Yonks ago (2013), an editor called asking me to try this crazy new way of dating: via apps. I was so lo-tech I had to borrow an iPhone to try this novel method which, I rather cheesily wrote, allowed you to ‘find love from the palm of your hand’.
I was excited by the dating potential apps held – especially for women. Having watched gay mates turned on to Grindr, dating apps, like the Pill before them, promised women sexual freedom.
Still, during that first experiment, I also had reservations. I was creeped out to realise such apps used GPS to match you with dates by location (did that mean strangers knew where you lived?).
I discovered the pitfalls of dating men about whom I had no real-world context – surprised to find myself having drinks with a man who spoke little English, which I hadn’t noticed when we’d texted; less shocked to discover one date turned out to be secretly married.
A few years later, Nancy Jo Sales wrote her scathing takedown of modern dating culture, Tinder and the Dawn of the ‘Dating Apocalypse’. Little did I know then that I’d still be swiping right for the next half-decade.
As I said, the problem with meeting anyone online is that they come without context. By contrast, I remember when I met my first boyfriend being heaped with background information by friends who knew his mother, his cousins, his siblings – and how he’d behaved in past relationships. But online you date people entirely without a frame of reference, leaving you trying to spot red flags.
If there’s one nice contrast between city and country dating it’s that, whereas in London app dating now feels unavoidable, in the countryside it’s easier to just run into people. At Somerset parties I see the same faces again and again, as I remember how fun it is to catch someone’s eye and the thrill of realising they are looking at you like that. Far more fun than lying in bed alone with your phone.
On dating sites, you get caught up in judging pictures, choosing specific criteria – someone over 6ft, with blue eyes and no kids. But in real life, far more intangible qualities are attractive – a warm smell, a crooked smile, shimmering eyes.
On apps, you look for the perfect partner, but in real life, you’re drawn to imperfections. And that ethereal ‘spark’ – when someone makes you laugh, or think, or touches your arm, sending a bolt of pure electricity through you.
A gym selfie or a profile – no matter how funny – will never tell you as much about someone as a five-minute conversation will.
On apps, you miss the thrill of not knowing. On Tinder, where singletons are displayed like so many goods in a shop, you miss out on the fun of standing at parties working out who is available; watching as shy smiles progress to cheeky jokes, to accidental touches, to the dawning realisation you both feel the same way and something might happen…
On apps, you never look at someone and feel yourself pulled towards them by the chest, hit by a feeling you have known each other for ever already. Which is how it happened in real life when I first saw Alex.
You can read Katie Glass's column, What Katie did next, every Saturday from 6am on telegraph.co.uk