Man at His Best

Opinion: A Lament For The Lost Art Of Chatting Up Strangers

Dating apps have taken over our romantic lives. But what are we missing out on by turning our backs on older, more difficult ways of finding love?

BY Olivia Ovenden | Aug 25, 2016 | Sex & Relationships

Last week I realised why modern dating is doomed. I was sat at a table piled with Aperol Spritz in a North London bar where the queue for a drink was a revolving door of attractive young people. But when I suggested approaching one of the girls around us, Tom—my single, nice, male friend—laughed at me. "I wouldn't go up to a stranger," he explained, "You just look weird." And with those few words, the crossroads we are at with dating suddenly appeared before me.

Tinder has 50 million active users. It has produced over 10 billion matches and been responsible for everything to disaster dates to weddings to one-night stands all around the world. In four short years it has completed the journey from novelty app to the new dating norm - but I wonder, what are we losing from the old methods of 'matching' with people in the process?

Because if you think our mobile phone addictions have ruined mealtimes, think about what it is doing to the ancient ritual of the IRL chat-up. Where once we looked outwards for people we liked, hoping one is delivered on the wings of chance, now we bow our heads and flick through carefully managed bios and outdated group shots. If we see someone we like across a bar, we're more likely to unlock our phone and start swiping to see if they crop up on Bumble or Happn than we are to go over and talk to them. 

Admittedly the bar pick up has long had a bad rep as a Sex And The City move, where women hang around in slinky cocktail dresses waiting to either be claimed by a man or throw a martini in their face. But we shouldn't forget the romance of randomly meeting someone who hasn't been vetted through swipes and pre-approved photographs, the excitement of looking at someone and not yet knowing if they are single or whether they like House of Cards but feeling compelled enough to find out.

I started to ask other men in my life about going up to talk to women they didn't know. Nearly all said they thought you needed to be super attractive to pull it off. "It doesn't work for normal looking guys," one scoffed. My best friend James confirmed what I suspect many men now feel. "You don't want to be that creep in the bar," he explained, "Tinder lessens that risk of instant rejection, that's why it is successful. It's a safety net."

Fine, in theory. But since when did women want a man delivered in a safety net? Speaking to friends with vastly different taste in men, they all agreed they respected the confidence it takes in approaching someone in real life. "It is about the risk," said my friend Scarlett, "walking up to someone where you haven't signed some bullshit agreement about being on the market takes guts. It makes me want to talk listen to what they say." My female friends all agreed the confidence it takes to walk up to them cold - when done properly - makes all men instantly more attractive. In other words, you likely to be two steps ahead of your Tinder profile already.

Dating apps can be great. They give many people who feel insecure the opportunity and confidence to explore the idea of meeting someone in a relatively safe way. I just hope it doesn't become the only way my generation remember meeting people. Social behaviour tends to have a multiplier effect: the less we approach each other, the weirder it is going it is going to feel.

The few men I spoke who do still occasionally approach women without using a dating app first all described that flush of excitement you get, regardless of the outcome. "Nothing more rewarding than getting a girl's number in a bar," one told me, "You feel good about yourself. Even if she has a boyfriend or says no, you walk away 10 feet taller for three seconds because you took a risk." Another told me: "You never regret the asking, but you always regret it when someone catches your eye and you don't."

In his novel The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald described the first encounter between two characters destined for love: "Their eyes met and they stared at each other, alone in space." Are we really ready to give that feeling up for good?

From: Esquire UK.