I caught some of a Bridget Jones' sequel I didn't know existed on television the other night. It features Bridget at 43, working as a television producer and deciding to embrace her singledom. At one point, she wonders if she ought to be concerned about still being single in her early 40s.
I stopped watching at this point, not for any particular reason, although it resonated on the basis that I'm also 43 and single (and used to be – sort of – a television producer). But there is no Hugh Grant or Colin Firth in my life, and nor am I anything like Renée Zellweger.
It also resonated because a New Year's resolution (although it actually pre-dated Hogmanay) was to engineer more dates during 2021. I had tried this during the summertime relaxation last year, but beyond a coffee and a couple of cocktails in a deserted bar in Stoke Newington, I didn't get very far.
Prior to that, the last proper date I experienced was in late 2019, when we could do wild things like meet in busy restaurants. A corporate lawyer and I had been 'connected' by mutual friends and initially it went well, though the post-date period, one in which you usually chat some more via WhatsApp or text, proved challenging. After an hour or so, I was issued with an ultimatum: either we plunged straight into a relationship or agreed a more 'casual' arrangement.
I meekly suggested it'd be nice to see how things developed more organically, but apparently corporate lawyers don't work like that; I'm told they don't like wasting time. Well, neither do I, but it seems to me that treating potential relationships like another item on the agenda rather defeats the point. And I'm far from being an incurable romantic.
At the beginning of this year, therefore, I began to scope online dating sites. One, with the objectionable name of 'Elite Singles', asked lots of questions and consumed practically a whole evening. The mountain, however, brought forth a mouse. Amid great fanfare, the website's algorithm matched me with a 45-year-old accountant who lives in Sutton. With no offence to suburban accountants, something told me this website wasn't going to work out (it also wanted a sizeable sum for such meagre returns). During a similar bout of 'I must date more' a couple of years ago, I coughed up for three months' membership of Guardian Soulmates, convinced that it'd lead me towards lots of eligible London-based professionals.
I quickly realised that these eligible professionals, if they existed at all, appeared to consider 'Greater London' to include Cardiff and Manchester. For some reason, capacity appeared to be a problem in one of the largest, apparently most interesting cities on the planet. So after some more googling, I ended up settling on an app I'd last used in Edinburgh six or seven years ago.
It's called Tinder, and all human life is there (although this can be scaled back to the London area by changing a few settings). No capacity issues here and, happily, those using it seemed similarly interested in dating, unlike another Covid non-compliant app that shall remain nameless.
The theory behind Tinder is also appealingly efficient. Users either swipe left (no) or right (yes) after assessing a profile. This might sound brutal, but it also ensures you don't end up messaging someone who hasn't indicated mutual interest by also swiping right, which produces a 'match'. A match means you can chat and perhaps go on a date.
Of course, dating in the time of Covid is a challenge in itself. Unless you're willing to flagrantly breach lockdown restrictions – and almost no-one I've chatted to has even hinted at doing so – then a takeaway coffee and a walk in a park is the only option. Scope even for that is limited by short days and what British Rail might term inclement weather.
Still, I've managed to notch up a few reasonably successful dates over the past few weeks. Unencumbered by the often-artificial atmosphere of a bar or restaurant, a parkland walk is actually quite conducive to establishing common ground and expansive conversation. I met someone in Peckham who turned out to be from the Isle of Lewis, and last weekend it was a Colombian-born public health specialist. With most other aspects of daily life on hold, online dating has provided some semblance of Covid-compliant normality.
David Torrance is
an author and contemporary historian