Meeting, offline and on

Continuing on from my discussion of flirting, I want to talk about one of the prerequisites: meeting and initiating a conversation. And specifically, the meeting of strangers, not existing acquaintances, in order to start a flirtatious interaction.

1. There’s the offline way: accosting random strangers one happens to observe and find immediately attractive outside, and starting up a conversation with them.

2. And online: dating services accessed through sites or apps. Examples: OKCupid, Plenty of Fish, and Tinder. Or more general-purpose social networks like Facebook.

3. Online dating used to have a terrible reputation. It was considered as being for losers who lacked the social competence to meet people in real life. That’s somewhat changed, especially with Tinder, which has exploded in popularity due to its simplicity and the cleverness of the core concept: you can only exchange messages with people after you both ‘like’ each other’s profiles, which all but eliminates unwanted interactions. Here’s a decent overview of the app.

4. I’ve been using Tinder. Recently I arranged a date for the first time, then she cancelled it. I’ve found the app quite addictive, and have run out of the limited daily ‘likes’ several times. I’ve chosen to limit my use of the app even more.

5. Offline meeting has gained a bad reputation. We can blame obnoxious street harassment by overconfident louts, and Pick Up Artist teachers encouraging more men to try this approach (even among those who would normally not be inclined to do so) and teaching sometimes bizarre methods of interaction. Here’s an extreme example.

6. There’s this opinion that something valuable has been lost as fewer relationships start with strangers meeting serendipitously. On the other hand, some argue that offline, spontaneous meetings were always crap, and celebrate their obsolescence. Both sides of this debate have been recently(ish) raised around this short film, Offline Dating. Here are two complementary pieces published by the Metro:

7. Long distance relationships aside, the term ‘online dating’ is a bit of a misnomer when the point for most people is, ultimately, to meet people in real life, and continue the relationship offline. Perhaps developments in telepresence (and teledildonics) will change this, but I think that’s a long way off. So what we’re talking about here could be more properly described as something like ‘software-assisted introductions’.

8. How does this software assist us? It essentially creates a virtual singles bar environment which we can access at any time, from anywhere. In this environment it’s socially acceptable to approach anyone with sexual or romantic intentions. We can place ourselves in this environment 24/7, and simultaneously carry on with our day, to signal that oneself is persistently open to approaches of this nature.

9. The other main advantage I see is easy rejection. Tinder is the perfection of this concept: rejection is pre-emptive. Without mutual acceptance, no conversation takes place. In other dating sites, unlike real life, unwanted conversations can be simply ignored.

10. We can imagine technological advancements that will further integrate software-assistance into real life social encounters. Imagine walking into a public park, or public transport, and glancing at people, issuing silent commands to your phone to tag them as potentially interesting. After a few moments, your vision is augmented, labelling the intersection of people you’ve selected and those who have selected you, with neon heart icons floating above their heads.

11. The advantages of this are obvious: you need only approach those who are confirmed to find you at least superficially appealing. It doesn’t need to be all about sex or dating, either. Why not, in this manner, meet people with whom to play sports, discuss books, collaborate in political action, or do business?

12. But the argument will surely be made that something of value is lost when we obviate the social courage of starting conversations at the risk of rejection. And what new social conventions will evolve out of this? Perhaps flirting need no longer proceed in a subtle, gradual manner. Perhaps our capacity for and sensitivity to these subtleties will atrophy.