Thanks to many advances in technology over the last several decades, dating these days is quite simple. Usually a small sample of material will do, and within the accepted reference range Carbon-14 dating is usually accurate to +/- 50 years.
Of course, that’s not what we shall be talking about in this article. We, gentle reader, are naturally far more interested in the delightful condition wherein one person seeks the company of another through utilization of one or more digital platforms within the confines of which other like-minded seekers of love may perhaps be found.
One enters into online dating full of hope, desire, optimism, and perhaps more than a little trepidation. Who, after all, will be laying in wait for us there?
A couple of decades ago, when the Internet was still in its youth and free from the inevitable wrinkles and blemishes that come with the passing of time, many people were somewhat ashamed to admit to using such an impersonal mechanism in order to find, if not a life-long soulmate then at least someone within whose arms, and perchance between whose legs, one might find temporary solace.
Today, it is difficult to imagine how one could meet others without embracing the world of smartphone apps and dating websites. Should one attempt to be anything other than tediously professional at work, one’s job is at risk. A flirtation over the avocado section at one’s local supermarket is rendered even less likely now that we’re all wearing facemasks and, no doubt, will find tomorrow we are obliged to venture forth in form-flattering hazmat body suits.
As the Internet has stumbled from childhood innocence directly into jaded midlife (mostly bypassing the curiosity and explorations of the teen years) it is not surprising that dating websites have now become specialized to a considerable degree. Some merely pander to the voyeur and fantasist, providing a few pictures onto which we can project our hopes and dreams as we eagerly swipe from one identikit visage to another. Other sites enable far more explicit details to be conveyed. Should your dream partner be interested in home cooking, bondage, and occasional three-ways with you and a llama called Frederick, a little perseverance on the right dating sight may well reward you with a match of sorts.
Although it’s been some considerable time since I had personal experience of any dating sites, my son and his girlfriend have been dabbling for their own amusement recently and so I’ve been regaled with a variety of tales concerning contemporary romance or, as it is now termed, “hooking up.”
As my son is young, annoyingly handsome, highly intelligent, and studying for a good degree, it’s not entirely surprising that his profile received a dozen or so expressions of interest within the first few days. Perhaps some of those expressing interest really were women of various ages and not merely obese sweaty middle-aged Republicans living out a repressed fantasy online.
My son’s girlfriend, a delightful and equally intelligent young woman, naturally received a great deal more attention. In fact her profile received a flood of responses within 20 minutes of being posted. There were, inevitably, over-eager young men and jaded middle-aged men. There were young women and older women offering to introduce her to Sapphic delights (thus making the somewhat premature assumption that she was unaware of such pleasures). There was even a racy greeting from a llama called Frederick, which just goes to show how ecumenical dating sites have become these days.
While the range of interests and variety of characters seem to have expanded dramatically since the Internet’s early days, one cannot but suspect many of the fundamentals have remained constant. Women, no doubt, continue to fib about their weight and their age while men “adjust” details regarding their height, leisure interests, and financial situation. We are, after all, shaped by evolution and even when all we’re looking for is a casual fling we’re still hardwired to respond to predictable cues.
Worse yet, the plethora of acronyms in use today surely invites confusion. You and I, dear reader, may be worldly enough to know what BDSM stands for, but let us pause for a brief moment to consider the plight of one for whom those same letters conjure up Blueberry Donut & Small Macchiato. One must hope that any first date will take place within the anodyne safety of a Starbucks and not at the local Dungeon & Fries.
Not only are there more acronyms but there are far more varieties of relationship on offer. Some presumably continue to cling to the notion that true love is a kind of custodial sentence whereby one person is handed the keys to another. Doubtless there are still people who regard casual relationships as evidence of emotional immaturity and stand ready to deploy handy phrases such as “commitment phobia” and “incapacity for true love.” And, perhaps, on occasion such things are true. I suspect that far more often, however, people simply enjoy some variety.
Alas, we are an insecure breed, we humans. We yearn for the freedom and excitement of variety but we are terrified to grant the same boon to our partner. What if they find someone they like more than us?
No doubt at my son’s age things are simpler because when we frolic in the fields of youth the world appears spread before us like a never-ending buffet and we have confidence in the future. As we age, however, we must attend to annoyances such as paying the rent or mortgage each month. Worse still, with every wrinkle and with every hair that traitorously abandons its post never to return, we feel ourselves growing less attractive and closer to the grave. At thirty we can recover from the loss of an important relationship; at fifty we wonder if we’ll be fortunate enough to find someone ever again.
I’ve not explored dating sites specifically aimed at people of an older disposition, but if I ever have a spare moment I may indulge my curiosity. Will they be full of helpful tips such as, “On a first date, always be sure to make a good impression by bringing a spare Epi pen and pocket defibrillator?” Will they automatically de-wrinkle profile pictures? Or will they have profiles in which people joyfully recount the adventures they’re having courtesy of their Zimmer frames and adult diapers?
Yes, dear reader, I admit freely to the charge of attempting to generate cheap humor at the expense of the elderly, among whose ranks I increasingly regard myself. Because if we are fortunate to live somewhere in which old age is not a surprise but rather an expectation, we are lucky indeed. I grew up in countries where the average life expectancy was such that a sixty-year-old was a rare sight indeed. A little humor with regards to wrinkles and weaknesses of the aging flesh, therefore, is surely a small enough thing in comparison to an early death.
Many of us are, in our various ways, hoping that someone will love us and not abandon us as we are buffeted by the vicissitudes of life. We hope that some joy may be sought and obtained in a world over which we have no control and which very often disappoints our hopes. Whether we are fifteen or eighty-five, there lives within us a person who looks forward with some degree of hope.
And what could be more hopeful than going out on a date? Perhaps we shall meet someone who charms and delights us, or perhaps, albeit far less likely, we’ll find ourselves conversing with a llama called Frederick.