10 May 2018
Spoilt for Choice
In so many ways.
By Lynda Goetz
This week there has been so much in the news that it has been really hard to work out what to focus on. Should it be universities (Cambridge vice-chancellor’s interview with Simon Heffer; Oxford’s removal of Theresa May’s portrait after student protests; discussion around quotas and diversity drive; dominance of Russell Group etc.); modern literature and books taught in schools (comments by prize-winning author Ian McEwan); NHS problems such as breast cancer screening issues or the fact that none of us ever seem to get to see the same GP; driverless cars; May vs Johnson; not to mention things such as Putin’s ‘re-election’, Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran deal or the House of Lords’ 12th (or was it 13th?) defeat inflicted on the Government over Brexit which I knew were being addressed by others in the Shaw Sheet team? In the end, I alighted on none of these, but have chosen instead to consider a little further a rather sad piece written by a 26-year old blogger and taken up by The Telegraph.
Alice Riley (maybe or maybe not her real name) has, rather bravely, written an article (with ‘self-portraits’) on what it is like to be a virgin in her mid-twenties at a time in history when sex has, supposedly, never been easier or more available. In her article she describes in brief how she got to this point. She is, she says, not unattractive, nor does she lack interest in sex. She has been to university and now has ‘a decent job in digital marketing’. She just hasn’t found a ‘suitable partner’. She feels that this has ‘become harder’. Her article was written in response to one aspect of a study of 16,000 young people (originally run by the Department of Education, but taken over by University College London) born in 1989-90, which followed them from age 14. According to this study one in eight (or possibly as many as one in six) of this group were still virgins at 26. Historically, this is probably unusual.
Ms Riley begged to differ with at least one of the reasons given to explain this phenomenon. Far from it being ‘fear of intimacy’, she feels that the ‘hypersexualisation’ of the majority of her generation is making it difficult for those who are more ‘conservative’ in their ways and tastes. She complains that whilst it has become unacceptable to criticise a woman for sleeping around ‘there is a double standard when it comes to those of us who choose not to’. She does, however, share the view that social media may have a lot to do with the inability of some to be able to connect in real life. ‘We’re so used to taking the time to craft an image of ourselves on social media or arrange dates via Tinder that we’ve lost sight of how to approach someone, or even how to have a conversation face to face’.
At least one study (University of Wisconsin) and any number of blogs, journalistic articles and straightforward advice all conclude that in the modern dating game, ‘too much choice’ is one of the biggest hazards. There is, in theory at least, so much choice that it becomes hard to make a choice. Even when that choice has been made there is the possibility that one may be missing out on all the other possibilities, so making any sort of commitment difficult. Many apparently find these decisions so agonising that they rarely actually get to meet any of their prospective dates, preferring simply to keep hovering over the ‘menu’. Then there is always the problem that when you do get to meet someone, they turn out to be nothing like their ‘profile’, which, rather like many university ‘personal statements’, can be a wish-list of personal attributes, personality traits and achievements rather than a person remotely resembling the author. Finally there is that small problem of ‘spark’ to which Ms Riley refers.
How on earth can you tell from a (possibly photo-shopped) photo whether a person will actually be attractive to you or you to them? You may like the look of that good-looking boy/girl, but in real life they may, to you at least, have about as much sex appeal as a wet fish. I feel genuinely sorry for my children’s generation who, in so many cases, work long hours for less reward and with fewer decent prospects than we did. It can be very hard to construct a social life when you finish work exhausted, when you may have to work weekends, when you are trying to save money for a car, a house or even a pension, (knowing that the likelihood of the state providing one by the time you need it is remote). You want to see your friends, but you are also single and would like to meet someone special, but are fed up with Bumble, Tinder, Plenty of Fish etc. etc. Alice thinks we need to ‘offer advice rather than ridicule’, a sentiment with which I totally agree. She points out (rather ungrammatically) that, ‘Even those of us who aren’t averse to the idea of casual sex, many still require genuine flirtation rather than crude sexual messages on a dating app. So the current dating culture, despite being more sexual than ever before, has caused a lot of us to inadvertently opt out of sex. It has simply become a turn off’.
Here, for what it is worth, is my small offering of advice, for all those of any age who would like to meet someone they spark with, but who are fed up with peering at their phones in an attempt to make it happen. Firstly, get out more. Do the old-fashioned thing and join a club or society for whatever activity you are interested in. At the very worst you should enjoy the sea-swimming, choral singing, mountain climbing or whatever, and you never know, you may just meet someone special, who shares at least one of your interests. Alternatively, how about the equally old-fashioned idea of a dating supper club? Gooce Supper Club was set up last autumn by the daughter of a friend and, apart from featuring in The Times article, also appears to be doing very well. There are two dinners featured for May with different age groups targeted and another at the beginning of July. If Alice is not based in London, perhaps she should pinch the idea and set up her own locally. Good luck and have fun!