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
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.
1940s: THE FAMILY MAN
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.
1960S-70S: SET UP BY A FRIEND
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.
1970S-80S: BAR OR RESTAURANT
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