Shiv Paul’s monthly column on transatlantic relations looks at the differences in attitudes towards dating on either side of the pond
This past weekend a European girlfriend related a tale about her experience of dating New York men. ‘I think my last boyfriend felt guilty about the fact that he just wanted to have sex with me and so to justify it he sort of became my boyfriend. He should have just been up front about it.’
It got me wondering: when it comes to romantic relationships are we ever truly honest about why we want to be in one? What was interesting about her statement was that New Yorkers have a reputation for being ShowMeTheMoney kind of people. They have no qualms about asking for what they want in terms of life and career goals. Yet, is this principally because they have such clarity about those goals and not about ones related to love? New York, after all, is universally acknowledged as the place where you come to make something of your life but this is not the place where people come to find love with another person. It’s where you come to engage in a relationship with yourself, - whether you acknowledge that or not – and, unwittingly, with the city.
When I think of my friends from back home, most of them didn’t know what they wanted to do but they knew they wanted to be in a relationship and why – to build a family, a life, an intimate history with someone – and that what that really meant was taking the rough with the smooth. What’s more it seemed to materialize without them going on a multitude of dates. If New York is where you go to make something of your life, is London, then, where you go to make something of your love?
As a single man in London years ago there was no ‘dating’ as such. Instead, you met someone at a party or down the pub, got drunk, ended up in bed together and two weeks of shagging later it was sort of understood that you were going out with each other. At some point you’d have a conversation about it and decide to continue or not.
Dating in New York is rather different and can require a lot of work. Finding someone to date, scheduling a date and determining someone’s true romantic intentions is up there with Hercules’ twelve tasks.
Whereas in London, it always seemed easy to meet people in bars, in New York people go to bars to hang out with friends and talk about meeting someone. The idea of actually meeting somebody new at a bar or a club here is deemed absurd, and even if it does happen the Britney song always gets in the way.
And so, the internet.
Even if, like me you don’t feel online dating is able to replicate the chemistry required for relationships simply by asking for requirements, you learn it’s the de facto meeting place for those living on a schedule and who are starved of relationships or sex.
This solution is also the problem – you start to see the same people with the same profiles everywhere.
I finally gave up on online dating when it was clear Match.com had ignored my carefully considered answers to their seemingly endless specifications questions – as my bi-weekly match calculator routinely served up a 65 year old bisexual Republican living in Canada and, Tammy. It called into question the accuracy of the site’s matching algorithm. Plus, I was a little bit unnerved by Match.com assuming the role of one of my Indian aunts by continually forcing Tammy into my inbox. I’m convinced the system administrator wanted to send me an accompanying message along the lines of, ‘Gay? What gay? I have very nice girl for you. Just meet her, beta.’
Interestingly, Smart phone applications like Grindr and Scruff – generally perceived as being used to hook up for sex – seem to have a cultural sway. In New York, 90% of the profiles will be pictures of the user’s torso or dick, they are often partnered and looking for NSA fun. In the UK the same percentage of profiles will have a user’s face picture. He will often be single and looking for a LTR.
Over Christmas I struck up a few conversations with some delightful fellows on Grindr. However, as soon as they found out I lived in New York and was, therefore, not a long-term prospect, I was swiftly dispensed with by a token ‘Shame. Take care.’
I don’t begrudge these boys for wanting to focus their energy on one prospect at a time and moving on quickly if they find it’s not going to lead anywhere – I am still a one-at-a-time boy too, after all. However, in New York people explore all possibilities and never put all their eggs in one basket straight away.
Witness, a third date I had recently. We clearly both like each other but at the end of said date night, with both of us naked on my couch, my date said to me, ‘At some point we might be exclusive. But, God, it’s so difficult.’ In the old days I may have wondered if he was joking or may even have been offended by this comment but I simply regarded it objectively. After all, at the start of things what expectations can you realistically have of someone other than the basic common courtesies?
If you can adopt that attitude, dating is so much easier to crack whichever city you’re in.