down version of itself. In fact, someone said to me “Feeld is full of Tinder refugees now”. Yes, the word was out and the Bumble Sams and Tinder Bens had turned up on Feeld with a back catalogue of pictures of their naked genitals that no one had ever asked to see. It’s called consent, lads. Look it up.
Towards the end of 2019, someone I’d matched with online but had yet to meet asked me if I’d heard of a new dating concept called LVRSNFRNDS. I had not, but the premise sounded wonderful. It was like going back in time to the land before dating apps, back in the days when everyone I went out with was a real-life person; no swiping, no flashing of genitalia and no ghosting (except I did get real life ghosted that one time in early 2016 – the girls called him Bus Weirdo, remember?).
I hesitated only briefly before questioning what I could have to lose by applying to join. The LVRSNFRNDS vetting process is tight; two questionnaires and a video call with founder Sophie, who happens to be the coolest human across London and Paris, before you find out if you’ve been accepted. I was a little worried I wasn’t cool enough, young enough, attractive enough, but I passed!
On the night of the first social event I was a little nervous. Actually, I was tired and a bit hungover – but I went anyway. It was a fabulous night that made me feel excited again about being single in this incredible city. There are so many new people out there to meet and get to know. So many different backgrounds, points of view, interests, quirks and kinks.
Sophie organises all kinds of social events for the LVRSNFRNDS community, there are the Friday night drinks, the Sunday afternoon chill-outs with coffee, cocktails and board games, the midweek movie club. LVRSNFRNDS creates opportunities to meet up in real life, invariably in a supercool sexy venue, and knowing that everyone has passed the same meticulous social screening makes it a gloriously safe space that gives everyone the freedom to connect without the typical dating app pressures.
Now in the Great Lockdown of 2020, those connections are more important than ever before, and I’ve found myself spending more time talking and getting to know people online than I could have or would have before. Perhaps its part of the need to feel in touch with the outside world, or maybe it’s the convenience of being able to drop in and out of social events without the time-consuming bus and tube travel.
Whatever it is, it’s helping me build friendships from the comfort and safety of my own home and I’m excited to see how those relationships might blossom when we can all move freely and make our connections again in the real world.
What I love about meeting new people is how interesting they are, even when they think themselves ordinary. We’re each unique and the things we take for granted or feel embarrassed about can be quite enchanting to others. For example, I loathe the sound of my own voice played back to me. It makes me wish a crevice would open up in the earth and swallow me whole, so I’m always surprised and utterly bemused when someone tells me they love the sound of it.
There’s that ‘Sliding Doors’ moment every time our histories and our individual journeys bring us to the same single point in time where we meet. Perhaps in a bar, or at a bus stop, or attending the same social event, looking for connection with people whose minds and hearts are wide open to the possibility that there’s something or someone(s) out there waiting just for us.
Every time we take a chance and say “hello” to someone, or say yes to an opportunity, that could be the moment we change our lives, and we shouldn’t be afraid of that.
I have to finish by telling you that despite having only shared some of the crazy stories about the weird ones; I’ve also been on lots of wonderful dates, with incredible, free thinking, artistic, socially aware, spiritual, caring, kind, funny and sexy people too, who have changed my life because I let myself learn so much from them.
Those people are the reason I still love dating and meeting new people in London (and wherever else I go). So if you see me around, don’t be afraid to say hello…