Like a lot of people it was boredom, coloured by the occasional flash of loneliness, plus a deeper urge to re-join the push and pull of humanity that led me to online dating.
After the end of a two-decade-long marriage that included raising two primary-school-aged children, a secret part of me craved excitement: ideas, fun, laughter, the thrill of new friendship… and sex. The heady early years of mothering my babies had waned and loving them intensely and passionately didn’t fill me up quite as much.
I didn’t feel anything for months, least of all an interest in sex or men. I wasn’t grieving the loss of the marriage, because in my head I’d wanted out for a long time. It was actually a relief, and I loved being alone on those rare moments when I was kid-free.
But life and work and kids were complicated, and I needed to reground myself. Thinking back, I see now that I was emotionally numb – until I discovered a dormant interest in the opposite sex. It was something of a shock to find a throbbing heart in my chest and all the symptoms of a love-struck teen. I probably embarrassed myself by my all-out pursuit of this geeky tech manchild, ohso my type back then!
Dating apps were intoxicating at first!
I committed myself to giving online dating a go for a year, to throw caution to the winds and explore what I’d been missing since the age of 21 when I’d got hitched. It ended up being a lot longer than a year, what with at least one six-month enforced celibacy block and some on-again-off-again app cancelling and re-subscribing. I think everyone does this – dating just gets too much at times.
I’ve always been idealistic and romantic – diving into the lows and floating blissfully with the highs – yet after so long in the one relationship, at first my wings felt clipped. My confidence was at rock bottom. Most people in long-term relationships feel this way, I’ve learned. Often, the complacency or invisibility sets in and you forget what sexual attraction is like. I’d thought I’d forgotten how to flirt and a part of me wondered if I’d ever get it back. (I needn’t have worried – it’s like riding a bike!)
Online dating messes with your head
I think that, the world over, we all agree about this. Its very nature encourages intimacy between strangers. It cloys confessions and drags declarations from us before we even know what we’ve revealed. Everything about the shopping-aisle of faces, swiping and texting is artificial. Online dating is the ultimate headfuck.
It’s so easy to rashly type something and then hit send with little thought for the consequences. After only a few days texting we can feel as if we’ve shared our innermost depths, and yet our minds gloss over the fact that we haven’t even met this person of our dreams.
This is because we’re ancient beings adapted to a very different life – one that’s lived in air and flesh, not one that’s conducted digitally via swiping keypad and quick-clicked images. And so what’s texted, whispered or messaged is real to us. It’s normal once we step through the doors of digital dating.
And ‘normal’ is about to get a whole new look.