When I first started using dating apps they held so much promise. The prospect of finding love, sex and everything in-between seemed infinite in a world with a never-ending supply of fresh suitors. I started to think that many of the relationships forged in the pre-internet dating era where doomed to fail. How could you possibly find ‘the One’ bumbling around at work or in the pub? It seemed positively medieval.
Internet dating struck me as beautifully logical – meet as many people as possible and it’s virtually a mathematical certainty that you’ll find someone perfect for you. It may have been a numbers game, but it was a game you could always win if you were tenacious enough.
Meeting E17 girl feels like the pay-off I’ve been waiting for. Over five weeks we’ve been getting closer and closer. I’ve been to her house and hung out in her bedroom, pouring over photos of her childhood and the people who matter to her. We send each other voice notes most nights, late night lullabies that we garble sleepily from our beds and that I miss when she’s not around. She invites me to her family’s house in the lake district for a long weekend of walking and red wine: “you can write,” she smiles, “and I’ll try not to distract you.” One evening I even meet her mum.
My friends, ever the pragmatists, urge caution: “don’t get your hopes up” they chide, but it’s all far too late for that. My hopes are dancing with the moon and stars.
On our fifth date, we go to bed. I tug hungrily at her clothes, tasting her skin, taking her in my hands, my mouth, my heart until we’re both gasping. Afterwards I hold her body, smooth and brown as a conker in my arms and say:
“Are you dating anyone else at the moment?”
“I was,” she says, “but I haven’t for the last few weeks.”
“How do you feel about not dating anyone else for a bit and seeing how things go with us?”
“Oh, ummm…I’ll have to think about that. I guess dating other people is fine but kissing probably isn’t. And sex definitely isn’t after…” she gestures at our naked bodies. “But, yeah, I need to think about it.”
Alarm bells start clanging in my brain. We’re talking mini breaks and meeting mums and making love but she needs to ‘think about it’? I’m not asking for the world here, just a hiatus on dating other people for a bit until we can get a sense of what this is.
“So, are you after something casual then?” I ask nervously.
“No, no way. That’s the last thing I want. It’s just sometimes you can’t help swiping on Tinder, you know, when you’re bored…”
As soon as she says it, the penny drops. She likes me, sure, but why would she want to tie herself down when there are so many other women out there? Women who could be smarter, funnier, kinder, sexier and lovelier than me. Women who could all be hers for the taking – as long as she keeps swiping.
I’ve done the dating apps and I know the price we pay for choice. Some choice is a luxury, but too much is a curse. It can leave us paralysed with indecision, peering expectantly around the corner, hoping there’s someone better waiting in the wings. Choice is an illusion, a mirage. It keeps you staggering through the desert gasping for water when you’ve passed a thousand pools but none of them were good enough.
Maybe the right woman isn’t out there, maybe she’s right here, making you laugh and swoon and come, night after night. Maybe the toughest thing about modern dating isn’t finding someone to love, but choosing someone to love. If having a life full of options is so great, then why does it feel so empty most of the time?
I want to tell E17 girl all of this, that finding a connection like ours is rare, that it should be nurtured and cosseted and given the space to grow, but until she’s ready there’s no point. So, I make a decision: on our next date I’ll ask her to stop seeing other people. If she agrees, wonderful. If she says no, I’ll walk away.
That, at least, is my choice to make.