Growing up in the late 90’s and early 00’s, Dating was A Thing. Through a varied diet of chick-lit books, American sitcoms and Hugh Grant films, I watched men and women in their 20’s and 30’s navigate an endlessly confusing Dating landscape. Key figures in the Dating world included: friends of friends, guys in bars, ingenue secretaries at work, earnest Ethan Hawke-sque boys, confusing fuckwits, psychotic commitment-phobes, and Mr Big. Forays into the world of Dating routinely ended in heartbreak, confusion and pain. Dating was a pursuit with only one goal; Coupledom. Only once in a while was that goal attained; that most rare and elusive of statuses: The Relationship.
Dating involved elaborate codes of conduct and lengthy rules: don’t have sex until Date 3, don’t order pasta, don’t wear Granny pants (as famously cocked up by Bridget Jones), and so on. Teen magazines of the time prepped youngsters like myself on what to wear, how to eat, what conversational topics to avoid. Agony aunts answered questions such as “We’ve been dating for 4 months but he hasn’t asked me to be his girlfriend yet?”. Dating was never fun, but rather a daunting, exhausting and unfortunately necessary obstacle course.
Cut forward to “My Single Life” in London in 2016 and I can only conclude that “Dating”, at least as it was so elaborately presented to me in my youth, is dead. None of those rules apply. “Dating” is no longer an oft-used term, and as evidenced by my WhatsApp screenshots, we’re all a bit confused about it (some more than others AHEM). Being single is a vast world of varied terrain and unidentified fauna: one night stands, “going for a drink”, hanging out, days out, “cuddles on the sofa”, sexting, hook-ups, friends with benefits and flings. You’re likely to have a few of these situations on the go at any one time, and whilst many involve going on A Date, I don’t think any can be accurately referred to as the long-ball Dating game of old.
Problems occur when we try to attain to the Dating code of conduct we all diligently memorised aged 14, only to find that The Rules don’t fit in with our lives. (See the above screenshot). We need to fuck the rules off and accept we can do anything, in any order, at any time. THAT’S FINE GUYS.
It’s hard to know what killed Dating. I’m pretty sure that despite all the well-intended advice, my generation just don’t know how to date – we can’t. There’s a recession, we’re broke, and nothing is certain. We don’t have time to spend a whole evening with everybody we like the look of. We work weird hours; a movie at 7 isn’t an option when we’re in the office until 9. It’s impossible to plan long-term when we might be made redundant, forced to move home or deported at any time.
We can’t afford to spend our hard-earned cash wining and dining a complete stranger we might not even fancy, we have no idea how to socialise without alcohol (sober hook-up isn’t a phrase) and if we do manage to find someone we like, we lock their shit down IMMEDIATELY. We’ll likely move in together after 3 months because we can’t afford £750 a month plus bills each, and it’s just as easy to get to know somebody when you live with them as it is spending 4 months hanging out at Pizza Express.
Don’t worry if things don’t seem to be following some sort of normal pattern; maybe you’ll text for 6 months straight and then get married, maybe you’ll have a one-night stand which turns into a FWB situation, maybe you’ll have a vaguely flirty friendship and in 5 years have a kid together. Whatever. ALL OF THESE THINGS ARE FINE. Just don’t get too panicked about dating and trying to fit into some outdated narrative – as long as you’re happy, safe and getting enough, we’re all good. RIP Dating.
This is part of my “LEIA: Laila Explains It All” series on dating, life, advice and relationships which quite a lot of you have asked about! I hope you’re enjoying it so far. x