For someone who spent years of their childhood playing in a park with a sign affixed to its gate that warned 'DON'T TALK TO STRANGERS', I sure do talk to a lot of strangers.
Often I'll meet them too. But the strangers I talk to are not lurking. They appear through a selection of apps on my phone and are stringently vetted before any meeting is arranged, mostly in a place that isn't a playground in rural Hampshire. Mostly it's in the pub in the brightly lit capital.
This has become the almost inescapable way to do things as we watch ourselves transmute into a generation so lazy or busy or self-conscious or sex-crazed or just too fucking terrified of face-to-face rejection to meet people the conventional way, that we now try to engage with complete strangers from the comfort and safe distance of anywhere that isn't their immediate vicinity - a place where we can edit our image beyond recognition, judge with impunity and take minutes, hours, days, even, to reply to perfectly benign messages with flawlessly manicured, peer-reviewed responses. In this place, we have total control, of ourselves at least.
Behaving differently online to how we might do in reality is a curse that has lingered since the dawn of our brilliantly connected age and the consequent, fetid genesis of the troll and the need to nurture a 'personal brand'. We despise it, but a lot of us probably do it in some way or another. The big difference, however, between trolling and trawling dating apps, is that our M.O. is not to appal, but to appeal to strangers, and sometimes we might try a little hard.
Like, it's easy to feign animated interest in someone else with and app, all the exclamation marks and an armoury of emojis when actually you're just slouched on the sofa, gut hanging out of your jimjams, phone in one hand, Snickers in the other, grunting at mid-week re-runs of RuPaul's Drag Race with one eye on each screen.
And really, what's the point? If you ever get round to meeting face to face, what's that other person going to do during those 45-minute silences while you think of the most hilarious and original retort you can? Drink themselves into oblivion probably. Or gently slip away.
Communication just isn't the same IRL as it is over an app, and especially a dating app. But y'all know that. These things are addictive. They're games - providing at once endless and instant entertainment within a 20km radius and, to some, perversely, a yardstick of self worth.
After all this, it's easy to see how a lot of people, no matter how many third degree connections they share, or how well they seem to get along during the post-match courting period, actually can't stand each other's company, or the sight of one another, or the sound of one another's voice, or the site of the other's fucking horrid shoes. A guy once turned up on a first date wearing three-inch 'flatforms' and the trauma hasn't left me. I doubt it ever will. I should've run and saved myself a tenner, as well as ninety minutes of my life I'll never reclaim.
If this all sounds like an irritated diatribe against dating apps and the ways people - myself included - behave when using them, then, I suppose it is! Oh, this was all supposed to be so light-hearted, with happy anecdotes and stuff, but inadvertently I've had a little epiphany. So I'm going to rid my phone and my life of these apps and fill the extra time doing useful and fun shit like going to bars and pestering strangers there instead.
Until I'm bored again, on the sofa, with a snickers and nothing left to watch on Netflix.
Happy Pride weekend everyone.