Love is complicated even without something like a global health pandemic in the mix. But did things actually get more complicated now or were they already complicated when online dating become a phenomenon? Online dating has meant that we can swipe endlessly if we do not like the most tedious or superficial quality about another person. Once you get passed that stage and you finally match, my real pet peeve is the non-talkers, why match if you don’t want to have a conversation? I feel like most online daters can relate to this sentiment whether you use Tinder, Bumble, Hinge to “conventionally” date or Muzmatch or Minder to “halal” date.
Yes, I have tried all those apps and I remain very single at the tender age of 33. I would say I have seriously been looking for a partner since the age of 26 and I even got engaged once, it was a short-lived yet meaningful experience. Short-lived as the whole ordeal lasted about six months – this was from matching to getting engaged to me breaking off the engagement – yes, halal daters move fast!
Meaningful, as it taught me that as a Muslim woman, (and as one from the South Asian British community) sometimes you have to make a stand to ensure that you don’t trade an important part of you, be it your career, ambitions or just that spark you have, in order to live a mediocre life as someone’s ”other half”. So I keep seeking a partner in the belief that love does exist for me, despite the bad dates, the awkward chaperoned coffees and even the saturated London Muslim marriage events where you and your three friends have all spoken to the only single guy who travelled from Cambridge!
In the UK, we, like the rest of the world are coming out of lockdown, and months of only key workers being allowed to leave the house. I am not a key worker, so this has meant that I have been working from home and yes, I did also decide to join five different dating apps, excessive I know (or maybe hedging opportunity?)!
My initial observation from all five dating apps was that suddenly men were being more responsive. This made me wonder if COVID-19 isn’t actually a curse and whether it is actually the answer to the prayers of online daters everywhere! Overnight it became more likely for you to be guaranteed a conversation when you both swipe right and match (Note to myself first: sisterhood, if a man is still not speaking to you when he literally has nowhere to go, then well he really is a time waster – unmatch and move on!).
My second observation was that COVID or no COVID, some men are still not serious about relationships, marriage or simply do not have realistic expectations of the role of a woman in a relationship. This means that you still get the men who are dying to send you strange photos, the one’s who will greet you with “hi babes” and my personal favourite, the ones who just want an independent – university educated – beautiful- housewife for their mothers.
So in the process of seeking out the serious men, who wanted to actually have conversations about interesting things, who didn’t greet me with pet names and who actually had a personal view on what kind of partner or wife they wanted, I stumbled across an interesting category almost by chance – single fathers. I was curious to find out what drew these men to want commitment again. Was it the fact that these men enjoyed the stability of once being in a serious or committed relationship or the fact that they enjoyed the responsibility attached to parenthood and so viewed relationships through a serious lens? Although neither one of those questions were answered, I found myself having very serious conversations about commitment, relationships, good and bad dates and also listening to their experiences of being separated and their experiences of fatherhood, and in particular being a father to young girls.
This meant that I was engaging in stimulating conversation with mature, responsible men who did not seem to fear commitment. What I did, however, discover through conversation was that some of these men were wholly unaware of current “dating trends” having been out of the dating world for some time. So this became an interesting topic of discussion, as I suddenly found myself having conversations with these men about things which I ordinarily took for granted. I continue to write with the disclaimer that of course I’m still figuring out the unwritten manual on “dating trends”, as they come from lived experiences. But what brought it to life for me was a conversation that I had with one particular match, he was a polite and friendly gentleman, who had been divorced and was also a hands-on father to a four-year-old girl. Now whilst he was on board with using social media, he had not quite made the connection of how much it had changed the art of dating.
At one point we were both speaking about our Instagram presence and if we both pressed rewind to five years ago, I would stop at one of my favorite photos of me climbing a mountain and whereas this gentleman had to delete the photos he took with his now ex-wife. Usually the exchange of Instagram memories would be a great way to strike up lighthearted conversation, but I realised quickly that I had to tread with caution in order to respect the fact that a huge part of his past was perhaps too soon to discuss. I had not really experienced the insta-black holes with anyone else and this could be more so because I have predominantly experienced getting to know Muslim men. So even if the men were previously in a relationship or, like myself, had previously been engaged, we all adhered to another unwritten rule: Never publicly post photographs of your partner until you have put the “nikkah” and legal marriage ring on it!
One of the lighter hearted conversations I did have with this gentleman was about the biggest game changer in online dating, which was the Snapchat revolution – you all know what I am talking about! But just to be sure, yes I am talking about the moment millennials discovered you could send short videos and images to someone, you would also know whether someone else was screenshotting the image or the video and then that image or video would disappear without a trace. (This has since evolved and there are now a plethora of social media apps which not even I am aware of!) This gentleman’s reaction was “but what if I wanted to send an artistic image of myself with a great backdrop and I wanted it to be tasteful?” I obviously told him that if the whole process took longer than 20 seconds, the receiver of the photo would most likely lose interest.
So on one side of the spectrum you have someone like myself, who uses social media as part of my dating life. Honestly, I don’t even recall when this transition happened in my 7-year dating career, all I know is that it happened. This gentleman is however on the other side of the spectrum, he had learnt to create a physical space with his ex-wife, he then became occupied in co-parenting to raise their daughter, so there was no need to try and navigate the virtual spaces, social trends or find creative ways to communicate with women. This made me realise how our social media habits had not only changed the pace of dating, but have also changed the expectations of getting to know someone – or should I say “courtship” as it used to be known as in the good old days.
In case you are wondering, no, I am no longer speaking to the gentleman above who very kindly became the case study of this article, and no, it was nothing to do with his lack of awareness of modern dating trends, because outside of that, compatibility is still the paramount decider in a partner for me.
My final thought on this experience of speaking to single fathers (albeit my focus become one), is that it did make me reflect on Miranda Hobbes’ yellow cab theory. In an early episode of Sex and the City, Miranda says the following:
“Men are like cabs. When they’re available, their light goes on. They wake up one day and they decide they’re ready to settle down, have babies, whatever. And they turn their light on. The next woman they pick up, boom, that’s the one they’ll marry. It’s not fate, it’s dumb luck.”
I wondered whether this is in fact the starting point, as these men who I spoke to switched on the “available” light one day, got married and switched it off again. But what was interesting is that these single fathers who had lived through a marriage, entered parenthood and also gone through a divorce, they didn’t sound scarred, they didn’t sound defeated. But they did sound more sure about what they wanted, far more surer than the single men, and this time more certain and selective about wanting to turn that “available” light off again. So maybe the yellow cab theory has also gone through a social media revolution. And maybe men are no longer like yellow cabs, but have in fact, evolved into an Uber service!