Click. ‘Lazy eye.’
Click. ‘Unnaturally large forehead.’
Click. ‘Air of casual cruelty. Plus stonewashed jeans.’
Click. Click. Click. Bloody click.
Internet dating has, at one time or another, been touted as the future of mankind. Which – given that the future of mankind has also been depicted as an unwashed, scraggly man tramping along an ill-defined road, dodging cannibals and rapists with nothing but a faltering spark of hope to drive him on – may not be a wholly inaccurate description.
The last time I dipped a toe into this croc-infested quagmire, I was lucky to escape with my foot still attached at the ankle. I now know that using a dating website (a proper one, I mean; not one with a drop-down box to specify whether you’re still in possession of your foreskin or not) is to the 21st Century what syphilis was to the 19th: more widespread than you’d think, no one wants to admit to it, and – should you use it as your main dating strategy for longer than a month – it will send you blind and mad.
But unlike a dose of the pox, there are benefits to strapping your lonely heart down for a short voyage into cyberspace every once in a while. You find yourself spending Sunday afternoons with new and interesting people for one, instead of sitting on your kitchen floor, alone, watching a chicken slowly roast through the oven door. You make friends. You influence people. Some people you even influence into bed with you, and – very, very occasionally – you click.
‘What about him?’ asks Helen, who is sprawled on the inflatable mattress that’s taking up most of my bedroom floor, rolling a rizla and scowling.
‘What’s wrong with him? He looks lovely.’
I squint at the screen. What is wrong with him? ‘He’s just… not my type.’
Helen waves her roll-up at the screen, taking in the alarmingly short list of profiles I’ve decided warrant an initial message. ‘Yes, but your type all look like Final Fantasy characters. You’d probably get more dates if you cast a wider net.’
‘I’m looking for a boyfriend; not trying to land a whale.’ Click. ‘And besides, there’s no sense going on a date with someone I’m not physically… attracted… to…’
As I trail off, embarrassed, I realize just how easily the internet can make monsters of us. The problem seems to be, the more choice a person is given, the harder it is to make one, so of course – when you find yourself faced with 48 pages containing 709 ‘matches’ – the pressure to sift through them all in search of the one who’s perfect means it’s far easier to keep clicking away like a maniacal dolphin than it is to take the time and get to know the other 708 properly. All in all, it is a brutal business.
Perhaps more brutal still is the suspicion that across London, in bedrooms or at bus stops, there are hundreds of men just like me, glancing at the photo and three paragraphs I’ve chosen to represent myself, then muttering: ‘Lanky, jug-eared bastard.’ Click.