Any single woman past the age of 25 can probably attest that they’ve been on their fair share of disastrous dates – as Samantha on SATC once so aptly put it, these days, it seems “you can’t swing a Fendi purse without knocking over five losers” in the process. From sexist jokes to inappropriate comments, bad manners and dull conversations, there’s plenty to put you off.
But what about the dates that aren’t terrible, just not absolutely amazing?
It’s become common practice amongst single Londoners to call time on fledgling relationships that don’t have that initial chemistry. Taking an inventory of my own dating history from the last year, of the ten that I’ve been on, only four of them were complete no-nos for the reasons mentioned above. The other six were kind, interesting and funny guys but I just… didn’t fancy them that much. None of them made it past the first date.
It’s often hard to pin down exactly what’s lacking in these situations but, then again, I haven’t stuck around long enough to find out if it’s something I can actually get past.
Psychologist Rachel Hard defines ‘the spark’ as “a first impression based on subconscious judgements formed primarily on physical and sexual attraction to someone.” In layman’s terms, this basically means whether or not we want to have sex with them. It goes without saying that sex is a fundamental part of a romantic relationship, so it’s little wonder we prioritise this feeling initially.
The trouble is, many of the successful couples we all know were initially friends and didn’t develop feelings until they’d gotten to know each other platonically. Hard also highlights that the key to successful long term relationships often lies in the feelings we develop later, rather than the initial sexual chemistry: “There are a number of stages in a relationship; the lust and attraction typically wanes and is replaced by a need for attachment and connection (the brain releases oxytocin which makes us want to nurture and look after our partner), so after the initial lust stage there needs to be some other kind of attachment to the other person for the relationship to continue being mutual and loving.”
Sunday Times Style dating columnist Dolly Alderton pointed out in her most recent piece that the law of averages would suggest we only get around five world-rocking first dates over the course of our entire lives, so it stands to reason that we should be a little more forgiving of the ones that aren’t.
Yet, thanks to the prolificacy of dating apps, the expectations placed on the all-important first date are greater than ever. After all, who’s going to keep hanging out with a stranger in the hope that it’ll turn into something more when there are thousands more options at the swipe of a screen? Modern life has taught us to seek out instant gratification in almost everything, so we’re not very good at waiting for the delayed pay-off anymore.
A lot of this also has to do with Hollywood’s depiction of romance in films. We’re entertained by stories of ‘love at first sight’ and the serendipitous road to coupledom, but rarely are we shown stories of what happens after the happily ever after, when the initial lust has fizzled. Just as instant sexual attraction is romanticised, we’re conditioned not to place a premium on what comes after – many of us are good at recognising ‘our type on paper,’ but rarely do we prioritise this.
So what’s the answer? Should we be making more of an effort to pursue further dates with people we don't feel an initial spark with?
“Yes and no,” says Hard. “Attraction and lust are important in both the initial stages and latter stages of a relationship, but figuring out your compatibility and building a connection, stability and commitment are important too.”
Perhaps, the answer is that we don’t need to feel a romantic spark with someone straight away, but it is important that it develops at some point down the line. And in order to make space for this to happen, maybe we need to step away from the apps and find ways to meet potential partners where the stakes aren’t so high – like, at events, through interests or friends.
That way, we’re allowing people the chance to show us who they are in a situation that isn’t so pressurised and binary – love of my life or not the love of my life? – which, at the end of the day, is something we’d all like to be afforded ourselves.
And just think – if the worst comes to the worst, at least in these situations you have a legitimate excuse to walk, run or downward dog away (insert here for whatever hobby you’re into) without having wasted an entire evening on one person and with your Fendi bag still intact, which – let’s face it – is the biggest priority of all.