Can’t help wondering if Tinder and its ilk aren’t doing to prostitution what Uber has already done to black cabs and Airbnb to hotels. Perhaps the dating ones are doing even more damage, in as much as hook-ups now come completely free. Someone looking for sex needn’t part with a single penny; doesn’t have to buy a measly drink, let alone dinner. No requirement, even, for conversation. One or two swipes is all it takes for a zipless arrangement round the back of a petrol station; no need to communicate or see each other ever again. What’s not to like?
When I was 19 I worked in a general bookshop in Soho. This was 1983 and before anyone knew about Aids. My gay friends were enjoying what might be termed a certain ‘turnover’. Before smartphones, anonymous, random sex with huge numbers of partners was managed by walking along the street, lingering in car parks or hanging out in clubs and dives. There was an unspoken language made up of barely perceptible eye movements and gestures (often played out in the mirrors in loos), its meanings as definitive as any amount of screen-swiping. It was cleverer then, and I would have thought more exciting, somehow, for being played out in real life. I was told about a club with a hatch through which men could climb and enjoy an orgy in a pitch-black dungeon.
Some straight men used to envy the easy promiscuity of gay counterparts and bemoan the fact that women weren’t up for stranger-sex in quite the same gung-ho way. If only, they moaned. How tedious that the majority (except for the odd accommodating slut) wanted romance, or at the very least a margarita, a word or two — perhaps, God forbid, even a promise — attached to the sex.
Well, all hail the dating app. Heterosexual male prayers have been answered, and no subtle-not-too-subtle mirror-language need to be learned. Totally unencumbered, free sex, not a tie to be had (except ropes, if you’re that way inclined). Better than prostitution! Women everywhere up for it! I had a Skype call from a handsome single friend in Sydney yesterday. He is 45 and lives on Tinder, and blow me down he scored a sex worker last week. A gorgeous professional, one who enjoys her work so much she was doing it on her day off and not charging! The richesse of amateurs, though, are no less accommodating, he tells me with glee. It’s the sexual equivalent of an All You Can Eat but without the outlay and without piling on the pounds. Win win!
Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. I read almost as often as I do about the rise of dementia that-millennials of both sexes (but especially the girls, surprise, surprise) are so underwhelmed by Deliveroo sex that many are not only rejecting dating apps, but giving up altogether. They are having less sex than we baby boomers did at their age. Meanwhile, we baby boomers are fed up with Tinder because the format doesn’t work to our advantage. We can’t compete with younger counterparts because none of what we offer — experience, wit, wisdom and so forth; so much better suited to face-to-face encounters — can come across in a square inch of photograph. We look old and desperate and are swiped into oblivion.
So if anyone asks, and believe me they always do, whether I am on a dating app, and if not why not, the answer is no. Never have been. I prefer dates with at least a pretence of soul. I’m afraid it is why, these days — guilty admission — I watch First Dates with rather more relish than a woman with literary pretensions perhaps ought. Seems the Paternoster Chop House, where one of Channel 4’s most popular programmes is set, must be the last place in the world where real-life, flesh and blood, if contrived (and often excruciating) dates are taking place. The standard of conversation may be staggeringly inane but there is eye contact! Body language! Facial expressions! Generosity! Hope! It doesn’t matter if they are talking bollocks, at least they are talking while weighing up whether or not they are going to sleep with each other.
Shockingly, many of the daters reveal it’s their first date in years; and for some it’s their first ever. It’s pathetic to say this but because traditional dating is now so rare, it’s honestly a joy to see. And I say this even though it’s still on a bleeding screen.