(an extract from my upcoming book ‘Alien Nation: The Notes of An Outsider‘)
~ Finding A Mating Partner In The Modern World ~
I lay alone on my bed, scrolling on my phone. It was a simple flick of the finger left or right. After all the centuries, this was what human evolution had brought us to. The mating process was no longer done out on the plains of life, impressing the opposite sex with a dance or song – now it was a simple matter of carefully selecting and uploading some edited, filtered photos of yourself and hoping some fellow bored person in the local area would swipe right on their smartphone. It was a process I found absurd and downright detestable, but the boredom and monotony of everyday life had ground me down too, so there I was: scrolling, scanning and searching for something I knew wasn’t there, but curiously allowing myself to engage in the motions of modern-day dating for some sort of cheap giddy thrill. I guess a part of me did enjoy the simplicity of it; I had gotten tired of all the standing around on dark nightclub dancefloors hoping some girl would come drunkenly stumbling into my life through a hazy blur of neon lights and insufferable pop music. I no longer felt the attraction to drink myself into oblivion before staggering home alone and waking up with nothing but a hangover and looming sense of existential dread that filled every crack, corner and crevice of my lonely lair of residence.
Instead, I now lay there in that room of isolation and continued swiping on my phone. I looked at the profile of each girl that arrived onto my screen. There was a general mass of girls – all with those office job titles, nice makeup, dresses and bios saying they loved Chinese takeaways, Netflix, G&Ts and ‘a bit of banter’ – the sort of girl that would have one conversation with me and dismiss me as a madman. I had once heard a friend refer to the generic type of guy as a ‘Fifa default 1’ (a reference to a virtually-generated and standardised person on a computer game) and I couldn’t help but feel the same when sifting through the girls that arrived on my screen. Tens of thousands of women around me in close proximity, yet the vast majority were like clones of some type produced by the effects of modern media and advertising. Two decades of reality TV shows had turned a high proportion of British women into clones with strenuous pouts, excessive make-up and desires for men straight out of an episode of ‘Love Island’. Where were the women out there for me? The women with some eccentricity and individuality? The women who hadn’t been corrupted by their looks or how many likes they got on Instagram? No doubt many of them would never go near these apps, but still, I thought I’d swipe right and hurl myself into the mess and madness of modern-day dating. A man had to try his luck, right?
The mindless swiping carried on until I eventually started to get some matches. Some matches didn’t result in a conversation. Some conversations kicked off and ended quite suddenly. Sometimes it was ten or twenty minutes of small-talk before the other person found someone else to talk to. After a while I got chatting to one girl about hiking after she had seen one of my profile pictures of me in the Himalayas. Naturally I got excited by our mutual interest and let myself type away frantically. I entered a verbose wall of text about my hiking trips before asking her what hikes she had done and which ones she wanted to do in the future. Suddenly seeing how overly keen I was to chat with her, I was swiftly dismissed. No more replies came my way. Turns out she wasn’t too interested in hiking after all.
I dusted myself off and persevered onward through the virtual wilderness of filtered photos, generic bios and forced conversations. I tried to work out the general script you were supposed to work through when initiating a mating request, but the rules of the modern dating game were confusing and complex. Human interaction could have been so simple, yet there were all these random hurdles and hoops to jump through to arrive at having a chance to connect with another member of the opposite sex. Just to even have a shot you had to fit all the categories of being attractive, funny, charming, keen (but not too keen), as well as having the usual social checklist items of a career, a car, a place of your own and a whole load of other things which I naturally didn’t have. Beyond that there was another set of unspoken rules which I didn’t totally understand. Altogether it was a massive drain of time and I started to wish that I could take myself to the vet and get the snip. Having this ingrained desire within you to find a mating partner seemingly only caused you a life of pain, heartache and confusion. The sheer amount of effort required just to get laid was obscene. The thought hit me that perhaps I could use my energy and time in a more productive way. Volunteer at a charity? Learn to play an instrument? Build a spaceship and escape this forsaken planet once and for all? It was a nice thought but in the end the reproductive urges ingrained in me from millions of years of evolution were too strong. I picked up my phone and carried on flicking through the profiles…
After a few more matches that went nowhere, I gave up on Tinder and migrated to the app of Bumble. Bumble was different in the fact that it was the woman who always had to send a message first to get the conversation started. Naturally this helped a little knowing that the girl was interested enough to go as far as put her pride aside and contact you first. Suddenly the hunted had become the hunter. Besides that, the demographic was different in that it was filled with girls who were a bit more serious about finding an actual partner, rather than the ego boost of Tinder which was full of girls who didn’t really want to talk, but just scroll through the long list of men that wanted to bang them.
The swiping continued and eventually I got speaking with some girl called Rosie. She was undoubtedly pretty and seemed like a genuinely nice person. Observing more of her profile and speaking to her, it quickly became apparent she was a regular accepted member of the human race with a steady career, a house and – unfortunately (from my perspective) – a child. She said she wanted to see if there was any ‘chemistry’ between us. I was now twenty-seven years through my life and the human-beings I had met that I had any real chemistry with I could count on one hand. The odds were thin I realised, but I arranged the date anyway. I knew she was an extrovert and no doubt more confident about meeting than I was (given that she had been in the dating world for some time), so I dealt with this fact by swiftly necking a bottle of red wine before going to meet her. She said she liked ‘confident men’. I wasn’t too shy by this stage in my life, but a bottle of wine always broke my introvert shell to help me appear to be gregarious, charismatic and have the confidence of a regular human-being capable of love and acceptance. The wine flowed down my throat as my extroverted alter ego awoke to engage in its latest spell of schizophrenic madness.
I turned up at the bar early so I could be a gentleman and get the drinks in for when she arrived. I walked in and got chatting to some French guys to try and switch me into a talkative mode. After a quick chat about why British girls wore high skirts in the middle of winter, I sat down at the table with our drinks ready to face the music. A couple of minutes later she walked into the room and sat down beside me. There she was: the prettiest thing I’d ever seen. The thing to save me from a life of lonely madness. The thing that completed me as a member of the male sex. Predictably, I was in love at first sight. Naturally I had to put that aside and play it cool as one was supposed to in the first date scenario. We got to it and started shooting the small-talk back and forth. We sipped our drinks and spoke about our lives and interests. We pretended we were both totally perfect with no flaws or failures or possible ‘red flags’ that would compromise us as a potential partner. Just like I had anticipated, I felt as if I was in some sort of job interview. I thought I was passing with flying colours, but she apparently saw straight through my mask of alcohol-distorted confidence…
“You’re really nervous aren’t you?” she said probingly.
“Well, we’re not all experienced internet daters like you.”
My quick retort caused her to let out a little laugh followed by a smile. Perhaps it wasn’t hopeless after all. At that point I was feeling brave and confessed it was the first-ever internet date I’d ever been on; this sparked some jokes about the nature of dating, along with some stories of the car crash dates she had been on in the past. All of a sudden the conversation was flowing freely along with the drinks. Feeling that drunk confidence begin to surge forth after the third drink, I pulled her towards me and started kissing her. The kissing carried on through the night I carried on reeling off the well-recited script of the standard first date – making jokes, acting like a gentleman – pretending I was James Bond or something like that. Remarkably she seemed to eat it all up. This was it, I thought to myself: internet date number one and I had successfully struck gold. What were the odds? Who knew mindlessly swiping on an app on your phone could get actual results?
The next couple of weeks we spoke every day and went on to see each other numerous times. We drank and ate out together. We watched TV around her house. Hell, we even went as far to sleep together a couple of times. Things were going quite well until it slowly became apparent that we were very different at our cores. She was authoritarian and wanted a life of following established traditions. She said she wanted her child to be a learner of cultural codes and conventions, rather than have the values of being creative and unique. On top of this, she was career-focused and said her greatest motivations were what people thought of her and how much money she earned. All things considered, it was safe to say that our values were somewhat slightly different. Up until that point, I had tried to hide who I really was in order for her to accept me, but there was only so long I could hold in my alien nature before it drunkenly spewed out all over the place. That moment happened one night following my fifth glass of wine in the closing time hour of a Wetherspoons pub. Engaging in our latest spell of dating small-talk, I was no longer fully able to pretend that I was a normal human-being compatible with mainstream society. I threw my mask of normality aside and let my unconventional views blurt out of my mouth. I spoke of why I had spent so much of my twenties travelling rather than forming a career. I spoke of wanting to live a life true to my own values and not those of society’s. This first declaration of my true character was met with an awkward silence followed by a clear moment where I could see her mentally packing her bags and sprinting far away over the horizon like some sort of scared deer. The conversation then stuttered on until we finished our drinks and got up to leave. We kissed and said we’d speak soon, but I knew it was over there and then. The next day I received the ‘I don’t think we should see each other any more’ text. As anticipated, I was back alone in the wilderness of life and love.
I was dejected but not defeated. There were plenty more fish in the internet ocean and I picked up that phone and started swiping away like a madman once again. Again I faced the intimidating masses of women out there looking for a potential mating partner. There were women who were single mothers, women who were self-proclaimed princesses – women who clearly bitter about men but were there on the dating apps anyway. It truly was a battlefield of potential mines waiting to tear you apart one way or another. Sometimes the horror of it all almost caused me to chuck the phone aside and declare a vow of abstinence for life. I had heard about these dating apps for a while, but now having finally used them, I could with my own eyes see the sadness and madness of it all. All these hurt, lonely and complicated people trying to connect to someone or something in the virtual wilderness. You could see in their pictures and bios who were the wounded ones, the desperate ones – the ones who were just there to stroke their egos and fill some sort of internal void by being lusted after by men they would never dream of meeting. God only knows how bad the male side of it was. Observing it all, it was clear to me that human interaction had become some sort of terrible joke and that I was now truly a part of it. But for whatever reason, this was now what had to be done for our survival as a species – this twisted comedy was what was necessary to continue the horrorshow of the human race.
The comedy continued and eventually Tinder came good with a girl called Sophie. She was the classic ‘hot girl’ – long blonde hair, pretty, big lips, tall and a great figure sculpted carefully by yoga and PT sessions at the gym. Somehow she was into poetry and philosophy and all the weird stuff I was into. A female lover of Alan Watts and Rumi – something I had only imagined meeting in my most outlandish daydreams. It almost seemed too good to be true and I approached her cautiously wondering where exactly she had set her traps. There was no way a girl that attractive would not have some way to tear you to shreds completely. I thought of the way the female praying mantis killed and ate the male after he was done mating with her. I wished myself some luck as I moved in closer.
It took a few cancelled meetings but we finally met up in a bar while we were both out drinking on the same night. The conversation went well initially, but after a while she kept walking off to speak to other guys. She only half seemed interested in talking to me, and the other half in looking around and making sure other men were paying attention to her. She never really asked anything about my life – the same as she did when we texted over the phone – and I started to wonder if she really was the girl she said she was. For a lover of poetry and philosophy, I expected her to be discussing the meaning of life rather than cracking jokes about what I was wearing. Well, I knew it seemed too good to be true and after half an hour of her showing no interest in me, I finished my drink and retreated back home alone to my lonely lair of residence. The texting predictably faded out over the next couple of days until she stopped replying altogether. I eventually found out a previous ex had reached out and asked to meet up with her again. Well, that was the end of that disaster before it had even gotten started. Probably for the best. At least she hadn’t eaten me.
My morale was dropping fast but I carried on my little dating experiment with a few more car crash dates as I tried to find some basic human connection. It was soon becoming a massive consumption of time and money, but I was determined to see that there were people out there you could connect to without having to pretend to be someone else or have the body of a Greek god or something.
Finally, I had one good date with a girl from Birmingham who was a fervent traveller like myself. All things considered, the date went the best out of any I’d ever been on. We both shared the love of travel and had visited many of the same places. With this fuelling our connection, we drank cocktails and kissed all night; we held hands as we walked from bar to bar; we even agreed “there would definitely be a second date” as I walked her home. Needless to say, I found it quite strange when I never received another message from her after that night. By this point I didn’t even have the energy to ask her what had happened or gone wrong. My emotional energy was drained and I tossed my phone aside and gave up on the whole internet dating thing a rest. Humanity and its strange ways was simply too much to bear at times and there was only so much one could take before losing their mind completely.
In the meanwhile, I went about my life and considered how people actually made the whole mating partner thing work. I observed the couples walking down the street. I saw their kisses and their hugs. I watched their hands connect as they walked side by side. All I could do was wonder how in the hell they ever got to that stage. What was the secret formula? What was it that I was missing? Finding a mating partner in the modern world was like running the gauntlet through the nine levels of hell. How did people make it through with themselves still intact? How did people make it work? Like I did so often when I was confused by human behaviour, I studied the animal kingdom to see what they could teach me. I watched birds sing to each other on tree branches; the squirrels chase each other’s tails; the dogs sniff each other’s arses. Again, it was simple and direct without all the tedious trivia us humans had managed to create. I had to wonder how we had taken the whole thing so far into the realms of madness? Surely the gods would never forgive us for the absurdity of internet dating and all those thousands of ridiculous profiles, scripted conversations and shallow interactions. All the dates that went nowhere; all the dates that led to more dates that went nowhere. The hopelessness, the desperation – the mindless swiping right or left as you slowly went more and more insane. It made sense why the average human heart was a total battleground by the latter half of one’s life.
Feeling disillusioned with the dating scene, I retreated back to the old tradition of standing on dark nightclub dancefloors hoping some girl would drunkenly stumble into my life through that hazy blur of neon lights and insufferable pop music. I stood on those sticky floors and watched the human race interact with each other. I watched the males initiate the mating process as they tactically stumbled closer to the nearest female. I watched the quick glances between females to express whether or not they were interested. This was it: we were back to basics – operating as brash and animalistic as the animal kingdom. I could almost imagine David Attenborough himself narrating the scene in that husky old voice of his. All these creatures flailing their limbs, trying to bond and connect with another. All these creatures trying to fulfil their primal needs and desires. And I was one of them, prowling around, looking for some sort of victim to take home. I continued my hunt until I eventually got lucky. I picked up a girl near the bar and lured her to the smoking area for a drink and chat. After twenty minutes of small-talk, we decided to get a taxi back to mine. The night went well. We sealed the deal and she stayed until the morning. It was then lying in the haze of a Sunday morning hangover when we got to chatting about our lives. After a few minutes, she found out I was 28 and living in a flatshare. She also found out that I didn’t have a stable career and owned about six t-shirts. Such traumatising revelations caused her to get out of bed, quickly pack up her things and shoot outta there without exchanging numbers. A forced goodbye kiss on her way out and she disappeared back into the barren wilderness of life and love never to be seen again. I wished her some luck on her way.
And so one month after starting my dating experiment, there I was once again: back alone on my bed, locked away in my lonely lair, done with women and general human interaction until the end of eternity. The desire to find a mating partner in the modern world had subsided after all the chaos of the last few weeks. Better to be a loner, suppress those urges and save yourself from all the mess and madness that was waiting for you out there. The horrors of trying to connect with another human-being were simply too great in this day and age. I was going to leave them all to it and embrace the quiet life of some sort of celibate monk. Running. Reading. Writing. Meditation. Yes, that would be the trick to keep me healthy and happy. The decision was made and I let out an exasperated gasp of breath and felt myself sink into my mattress. I then stared at the walls. I stared at the ceiling. I twiddled my thumbs. Suddenly the loneliness struck me once again and I looked over at that phone: that portal to a possible connection with another human somewhere in the hostile wilderness of life and love. Tinder, Bumble, Hinge – they were all waiting to try and connect me with another person close by. Sure, maybe I had experienced some bad luck so far, but perhaps things were about to change. Perhaps this emptiness in my heart could be filled. Perhaps there was a chance to connect with someone or something or anything….
I reached over, picked up my phone and started swiping one more time.