Dating's new red flag
The rules of the game have changed for the better
There’s a cool crew of women on the internet who are creating game-changing content about the single experience. I love so much of what they say, for example, this article by Shani Silver which does the simple and important job of reminding us that if we hate dating then we can just...stop. I gobble up all these ladies’ content and as a single woman who wants to dismantle harmful narratives, I want to be part of the conversation, but I know that, deep down, I’ll always be a bit of an outsider because more often than not, I am in the pursuit of love… aka dating.
This weekend, I went to my first proper social occasion, which was a BBQ in my friend’s garden in Walthamstow. It was a glorious event with plenty of sunshine, Rosé, friends, dogs and a very cute baby and I left the party feeling satiated. But once I’d taken off my makeup (well done me), brushed my teeth and got into bed, I really felt the empty space of no-one else being there with me. Admittedly, this imaginary person probably wouldn’t have appreciated being woken up at 3 am, but the loneliness was real and made worse by my hangover the next day.
I hate being alone when I’m hungover, but I also felt too tired to go anywhere and so instead of seeing friends, I watched the TV show Friends for 14 hours. As Ross and Rachel were breaking up on my television screen, I found myself browsing the dating app Hinge, but I quickly put it away as I told myself it’s never a good idea to scroll from a place of sadness.
By Monday evening, I was recovered, back on Hinge and this time, I was driven by buoyancy over boredom. As always, after a little break from the apps, it’s exciting at first as the algorithms play tricks on you (that I always fall for) that people have got better looking in your absence. But then I noticed something new, a lot of men were referencing breaking social distancing rules on their profiles. Of course, many of these could be bad jokes, there are a lot of bad jokes on Hinge, but I have been hearing about those who’ve been shagging their way through lockdown and so I’ve decided that men who want to break social distancing rules is dating’s new red flag.
Spotting red flags are important because they help you wean out the time-wasters. Men who encourage you to break the rules and go back to theirs on a first date remind me of the men who don’t want to wear condoms. I’ve never understood these men, if they don’t fear diseases, then surely the responsibility of a child for life is off-putting enough. But this red flag is old-school and unfortunately one that often comes up when you’re both alone in a bedroom and it’s too late. The social-distanced-rule-breaker, however, is a red flag you can spot much earlier, sometimes as early as on their profile.
Furthermore, I appreciate that social-distance slip-ups can happen when dating, but it is now dating duty to share your lockdown dating behaviour so your date can make a fair risk evaluation. Part of the brilliance of the TV show I May Destroy You is it explores ‘the grey areas’ of consent and shows us that they are very much not grey areas. If your date was sharing body fluids with someone within two weeks before they share them with you, knowing that is an important part of consent in this new era. But alas, hook-up culture doesn’t care so much about people or the virus.
A designer with tattoos who I was talking to on Hinge asked whether I was looking for something ‘fun or serious’. I sighed, I can’t stand how it’s seen as so binary by (not all) men. I don’t find casual hookups fun. When you’ve spent hours of your life meeting charming, yet shallow men it gets bloody boring and they are always, always, bad in bed. So I explained to this guy that I don’t see it as serious vs. fun and in fact, I told him, that it’s far more fun to go on an adventure of love with someone. To my surprise, he said he agreed.
Social distancing has changed the rules of the dating game. Unexpectedly, and admittedly I’ve only been on one, but a socially distanced date removes a lot of the awkwardness of a first date. There’s no panic around whether you’re going for one kiss or two on the cheeks or just a hug (honestly, the worst thing about being English is our lack of a national standardised greeting). There’s no arriving at the pub or a bar and stressing about whether there’ll be a free table, or having to sit at a table that’s really close to other people and knowing that they’re listening in on your date because that’s something you do yourself. Or the awkwardness of meeting at the bar and the guy insisting on getting the first drink and then panicking if that means you’re bound to stay for another one because you have to get them one back. All that goes when you just meet in the park with some tinnies and sit opposite each other and have a chat. A socially-distanced first date in the park is the most chill thing that’s come out of the pandemic.
I always thought that the rule that you shouldn’t have sex with someone before the third date was puritanical dating advice which positioned sex as something that women should use as a weapon rather than something we may enjoy, but in this new world, I’d argue that waiting is essential. And because going home together after a first date has a whole new layer to it in our socially distanced world, the ones who are pushing for it because they’re only there for the one-night thing can reveal themselves to you much earlier.
I wrote a piece last year for Refinery29 about trying a matchmaking agency and I’ll never forget the advice the dating coach told me. She told me that dating was a great opportunity to explore your boundaries and it’s true, with each dating encounter I have, I find myself building confidence as learn to stop pretending to be the cool girl and assert what I want. For people like me, who are looking for the fun of a real thing, this new era of dating gives us an opportunity to wean out the wrong ‘uns a little earlier in the process. Lockdown and the pandemic has robbed us singles of a lot of time for finding love, perhaps the new rules of socially distanced dating is its way of giving us some of that time back.
Liked this? Read: Dreaming of a future where the only thing we’ll fear is regret
My best mate and podcast co-host, Anna Codrea-Rado has written a book! You’re The Business is the book we all needed when we went freelance and I can’t wait for my copy. Read all about it and why you should pre-order over on her newsletter over here.
Happy Birthday to one of my favourite newsletters Cruel Summer Bookclub! Born out of heartbreak, Jillian Anthony started her wonderful newsletter and now she takes us on a weekly exploration of love and healing and I adore it. “I don’t want to do my healing alone. I want to do it with all of you.”
Mrs America: I’m a bit obsessed with Cate Blanchett and she’s exquisite in this show which I watched in a few days. It’s often a stark reminder of how much further equality movements have to go and made me feel inspired by all the activists in my life who are keeping fighting the good fight. Available on Netflix in the US and BBC iPlayer in the UK.
Zoom is the new working tool in town and on the podcast this week we dissected the good, the bad and the ugly of it.
Zoom is great for webinars and I’m having a wonderful time connecting with people and sharing my experiences. We have one more class left in our podcast masterclass series and it’s about making money for your podcast. Sign up here.
And last but not least, Nicola Slawson and I are back with the second part of our life writing webinars, where we’ll go into more depth about pitching and coming up with new story ideas. Marian Keyes has just shared the class on twitter, so we got her seal of approval! We’re also repeating our sold-out beginner class. Our last event sold out really quick, so hurry. Sign up for part two or the beginners class.