If you said: “It’s a jungle out there”, most singles, until recently, would nod and agree. Sure, sometimes its laws were confusing. Distinguishing a hyena prowling for a quick kill from a wolf who mates for life wasn’t for amateurs and hardly anybody always knew who was the hunted and who the hunter.
But now that we’re in a zoo with us singles languishing in our solitary cages waiting for our weekly Woolies delivery, many have decided not to take this new lay of the land lying down. Because even as we contemplate doomsday, singles are relentlessly optimistic about turning their Isolationship into a Situationship. And who knows, after “this” is all over, even a Relationship.
Cape Town therapist May Cotterell says in this uncertain time of social distancing, many are feeling a longing to connect. “Increasingly, single people are turning online,” she says. “For some, it could be a way of alleviating boredom and seeking comfort, for others, an attempt to mitigate a feeling of exclusion or even existential loneliness.”
Still, whether looking for comfort or true love or just a way of distracting themselves from the increasingly appealing idea of day drinking, it seems singles, who have learnt to navigate traps like ghosting, orbiting, and even breadcrumbing view lockdown as just another bump on their game drive.
According to global numbers, the length of Tinder users’ conversations has increased by 10%-30% since the virus first put out a spindly tentacle, and engagement on Bumble is up 21%.
Of course, dating apps are tricky enough at the best of times, what with the world being full of men who gun down perfectly good grammar just to watch it die.
“But,” says Cotterell, “these strange times may have added an impetus to finding a partner and for some, stress is a libido enhancer.”
Joburg-based psychotherapist, author and relationship coach Hanlie Raath says love in this time is about “abandoning games. It’s about getting to the raw essence of humanity and discovering the fundamental values of another person while you’re in survival mode. People are focused on mortality so it’s forcing us to relate on a deeper level.”
Unfortunately, one man’s “raw essence of humanity” is another man’s raw. Where once you received invitations to candle-lit dinners, now, armed with your phone number, your new-found boo will attempt to woo you with countless memes and videos, which have somehow become a social currency.
Keeping up is exhausting. But also, because social distancing is such a new concept, many potential soulmates will inevitably stumble out the gate. A friend was sent a meme from a hitherto polite suitor: “Day 284 without sex. Went jogging in flip flops just to remember the sound.”
(Thud. That’s the sound of him being released back into the wild.)
“Some men request naked selfies after three messages,” says another friend, “but I was almost more weirded out by the guy who chatted to me on Zoom while performing his entire gym routine.”
But these are the occupational hazards and should have no bearing on being “out there” while locked up.
If you’re a woman looking for a man who bears no passing resemblance to a toad, is healthy, intelligent and solvent, you have to up your game.
I read somewhere that before your first video call date you should “curate” your space. So, say you’re an artist, ensure your landscapes are visible in the background. Your date then gets some non-verbal clues to who you are behind the mask. You’d think a push-up bra would be non-verbal clue enough, but no. A (male) serial dater swears that in this time of prohibition keeping your lockdown liquor stash in view is more than enough to keep him interested and you can skip the rest of the curating steps.
Dressing up for an online date is awkward. Obviously stilettos are a bit extreme considering you’re sitting in your own lounge and you don’t want him to think you’re a hooker, but rocking up on WhatsApp video in a scrunchy and Crocs is sending the wrong signals about your enthusiasm levels.
Inevitably, as lockdown extends, your new online ranger will start making noises about virtual gratification, perhaps even a self-drive safari. Now it gets tricky. There’s lighting to consider. There are angles to worry about. Worse, he’ll concern himself with no such subtleties.
As Raath says: “Technological advances mean we can stay connected while being physically distant. But this may backfire if we send out nudies to all our self-isolating Tinder matches. We risk revealing too much too soon.”
While this may all suck, singles should remember that every cloud has a silver lining and an online boyfriend may well outperform the real deal. There’ll be no fights about aircon settings. No Brazilian waxes. No Tiger King instead of another Offspring binge. Forgot to wear deodorant? Don’t feel inclined to do the dishes? So what?!
Remember, if you play your cards right, you can meet, greet, have a virtual drink with, pick a fight and break up with someone without ever getting out of your tracksuit pants.
Hunting in captivity may just go viral.
Credit: Nia Magoulianiti-McGregor