Over the past five years, my online dating CV looks like this: two one-year relationships, five four-month relationships, several flings, 30 first dates, and around 2,500 Tinder matches.
It’s why I’ve never approached someone outside my phone before – I’d rather have thumb strain than ask a stranger out.
I downloaded Tinder in 2014 during my final year of university, because I was ready to find a boyfriend. Sure, we knew about matchmaking sites where people spent hours filling out pages of specific (read: yawn) info about themselves. But using our phones to simply swipe our way to (potential) love? Well, that was game-changing, and millennials everywhere, including me, signed up, adding a couple of selfies and an Arctic Monkeys lyric to our bios.
Fast forward four years and I’m not surprised Tinder is registering 1.6 billion swipes a day, or that we’re spending 10 hours a week on dating apps because with my (not-so-lucky-number) of seven, I’m definitely upping the average. My app spectrum runs from Coffee Meets Bagel, which offers just one match a day based on curated options, to Feeld, which is for, erm, “curious and kinky” singles and couples.
Now, aged 26, I’m on seven dating apps and, until recently, the thought of meeting someone IN REAL LIFE would bring me out in a cold sweat
Despite the growing ubiquity of these apps, one YouGov study says people (in the US) would prefer to meet someone IRL. That over there, but, for me, once you get used to the anonymity of private swiping, the fear of “chatting up” someone IRL increases.
Equally, I know it’s not impossible. I have a friend who fell down some stairs and got flirty with the paramedic once she’d recovered; another who bagged her boyfriend on a train; and one pal pulled someone advertising a food delivery service on the street. Which is why I recently ; and I don’t mean upgrading to Bumble Premium.
Back then, the dating app world felt new and exciting
I mean, if Craig David other can meet a girl on Monday, and be chilling by Sunday in 2000, how hard can it be for me to do the same in 2018?
But first, I needed a plan. Speaking to a few experts to work out how to go about making myself look “available”, dating coach Hayley Quinn told me to not look “busy”. In other words, ditch the headphones and put my phone away. And how would I know if somebody was single? “Besides the wedding ring, it’s hard to tell,” adds dating coach James Preece. “But looking for people who are taking longer to enjoy their coffee or sitting alone is a good place to start. Watch them for a few minutes to make sure they’re definitely on their own, then go say, ‘Hey’.”
James suggested I try talking to guys in bookshops. Why? I love books and, as he pointed out, bookshops offer a calmer space to start a conversation than a packed Tube. But it was terrifying. I’ve seen it done so badly when guys approach me, it meant my guard was up. Smiling feebly and murmuring, “Ooh, that one is particularly good” when someone’s browsing the non-fiction section didn’t feel natural at all. And even though a couple of guys responded positively, I was unable to transition smoothly from “off-hand comment” to “breezy flirting”. I left the shop with zero phone numbers and more titles to gather dust on my shelves.
Outside of shops, I felt just as lost with conversation starters. I don’t smoke, so I couldn’t ask people for a light. And although James suggested I ask for directions or pay them a compliment (apparently men get less, so they mean more), I seriously struggled to compliment a guy on his shorts. Not only did the energy to make the first move zap the follow-up conversation, the lingering awks factor felt far worse than a no-swipe back.