I am tired. Men — purportedly single and ready to mingle — have worn me out. Not, sadly, in the way one might hope but in the new, peculiar, nightmarish way of the times.
Since becoming single two and a bit years ago, I have romped around a fair bit on the apps: Bumble, Tinder and lately Hinge. Interestingly, the only men who have seemed raring to go — and interesting, educated and good-looking — were under 25. Too young to have become the unwanted dregs, they are also too young to worry that an older woman (I’m 38) will badger them about kids.
At first, I was dazzled by the idea of dating younger men. But the reality soon dawned on me. For younger men, a life lived so much online has rendered offline life superfluous. It is an inconvenience. It is therefore almost impossible to arrange a date, let alone get any further than that.
I’d like to think that some of this reluctance has been caused by the #MeToo movement, which advocates righteous behavior, boundaries and ‘enthusiastic consent’. With so much to get wrong, maybe it’s easier to keep your distance.
But the reality feels more craven. Time after time, a conversation will start, move to WhatsApp, and go one of three ways. One is simply that the conversation grinds, abruptly, to a halt. Another is a series of questions demanding answers too detailed and tiresome for tapping out on a phone to a stranger and far more suited to discussing over a drink. In these conversations, messages veer from requests for info on what you did on the weekend to requests for your life story. Without the prospect of a drink, the conversation then dies. Or they hang forever in the ether. On Christmas Day, no fewer than eight twentysomething men got in touch, most of them men I had met on dating apps. I’d only met three. The rest had been kicking around in my DMs, as they say, for up to a year and seemed suddenly keen for a chat. The third path is sexting. This is the most depressing, and fast becoming the most uncontrollable and ubiquitous, aspect of dating young men. In the last few months, six promising connections with men under 30 — all of them well-educated and seemingly polite — degenerated quickly (before meetings that never took place), first into references to sex, then to requests for information on what I ‘like’, and then to an unstoppable slew of messages about what they’d like to do to me, what they’d like me to do to them, the current status of their body parts, and then incessant voicenotes, body-part pictures and requests for pictures of me. It is inane, tiring and completely pointless.
Sexting has taken the place of sex. This may be because sex itself has become such a vexed operation, even for 24-year-olds. They have hang-ups to do with ‘boundaries’, dolefully explained but hard to understand. They make confessions about their porn-induced dysfunction, and why they crumble when condoms come into the equation. One characterful 29-year-old — a fledgling actor — who had been in touch for a year swore he was at my beck and call for all needs. But when finally summoned, he was entirely unresponsive. ‘I’ll be horny next week,’ he promised as I suggested he go home so I could do some work.
The reality is that what young men really want these days is not action, but talk; not sex, but smut. This may be dismaying to oldies like me, but it is fast becoming the new normal.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s June 2021 World edition.