GEN­ER­A­TION DATE Find­ing ev­er­last­ing love IRL: turns out Nan could be on to some­thing

When it comes to dat­ing, which gen­er­a­tion had it eas­i­est? Josie Cop­son swipes left on tech­nol­ogy and road tests the real-life tech­niques that would have found your nan a match

Cosmopolitan (UK) - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs AN­TO­NIO PETRONZIO

Ihave spent the past six months dat­ing a man who reg­u­larly shouts non­sen­si­cal metaphors at me.“You’re the Eif­fel Tower and I’m Glas­gow!” is his lat­est one.

I think what he is try­ing to say is that we are a bad match. He may be right. I have been see­ing him on and off for half a year and I still don’t know how to pro­nounce his sur­name. In our sec­ond month to­gether I dis­cov­ered that he thought my job was writ­ing pic­ture cap­tions. That wouldn’t be so bad, but ev­ery time I try to tell him some­thing, he’ll wink as if I just mouthed the words “I’m not wear­ing any pants”, when in ac­tual fact all I said was “…and that’s why I de­cided on Cardiff Univer­sity.”

So, yet again, I find my­self on the brink of sin­gle­dom. I am 23, yet have the dat­ing en­nui of some­one two decades older. They say my gen­er­a­tion has it easy when it comes to love – all those po­ten­tial part­ners at the swipe of a phone, and yet avail­abil­ity and ease has done some­thing odd to dat­ing: it has made it a bloody night­mare.

When I was younger, I thought I’d meet some­one aged 16, just like my par­ents did, and that would

be it. They’ve been to­gether for 34 years and have only bro­ken up once when my mum ran off to But­lins to be­come a bar­maid. (In a grand ro­man­tic ges­ture, my dad made the round trip to go and res­cue her.) I look at them and I want what they have. In­stead, all I’ve got is a phone full of dick pics and What­sApp mes­sages from men who then dis­ap­pear into the ether like smoke.

And so, in true jour­nal­is­tic fash­ion, I pitched a dat­ing idea (which was es­sen­tially a ruse to try and find a boyfriend be­fore my back­side started to look like a bag of sliced onions). I would, I told my ed­i­tor, try all the dif­fer­ent dat­ing tech­niques and meth­ods of ro­man­tic in­tro­duc­tion that cou­ples across the gen­er­a­tional di­vide have leaned on. I would rely on my fam­ily to fix me with up with a suit­able paramour just like par­ents did in the ’40s. I would throw shapes on a sticky night­club dance­floor in the hope that my fu­ture part­ner would si­dle over, just like they did in the ’70s. I would en­cour­age friends and per­suade col­leagues to find me the most suit­able men they know (’80s and ’90s), and then, af­ter a month of this lu­nacy, I would hope that one of th­ese gen­er­a­tional dat­ing tech­niques would de­liver the goods.


The ’40s were tough for sin­gle women. World War II meant most of the de­cent men didn’t come back from bat­tle, so there was a se­vere lack of bloke to go round. On top of that, and surely the most cru­cial thing, Ann Sum­mers had yet to cre­ate a sil­i­con vi­bra­tor. In­stead, in the spirit of the era, young women kept calm and car­ried on, hop­ing their par­ents had a back cat­a­logue of suit­able men.

I call my mother. This is a woman who once got a fam­ily hol­i­day for

“He is the sort of man I’d choose for my daugh­ter”

four to New York for £2,000 in­clud­ing flights and food. Give Denise a task and she’ll al­ways come through. Plus, she found my dad, a man who’s funny, can build any­thing and still gives his 23-yearold daugh­ter pocket money.

“If I get you a man in Birm­ing­ham, does that mean you’ll come home more?” she asks. I say yes. Two hours later she texts to say she has nu­mer­ous op­tions and she’s de­lib­er­at­ing. A fire­fighter is in the mix, and I have to re­sist the urge to write back in caps,“DO YOU EVEN LOVE ME… LIKE, AT ALL?” when she doesn’t pick him. In­stead, she set­tles on a man called Sam. Her rea­son­ing: “He’s the nicest per­son I’ve ever met.”

As my train pulls into Birm­ing­ham New Street, I re­alise I know ex­actly two things about my date. One: his name. Two: his dad works with my mum.

I spot him sit­ting in Pret hunched over a cof­fee in a checked shirt. I stare through the win­dow and… he’s… cute. Not my usual type, granted, but he’s not bad by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion. Mid-twen­ties, at a guess, with mousy brown hair and pale skin. As soon as I in­tro­duce my­self, he’s con­cerned I haven’t eaten and of­fers me a ham and cheese toastie. In­stead, I ask him to pick the bar, as it was al­ways the man’s choice in the ’40s. He does, but looks to me for re­as­sur­ance that he’s made the right choice. He then nurses a sin­gle beer for two hours. To­wards the end of the date he tells me about his brother who is do­ing a ski sea­son and re­cently broke some bones when he slipped in the snow drunk. I si­lently won­der if he’s sin­gle. Sam is nice, but there is no spark. He is ex­actly the sort of young man I’d choose for my daugh­ter – po­lite and smart with a pocket full of prospects. He’s in full-time em­ploy­ment (al­ways a bonus) with a mort­gage and yet…

We leave the bar at 9.30pm, he walks me to the sta­tion and we hug good­bye. A week later, he texts me to say good luck at my new job – some­thing I men­tioned to him only in pass­ing (which is way more than ‘metaphor man’ ever re­mem­bered), but it’s clear this one is go­ing no fur­ther. Denise is dev­as­tated.


In the ’60s, courtship of­ten started with group hang-outs, so it was usu­ally down to one of your girl­friends to find you a piece of ac­tion. I turn to my make-up artist pal Emily – she was one of my first Lon­don friends, and she’s al­ways telling me how amaz­ing I am. Which frankly bodes well for match­mak­ing.

She sug­gests a guy she knows called Andy. “You’re both funny… but also crazy,” she smiles. I’ll take it. I pre­pare for the date by watch­ing a video on ’60s dat­ing. I ar­rive at the bar 20 min­utes early and re­mem­ber be­ing told to wait for my date to take my coat off me. So I wait. And wait. I am wear­ing a fluffy jacket. And he is late. The lights are hot. Sweat is run­ning down my arms like trib­u­taries of the River Ir­well. Fifteen min­utes later, I give up and ask the male waiter to help me out.

When Andy does ar­rive, I’m im­pressed. At 30, he’s older than me and has that re­laxed, ‘I’ve-been-aroundthe-block-and-bro­ken-a-few-hearts­do­ing-it’ air about him. I like the way he takes con­trol, or­der­ing us both a mo­jito hav­ing barely looked at the menu. It’s look­ing good, very good… un­til three sips into my drink, the ex-talk be­gins. He maybe could have waited for my sec­ond cock­tail be­fore the failed en­gage­ment chat be­gan.

He then tells me he’s af­ter The One. It’s re­fresh­ing for some­one to be so hon­est in a world of game play­ers. How­ever, I de­cide I’m not it when he spends the next hour high-fiv­ing me. “What’s your favourite film?” he asks.

“Drop Dead Fred.” *High five*. “Your favourite food?”“Mex­i­can.” *High five*.

High fives are the most pla­tonic form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, ev­ery­one knows that. Emily has got this wrong. She’s found a guy who has the same qual­i­ties as me – he’s silly and fun, but I don’t want to date my­self. We kiss on the cheek, say good­bye af­ter a Tube ride to­gether (where he sat op­po­site me, de­spite there be­ing spare seats next to me – that fluffy jacket did me over) and then I leave him to roam into the night to find a woman who will ap­pre­ci­ate him.


Those fa­mil­iar with that most sem­i­nal of films, Satur­day Night Fever, will know the dance­floor was the place to meet your mate in the ’70s. This, I rea­son, I can do. I can dance. I like loud pub­lic spa­ces. And I look re­ally good in the semi-dark.

Be­cause a lady can’t go out hunt­ing for prey on her own, I de­cide I need a wing­man. James Preece is a dat­ing coach and tonight he is my per­sonal hitch. He tells me to wear some­thing at­trac­tive but com­fort­able, then says his wife wants him home for tea by 7.30pm. He in­structs me to pop my “bitch bub­ble” – the shield that women put up when they go out. I must do this, he in­structs, by smil­ing. Yep, that’s re­ally it.

But here’s the thing about mod­ern­day bars – ev­ery­one is hunched over their phone. By the time James’s cur­few comes around, I haven’t made eye con­tact with any­one.

“I’m not leav­ing un­til you get a num­ber,” says James, eyes half on

the door.“You don’t know them. You’ve got no re­la­tion­ship. There is noth­ing to lose, but ev­ery­thing to gain. If they say no, then you just walk away.” He gen­tly pushes me with one hand, and uses his other hand to take my wine away.“The more you do it, the eas­ier it’ll be.”

I ap­proach a knot of three young men. I in­tro­duce my­self and ask them what their plans are for the evening. They look gen­uinely shocked that a strange woman they haven’t sum­moned via the chi­canery that is Tin­der has come their way. At the end of our 10-minute chat, I force­fully type my num­ber into the friendli­est guy’s phone then head off enig­mat­i­cally into the night.

The next day, while I’m gorg­ing on a full English, I get a phone call from a with­held num­ber.“Why is your num­ber on my boyfriend’s phone?” a woman at the other end de­mands. Shit.

The next evening I drag my friend, Jenni, out af­ter fran­ti­cally googling ‘best places to pull fit men in Lon­don on a Tues­day night.’ Dstrkt, a flashy night­club in cen­tral Lon­don that’s beloved by sec­ond-di­vi­sion foot­ball play­ers, is that place. I walk in smil­ing and mak­ing gen­tle eye con­tact with ev­ery­one. Ten min­utes later, I get talk­ing to Ja­son. He’s Ital­ian. He wants six chil­dren. He has done three sea­sons in Ayia Napa and, best of all, on Christ­mas Day he cooks seven cour­ses. I ask for his phone and boldly type in my num­ber. I don’t know who this woman is but I like her. A lot. We plan to meet at Junk­yard crazy golf the next day and when I see him in the cold light of day, I’m re­lieved. He’s hand­some, boy­ish and very funny. Eigh­teen holes later he asks, “Do you want to stay out and get drunk?” That is lit­er­ally all I ever want to do. I briefly con­sider vol­un­teer­ing to get started on his six chil­dren right there and then. The night ends with us eat­ing burnt pizza on my sofa, lis­ten­ing to Magic FM and talk­ing about how much we love our dads.

1980S-90S: AT WORK

In this decade, it was all about the work­place hook-up. Thank­fully, dat­ing col­leagues was my spe­cial­ity in my col­lege years. While work­ing at a lo­cal leisure cen­tre, I had a life­guard-only dat­ing pol­icy. By the time I fin­ished, I’d kissed ev­ery guy work­ing there. But find­ing a co-worker to flirt with is a lot more dif­fi­cult when you work at a women’s mag­a­zine. Still, I re­mained un­de­terred and threw my net a lit­tle wider, which took me to the pho­to­graphic stu­dio that ex­ists be­neath

Cos­mopoli­tan Tow­ers. Here, un­der the blink­ing strip light, young men hunch over com­put­ers and pack­ets of gin­ger bis­cuits. I find the leader of th­ese men – his name is Gra­ham. He looks kind and fa­therly. I tell him I am look­ing for a life part­ner. He smiles. Then shouts to the en­tire room,‘ANY­ONE SIN­GLE?’ There’s a si­lence. He homes in on a hand­some man-boy who looks a bit like a young Ge­orge Hamil­ton (go look him up).

“Ge­orge – are you sin­gle?” The man-boy looks up. “Yeah. Why?” “Will you go out with me next week?’ I say, smil­ing.“I’ll buy the first round.”

And, just like that, we spend the af­ter­noon send­ing each other semi-flirty emails. We set­tle on a date at a time and place that I sug­gest. This was, af­ter all, the decade where nearly 70% of women were work­ing, glid­ing through the of­fice on cast­ers of con­fi­dence.

The great thing about dat­ing col­leagues is “you in­stantly have some­thing in com­mon”, James Preece says when I tell him about my lat­est date. He’s right. When we meet, Ge­orge and I dis­cuss the strange world of mag­a­zines and gos­sip un­char­i­ta­bly about mu­tual co-work­ers.

By 8.30pm, we’ve spent two hours drink­ing and I’m will­ing him to sug­gest one more. He doesn’t, and in­stead walks me to the train sta­tion where he says good­bye with a grand­fa­therly kiss on the fore­head.

So how did I do? Well, I learnt that I know what I want from a part­ner bet­ter than the woman whose womb I came out of, the friends I What­sApp ev­ery two min­utes and a man who works in the base­ment. My favourite date was with Ja­son, the man I ap­proached in a club. (The fact he moved back to Ayia Napa two months af­ter our date was a bit of a blow.)

The point is, I met ev­ery man in per­son. And the great thing about that is that even if ev­ery date wasn’t a suc­cess, it was a chance to bet­ter un­der­stand what I was look­ing for. We don’t do that any more. We dig­i­tally swat away good men and women be­cause we don’t like their pic­ture, or they say the wrong thing in a one-line biog. And that, I now re­alise, is where we’ve got it all wrong.

Love isn’t one-di­men­sional. It can’t bloom from a selfie and a well­cu­rated bi­og­ra­phy. It needs two peo­ple to meet and bounce their views/ hopes/as­pi­ra­tions off one an­other. And that’s some­thing even the best tech­nol­ogy in the world can’t of­fer.

“The ‘80s was the decade of the work­place hook-up”

“So how do I swipe left with the push but­tons?”

Ah, the mod­ern man: so many no­ti­fi­ca­tions, so lit­tle time

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