Not so many years ago, there was a time when we actually went out on dates. You went out in person because that was how you met. Sometimes you saw the same person again. And there were feelings. You soon found yourself with a boyfriend or girlfriend (nobody used neutered terms like partner) and people recognised you were in a relationship. This meant they met your mum and on rare occasions, your dad. If you got Serious you could look forward to shared electricity bills and weekly garbage rotas.
When you were dating you had sex, usually with the person you were dating. Sometimes you forgot you were with that person and had sex with their best friend which you didn’t mean to do: it was just an accident. If you wanted to pass on the guilt you told your relationship person and had an argument. Sometimes you broke up. Or you resolutely announced, “This has made us stronger.”
The other popular activity was One-Night Stands (ONS). Interestingly they never got a name until the next day because you had no idea if whatever you were doing was going to be an ONS or indeed anything at all. You probably met them at party, watching a band or in the pub. Decisions were made quickly with no text or messaging to intervene. In the morning, you realised that a combination of moody lighting, hormones and the fact that a song, something like Simple Minds’ Don’t You Forget About Me, had swayed your decision. You realised it was a ONS and told a friend, maybe two sentences worth, no more. The sentences were always the same,
“You went to bed with THAT guy. What were you thinking?” and “Do you think you’re pregnant?”
Some people said if a man had lots of ONS’s, it was ok but if a woman did the same thing, she was cheap and slutty. Most of us who were not sharing electricity bills, were therefore being cheap and slutty but nobody knew since we didn’t tell them. It was all pretty simple; as uncomplicated as human interactions could be. The point was you knew where you stood and that usually wasn’t in the bedroom of a guy you’d met on Tinder two hours earlier. Back then, he’d have to fork out good money to get a girl he’d never met to come over for a fuck at 10pm.
It helped that our telephones could not leave the house with us. For those too young to remember the landline, it was a heavy piece of kit that sat in one place and connected to your ear via a short curly cord. If your parents had money you might have three of these in the house, but anyone could hear you if they picked up a receiver so you had to shout loudly and say, “Don’t pick it up.” Of course they did.
The conversation was friendly, but not loose: purposed to get you to the next date. Standing in the kitchen next to a bowl of wholesome fruit, the obligatory list of Family Emergency Numbers pinned on the wall next to you and your 9 year- old brother listening outside the door, was not the place to say, ‘I want you to fuck me hard’. And that wasn’t a bad thing. You revealed yourself in person, not via text, email, Facebook or dating sites because they did not exist. The lines of communication were simple. And mostly face to face.
Now it wasn’t necessarily easier to find a relationship: where emotions and primal needs are involved, it’s always messy and has never been anything else. However we had time to think and reflect. This is a useful thing to do before you say something you might regret. Sometimes we worked out what we wanted to say beforehand. Plus we were talking to people we’d already met at least once. Men usually called women and woman often sat next to the phone waiting for it to ring and hoped it was Him. Sometimes it wasn’t Him but The Other Guy. If your mum answered the phone and it was The Other Guy you’d say, “Tell him I’m not here.” She told you to grow up and handed you the phone.
And now, well we’re not even on shaky ground. There is no ground. We have more communication devices than ever which means instant and immediate access to people we haven’t met. There is confusion and delusion but not much in the way of any kind of relationship. Why?
The lure of technology is strong and often addictive. But it’s a false friend, one that fools us into thinking we’re connected with people and we know them, when all we have is what our minds have created out of a picture (probably not them) and some flimsy words. Most of this technology has been around for not much more than ten years. So it’s still very new and perhaps we haven’t quite figured out how to make the best of it. Ever get the feeling technology’s pulling your leash? Because in this arena it definitely is.
Look, when you pair lonely, lost, curious, horny, opportunistic, manipulative, immature people and technology, shit happens. You buy To Kill A Mockingbird from Amazon and they recommend the latest One Direction album. In matters of lust and love it’s a little bit like giving thousands of three-year olds a cup of sugar, then handing them the keys to the zoo. And that’s where I reckon we are. It’s not surprising that most connections with people online end in stalemate. Well, no mate. Just stale.