The dating decade
WH Features Writer and once serial dater Anthea England questions how easy it is to find love in 2017
How tech changed our search for love
IIn the 10 years since the launch of Women’s Health, the dating landscape has changed entirely. And I would know – because I navigated it for the whole, awkward decade. In 2007, as WH launched here, the first iphone went on sale in the US and a dating site called eharmony arrived in Oz. Back then, the idea of finding love on the web, much less an app, was unthinkable. I was at uni studying – the only place I met guys was on sticky pub dance floors.
Around 2011, my friend told me he’d met a guy on a gay app called
Grindr. We thought it was a fun fad, and yet by 2013 I found myself on my first Tinder date. Sticky dance floors were replaced with swiping in my trackies, spurred on by mates and vino. Before long, it was more than an underground movement. If you were single, you were on
‘the apps’ and the idea of meeting someone ‘in real life’ was a bit odd.
In a decade, the dating world has evolved rapidly, leaving a whole generation of singles chasing their tails. I asked life and business coach Lauren Trlin why it’s hard to keep up these days. “Technology is that little bit ahead of us,” she says. “We’re the first generation that are meeting people on a phone. Think of how much we have to keep up with, evolution-wise.” And it’s true – the new dating world requires you to be more agile than an AFL player because the goalposts move every day.
THE APP SIDE
For the most part, I enjoyed the apps. Sure, I dealt with so many ghosters that I could open a haunted house, but I’d previously met plenty of duds in the pub, too. Frankly, I was thankful for a new avenue to meet men – I was hardly being bombarded with bachelors at my women’s magazine job.
But while my coupled-up mates liked hearing my dating stories, I had to live them. Eventually, I got tired. My main problem: I couldn’t deal with the amount of choice in the app world. I mildly panic when choosing a brand of muesli, so you can bet I struggled when it came to love. When there are 329 management consultants clogging up your Happn feed, how the hell do you figure out if Matt, 31, or Mark, 32, is your guy?
Counsellor and eharmony’s relationship expert Desiree
Spierings believes the kind of exhaustion I experienced is common. “Part of the dating fatigue – not just the choice fatigue – from apps comes in because an app can’t narrow it down any further than looks. You can’t get chemistry from a picture,” she explains. “That’s why going on that first date is important, to see if chemistry is there. That’s where the fatigue comes in – you might invest time chatting online and then when you meet, the spark isn’t there.” Indeed, I learnt you have to meet up pretty quickly to assess if there’s some connection beyond your shared love of Suits season six. There’s no point texting Dave “How’s your day been?” for three weeks if he’s actually a seedy guy with a stuffed toy collection. However, this means your date tally and the time taken up in your diary can add up fairly quickly, too.
So how do you sort your Matts from your Marks? I’m a big fan of a filter – and no, I’m not talking about Gingham or Nashville. If you didn’t have some criteria to help you sift through the candidates, you’d be dating every day. But, that said, I found I was going on plenty of first and second dates but not many third ones. If there weren’t instant fireworks, I’d rarely take it any further. I knew there were so many other options out there and
I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time.
Spierings says this kind of attitude arises because we’re often on the hunt for something unattainable. “We now live in a society where the ‘never enough’ principle is prevalent,” she says. “We never have enough time, enough money or our potential partners aren’t enough. We always think there’s something and someone better out there, so we’ll never be able to settle down. We’re looking for the perfect person – and this is where people struggle, because they get choice fatigue.”
One of the easy antidotes to this? Having realistic expectations. It’s not about lowering your standards, but it is about asking what you can really know from five low-res photos from 2009, a stilted app convo and a first date with a complete stranger. Every date is different because every person is different. Sometimes you’ll have an instant spark there, sometimes the connection will grow and sometimes you’ll never want to see them again because they turn up drunk and get a bit handsy. I’d initially been eliminating people with my rule of ‘When you know, you know’ – but the thing is, I didn’t even know the poor guys yet.
And so, tired of the frenetic dating game, I decided to set my own pace. I dated less. I met people through friends. I ditched any ideas about who my ideal fella would be. I’ve never been keen on the idea of someone being ‘my everything’ – and Spierings suggests searching for someone who’s a bonus instead. “People say to me, ‘My partner has to be the best listener, the best provider, my psychologist, my financial adviser’. No, they don’t. They don’t have to tick all those boxes. You contribute something to the table and you have a whole community out there to help you out,” she says. “What that significant other should represent is added pleasure. Life with them is better than without them. Life is easier with them than without them.
They represent more happiness.” Sounds pretty much ideal to me.
I also channelled a ‘great aunt at Christmas dinner’ vibe – I started saying exactly what I thought.
I called people out. I asked lots of questions, especially the hard ones. Amazingly, experts agree this upfront attitude is a good strategy. “The number one rule is to be your most authentic self,” confirms Trlin. “Once again, if that doesn’t suit people then that’s brilliant because you only want to date the people who really want to date you as well. That becomes the ultimate filter.” Disclaimer: I really did put a large volume of people off with this.
Except for one bloke, it seems. A few months into my slow dating initiative, I went on a first date. It didn’t feel as if my whole world had changed in an evening and I didn’t ‘just know’ it was right. However, he was kind, on time and picked a nice wine, so I saw him again. I took the time to get to know him. It was only then that I knew that this was no muesli dilemma. I knew anyone who shared my love of tiny houses (seriously, google them) and never bailed on a date was a legend. I hadn’t found my ‘other half’ (cringe), but I had found another great ‘whole’ to hang out with. And I knew I didn’t want swiping to be my story now; I wanted this to be my story, instead. Thankfully, it’s turned out to be a really happy one.