Deep in the kittenfish-filled waters of the dating app world, Miss FQ associate editor Phoebe Watt couldn’t help but wonder — whatever happened to meeting someone in the wild?
I joined Bumble a few months ago for a story. I know, what is this, a futuristic follow-up to How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days? Well, kind of, yes. At least it was going to be, except the minute I started swiping — past all the men I work with, and the men my ex works with, and anyone who’s dated someone I know — it became clear that finding a viable match in such a small and interconnected dating pool as Auckland was going to be hard enough. The idea of going on to potentially ruin some poor guy’s reputation in print was unthinkable.
My dreams of being the next Andie Anderson dashed, I shelved the professional agenda and focused on a personal one: getting back in the game. Recently out of a six-year relationship, my opinion of dating apps and the people who use them had until this point been informed entirely by Instagram accounts like @tindernightmares. Thankfully, the kind of mind-boggling misogyny that keeps such accounts ticking over is something I haven’t really encountered to date. My nightmare remains to do with proximity. Because unless we’re talking a super-hot hybrid of the Ryans Gosling and Reynolds, the idea of walking into an off-site work meeting and discovering someone I just hooked up with sitting at the table doesn’t sound like a recipe for sexual chemistry. It just sounds a bit awkies.
Initially, I tried widening my radius (not a euphemism). Frankly, all that got me was RSI (also not a euphemism). You see, it doesn’t matter how many options I’m presented with, I’m still going to swipe left if you live more than a $10 Uber ride away. Yet I also want someone with whom I share several degrees of separation, and I’m continually reminded that no such thing exists. This week I traded Snapchat details with one prospective suitor (Mum, Dad, don’t think too hard about that), and the first snap I received was my associate editor’s letter page in the last issue of Miss FQ, with the words, “Your magazine is in my flat”. I hadn’t specified where I work. He’d had my full name, thanks to Snapchat, for all of two minutes. And suddenly — lest I be accused of ‘kittenfishing’ — I had to preface any would-be date with “Oh, by the way, that’s not my real hair”?
Herein lies perhaps the biggest problem with online dating. You might not be a mid-40s housewife posing as a 19-year-old like the original Catfish, but if you’ve ever Facetuned a photo or ’grammed a beautiful flat-lay featuring a niche book you have no intention of reading, you (and TBF, me), are halfway there.
“You might not be a mid-40s housewife posing as a 19-year-old like the original Catfish, but if you’ve ever Facetuned a photo or ’grammed a beautiful flat-lay featuring a niche book you have no intention of reading, you are halfway there”
It’s not just about crafting a particular aesthetic. Online dating apps allow us to ‘filter’ the way we talk — the not-so-instant messaging medium giving us space to respond more thoughtfully than we might in person. But rather than mitigating all of that awkward first date conversation, we’re just postponing it. If anything, the first date becomes even more uncomfortable because the chat isn’t as good IRL (to say nothing of the fact that everyone left their flattering black and white filter at home).
And even if your social media style is less ‘highlights reel’ and more ‘what you see is what you get’ (power to you!), sorry to say you’re still setting yourself up for disappointment. Because often the discrepancies between our online and real-life personas aren’t the relationship roadblock. It’s that we know too much about each other’s real lives before we meet, which creates a confusing set of expectations that are difficult to navigate during happy hour. Sex and relationship experts call this ‘premature escalation’. As one expert, Christine Hassler, told the New York Post: “It’s like you’re on your second date in terms of info, but your first date in terms of physical chemistry… you overthink what you say and do instead of being your natural self.”
As an expert stalker (uh, I mean, researcher), this rings very true for me. Not to brag, but give me your first name and a visual, and within seconds I’ll be looking at your house on Google Street View and reading through a PDF of your CV with the financials of your tech start-up open in another tab.
“…give me your first name and a visual, and within seconds I’ll be looking at your house on Google Street View and reading through a PDF of your CV”
All of this satisfies my journalistic instincts, but cut to our first date and your anecdote about getting food poisoning on holiday in Tulum, and I’m simultaneously bored and stressed trying to steer the conversation to the bit where you meet Leonardo DiCaprio at the pool bar. Also, yes, I know your last venture went bust after you fell out with your business partner — tell me about the new company you registered on July 12, 2017.
Needless to say, all of this admin really takes the fun out of the dating game, so I’m going to follow the advice of match.com consultant Whitney Casey and keep pre-date online communications with my next match brief and logistical.
In the meantime, I’ll resist the temptation to do a full-scale background check and let the conversation happen organically, which, coincidentally, is apparently how I’m going to be meeting my next significant other. This according to my tarot reader, who says it’ll be in March next year, and totally offline. Sorry Bumble matches, it’s not you, it’s my cards. I’ll spare you the unsolicited deck pic.