Ghosting, zombieing, stashing: The perils of modern dating
We've finally taken to online dating here in Ireland; there are 200,000 on the Tinder app alone. But it's an absolute minefield out there
After my second long-term relationship ended, I was loathe to revisit the online dating scene and spend my nights combing through the endless menagerie of wild to mildly domesticated beasts. Photograph: Sean Moore
I have only recently begun to accept that I am not, nor will I ever be Keira Knightley in Love Actually; a coquettish nymph so annoyingly endearing that a man travels to her house in the bleak of winter with a ghettoblaster and cue cards reading “to me you are perfect and my wasted heart will love you until you look like this” (a corpse).
I’ve tried to mate organically; loafing around cafes and bookstores looking insouciantly adorable, beret and Breton stripes in tow. I’ve boldly approached the other sex, only for them to assume I’m peddling a productless promotion or worse still, unhinged.
Just last year, Ipsos MRBI found that approximately 200,000 Irish people use Tinder. The meet-cute is well and truly dead and machines reign supreme. Dating has become like the supermarket self-service checkout and I’m the solo shopper forever pressing the call for assistance button waiting for the right, or indeed, any staff member to appear.
I am a serial monogamist. Albeit, a supremely jaded 34-year-old serial monogamist who has been on many, many dates.
My first foray into online dating was a heady mix of nervous enthusiasm and thrilling intoxication. Fresh out of a nine-year relationship at 29, I had never been on a date (unless you count sidling up next to someone who is dancing on the same table as you and screaming “do you come here often” into their ear? I don’t). Along with my four housemates, I signed up to Plenty of Fish (POF).
I settled on a selection of photos from my webcam repertoire; front-facing cameras were mere playthings of the future. My housemates were not keen. One said I was false advertising because my eyes looked huge, whereas in real life, he told me, “they were kind of slitty”. Another said I looked like an Afghan hound. At first I was horrified until I discovered said canine was a magnificent beast with hips that don’t lie, like-I-just-stepped-out-of-a-salon silky smooth hair and a regal countenance.
This was a much simpler time where dating sites were mainly perused on laptops and one didn’t need a montage of photos illustrating one’s globe-trotting, fun-loving life complete with a friend squad to rival Taylor’s, butt gains bigger than a Kardashian’s and a contouring habit that just screams self-trained make-up artist.
Within days, my profile was exploding. I went to gigs and danced with turbo hipsters with designer facial hair and ironic tattoos. I went to laughter yoga with vegans and on hikes with dog Dads and to galleries with teetotallers. I went to a documentary theatre show where I witnessed an actress going on an actual date with a man I had previously been on a date with (far too Inception for my liking).
In terms of modern dating parlance, I’ve been stashed (hidden away), roached (one of a long string of datees, all foolishly assuming exclusivity) and Gatsby-d (paraded online as part of someone’s exciting social calendar on social media, knowing their “Daisy” will see it).
After my second long-term relationship ended in 2016, I was loathe to revisit the online dating scene and spend my nights combing through the endless menagerie of wild to mildly domesticated beasts my single friends had warned me about. There were now a whole slew of apps, each one more specific than the last. Some bring out the velvet rope to ward off the Great Unwashed. Case in point: The Inner Circle, which promises to showcase only the “most attractive, ambitious and inspiring singles” or Elite Singles which requires you to input your annual salary because “with Love, you have every right to be demanding”. You know that it’s a very serious affair altogether because “Love” is capitalised. Some apps have time constraints (Bumble); some constantly ask you annoying questions like “do you believe the death penalty should be abolished” (OK Cupid) and some are location-dependent (Happn, Tinder, Bumble).
My first Tinder date was with “Rory” (I’m changing all names), a 40-something business owner and father of two. Being an indefatigable pogonophile (from a young age, my mother tells me I would only kiss men with beards and things haven’t progressed much since then), I must have swiped right by accident because Rory was blindingly beardless. Against every fibre of my being, I took the advice of my Mam who said I should date “outside of my type”. Inevitably, it failed when he ghosted me after implying that I stole his drugs money (he eventually concluded that it was “probably the cleaner”).
I met Graham on a different app. Flame-haired and freckle-faced, I liked the cut of his jib. Within minutes, we were talking about dogs. Great sign, I thought. Until I mentioned that an ex’s dog was a chiweenie. Graham was angry. He hates small dogs. Small dogs belong to small men, according to Graham and if he caught hold of that fellow, “he’d boil his head in fifty degree soup”. Aside: This wasn’t totally out of the blue – we were talking about soup at the time.
As I write, I’m currently embroiled in some serious ‘deep liking’ of a former flame’s Instagram back catalogue
And then Facebook intervened, suggesting fresh-faced filmmaker Feidhlim as a friend. I took the hint and added him, waiting a couple of weeks to casually slide into his DMs.
As if fashioned from the Gods, here was a man who could quote Chris Morris’ entire back catalogue. On our first date, I pretended that there was a stain on his top just so I could touch him and it felt like electricity. I preferred him to Ryan Gosling. There was only one problem. He was going travelling for 6 months.
Much to my surprise, we spoke almost every day. Our relationship blossomed via carefully curated texts and edited selfies and sometimes even phone calls where I thought my heart would explode with joy. Ryan Gosling was dead to me now that Feidhlim was in the world.
When he finally arrived back, we set up a date. After 8 months of an intense virtual relationship, (textlationship?) it took 2 minutes in the real world to see that there was no longer a spark. But the most crushing thing of all? I didn’t hear from him for 10 days and then came the letter. You know the one explaining how you’re “just not meant to be?” Standard, really.
In dating terms, this is known as zombieing. Even more painful than ghosting, it’s when someone completely ignores you and just when you are on the brink of getting over them and genuinely contemplating your Dad’s feeble explanation (“he might actually be dead Mary”), he resurfaces and with him, all those feelings you swore you’d suppress forever and ever until you died, amen.
As I write, I’m currently embroiled in some serious “deep liking” of a former flame’s Instagram back catalogue (think dimly lit pictures of Superquinn sausages circa 2012) and a submarining debacle wherein a swarthy Californian stunt man (he’s met Jackie Chan) who doubles as a spiritual guru has recently emerged from the ether after several months of radio silence.
I can’t help but think of a particular story in Dolly Alderton’s memoir Everything I Know About Love. “It will pay off in the end,” she said to herself whilst travelling from London to Leamington Spa, wildly inebriated and in pursuit of an after-party – “the anecdotal mileage will be inexhaustible”. And that’s exactly how I feel about dating.
Because even if I don’t get my match, at least I’ll have the stories. And maybe one day that story won’t be the dystopian tale of a 30-something feminist conducting her love life almost entirely in séance mode; trying desperately, in vain, to communicate with the dead. Light a candle for me, won’t you?