“It’s 2018, you’ll never meet anyone unless you join a dating app.” That’s what an old school friend blurted out to me when we bumped into each other at a random party last month. I was taken aback but the truth is, she’s right. Like 1.6 billion other millennials who swipe their way into relationships every day, she met her boyfriend on Tinder. So did my friend Josh, and my gym instructor Liv is now engaged to Jordan, who she met on the app three years ago. As for me? I’m not on Tinder, or any other dating app for that matter. Perhaps that’s why I’m still single.
I belong to a generation that download their love lives via the App Store and consider liking one another’s Instagram selfies ‘flirting’. The concept of actually meeting someone IRL has become alien to us, so much so that we genuinely believe technology is the only way to find love. Well, I refuse to accept it. That’s why I set myself a list of challenges to date the “old school” way. If I - a 22-year-old who has never so much as approached a guy IRL - can actively seek out a love interest in a world where most of us don’t even look up from our iPhones to cross the road, then surely we all can? Here’s what happened when I put it to the test…
Chatting with the baristas at the Pret under the GLAMOUR office is part of my everyday routine. We moan about the weather together, discuss our weekend plans, and occasionally I walk away with a free coffee. So my initial response to this challenge was ‘piece of cake’. How hard could it be to talk to a hot guy if he’s already serving you a hot drink?
On my lunch break, I head to Joe & The Juice, otherwise known as home to London’s fittest Scandinavian barista-slash-juicers. As soon as I walk in, a loud, charismatic Tarzan doppelgänger catches my eye. “Hey, what can I get you?” he says from behind the counter. I order, then ask nervously. “What’s your name?” To which he simply replies by pointing to the back of his leather jacket. It has the name ‘Johnny’ plastered across it. I persevere. I ask where he’s from and he explains that he’s part French and part South African but has lived in London for the past year. “I’m hardly ever in town though,” he says. “I’m always travelling.” We get talking about my job and his travels before I hear his colleague shouting my name.
My juice is ready and I’ve got to get back to work, so we swap Instagrams (not so IRL, but I’m easing my way in) and I leave thinking ‘that wasn’t so bad’. We exchange a few DMs but it quickly fizzles out as neither of us is super keen.
AWKWARDNESS LEVELS: 3/10
SUCCESS RATE: 5/10
Woah, super old-school. All I can think of is the 'date-a-palooza' scene in The 40-year-old Virgin where Andy has to go from one disastrous conversation to another - be it the aggressive woman who calls him “f****** retarded” or the butch biker chick who doesn't stop gushing about his “femininity.” However, when I sign up to attend ‘Date In A Dash’ (a London-based speed dating event – yep, they actually exist IRL), I promise myself I’ll go in with an open mind. But any hopes of a non-cringe evening are dashed as soon as I step foot inside the swanky Soho bar: the numbered tables are located smack bang in the middle of the room, so all the regular (and very stylish) punters around us can watch us like lonely animals in a zoo. I take a seat and put on my name badge, desperately trying to cover it up with my jacket.
One by one, different men sit at my table: some are funny and easy to talk to, others leave me counting down the seconds until our four minutes are up and the bell rings, none of them I fancy.
After three hours of answering the exact same questions - where are you from? What do you do for work? Do you have any hobbies? - I realise speed-dating is a time-consuming strategy. Yes, you get to discover whether you have instant physical chemistry with the person sitting opposite you - something that’s impossible to know when dating online. Amazing if it happens – but it’s three whole hours of awkward agony where you can’t leave your chair if you don’t. I won’t be rushing back anytime soon – my free time is too precious.
AWKWARDNESS LEVELS: 9/10
SUCCESS RATE: 0/10
When a friend of mine tells me his mate from America has just moved to London and that he wants to set us up on a blind date, my immediate reaction is hell no. A blind date? After years of making instantaneous judgements on someone’s appearance, the thought of spending a WHOLE evening with someone I’ve never even laid eyes on seems insane to me. But I won’t walk away from a challenge, and after a failed attempt to cheat and stalk his Instagram (it was private), I agree to the date.
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A few days later I receive a text. “8pm at Radio Rooftop bar, Alex x” is all it reads. The nerves kick in immediately. What do I wear? What if I don’t fancy him? What if he doesn’t fancy me? I can’t believe I’m going on a date with someone I’ve never even seen a picture of. I call my best friend Lily for a pep talk as I rush home to get ready. I opt for black jeans, an oversized blazer and heeled boots, put on some makeup and head straight out again. On the way, I’m trying to imagine what he’ll be like. I hope he’s tall and has good chat. It’ll be really awkward if he isn’t funny. I’m constantly checking that my lipstick hasn’t smudged and my hair isn’t frizzy when I look up and spot him by the entrance to the bar. I can tell it’s him because there’s no one else around. “Sagal, right? Nice to finally meet you” he says. God, he’s hot. Tall, brown eyes, dark skin - on paper, he’s totally my type. Plus, he seems really confident, which is instantly attractive.
We get a table and before our drinks have arrived, he’s already broken the ice by trying to imitate my “cute” British accent. We talk about music (he thinks Big Sean is underrated, I agree), our favourite films, his move to London and my childhood in Copenhagen. Three hours and four cocktails later the conversation is still flowing. Then I remember I have to be up for work in the morning so we call it a night and I order an Uber. “You’re not too bad for a stranger,” he says. “Let’s do it again sometime.” I smile, say yes and he kisses me on the cheek.
AWKWARDNESS LEVELS: 3/10
SUCCESS RATE: 8/10
This challenge strikes new levels of fear in me. Alex and I haven’t texted since our date last night and although he seemed really interested, I can’t help but think this phone call is going to make me look super keen. As the phone rings, I begin to panic. What do I even say? He picks up and I freeze. “Hello, hello? Can’t hear anything,” he says. “Hey,” I say after realising that it’s way too late to hang up, “How are you?” He seems surprised that I’ve called but is keen to talk. “I’m just out with some friends. How’s your day going?” he says. I’m still finding the whole thing awkward so I’m quick to wrap it up. “Oh nice, I’m actually just going down to the tube but I just called to say thanks for last night,” I say, cringing inside. “Yeah, we should do it again sometime,” he says. I agree and tell him I’ll text later before hanging up.
As nerve-wracking as that was, I immediately feel empowered. That phone call not only saved me the time I’d have spent wondering when he’d text me but put me in control of the situation. He’ll be the one waiting for me to get in now, and I love that power - more phone calls in the future.
AWKWARDNESS LEVELS: 7/10
SUCCESS RATE: 8/10
Put me in a room with anyone and I’ll strike up a conversation within seconds. I’ve always been the type to talk to strangers at the bus stop or have deep meaningful exchanges with my Uber drivers – whether they wanted to or not. But ask me to approach an attractive guy in a bar or a pub and I’ll absolutely refuse. In fact, it’s my idea of hell. What would I even say? And how excruciatingly awkward would it be if he had zero interest in me? I’d literally die with embarrassment. That’s why I’ve always stuck to the safe option: give him the eye, maybe a little smile, and hope he takes the hint and comes over. If he doesn’t, it’s simply not meant to be.
I call my friend Ciara and we head to the pub so she can help me pull. After endless attempts at convincing her we should leave and that I just can’t do it, I finally get my sh*t together, knock back a glass of wine (or five) and march up to the chiselled, 6ft 2 fittie I’ve been exchanging eye with all night. “Hi,” I say, desperately hoping he’ll have something funny or clever to respond with. Luckily, he seems pleasantly surprised and immediately shows an interest. We get talking, he introduces me to his friends and the next thing I know we’re sharing tequila shots at the bar. All my nerves have suddenly disappeared and instead, I’m feeling a sense of empowerment – I saw something I wanted, grabbed the bull by the horns and got it.
As the night comes to an end, I build up the courage to ask for his number but before I get a chance to, he drops a bomb. “I really fancy you and you’re making it hard to say this but, I have a girlfriend,” he says. “I’ve only been with her for four weeks but I’m trying really hard not to be a f*** boy.” I’m shocked. That’s the last thing I expected him to say. But still, I appreciate his honesty. Although I do think he needs to try a lot harder at “not being a f*** boy”. Nonetheless, I walk away feeling proud of myself. I’d conquered one of my biggest dating fears AND I actually enjoyed it. Plus, Ciara has totally been inspired to try it out for herself.
AWKWARDNESS LEVELS: 3/10
SUCCESS RATE: 5/10
Let’s face it, the chances of finding the love of your life in a club are pretty slim. Most people go out to either have fun with their friends or find someone to hook up with for the night - sometimes both. So when my friends and I arrive at Toyroom nightclub in London, I’m not convinced that I’ll meet anyone.
We’re on the dancefloor when I spot a tall guy with sharp cheekbones (detecting a pattern here?) wearing a black hat. He’s standing beside us chatting with a group of girls when my friend Melissa notices me looking at him. “He’s hot right?”, she says. I nod and agree before accompanying another friend of mine to the toilet. As soon as we get back, I see Melissa sitting in the corner with the guy. My first thought is “omg, what has she said? I really hope she hasn’t embarrassed me.” I walk up to them and she introduces us immediately. “Sagal, this is Louis,” she says. I say “hello” and we get talking. He tells me that he’s a model (I’m not surprised) and we soon find out that we have a couple of mutual friends.
Things are going well when my other girlfriend, Alia, walks up to us and says “I know she’d never tell you this but Sagal thinks you’re really hot and I think you look really good together. Have you asked for her number yet?” I’m left totally red-faced and he looks embarrassed too. He must think I’m so weird. Before he even has a chance to answer Melissa joins in: “Yeah, you guys look so cute together. Let me get a picture for Snapchat.” He laughs. “Your friends are funny,” he says. “They’re really trying to find you a man.” At this point, I’m feeling so awkward that I have to leave. “We’ve actually got to go now but it was nice meeting you,” I say as I move (shove) the girls along.
“Wait, let me get your number first,” he says. I’m surprised he’s still keen, but I ask for his phone and type in my number. The girls look pretty smug as we walk away but that’s the first and last time I let them “wing-woman” me. The whole thing felt very high school and, if anything, it encouraged me even further to leave matters in my own hands when it comes to dating. I won’t be using this approach again.
AWKWARDNESS LEVELS: 10/10
SUCCESS RATE: 6/10
So, what’s the final verdict?
Looking back on all of the challenges, I can't help but feel like a total badass. It may seem trivial, but for someone who constantly lets pride in the way of her love life, chatting up an attractive guy at a bar or being the first to call after a date is a big deal - especially when said guy is probably used to the easy world of online dating. Despite the odd moments where I quite literally wanted the ground to swallow me up - ie the speed dating night of hell - my overriding feeling from this challenge was one of empowerment. Making the first move allows you to take control of the situation, and let's face it, that's what we all want when dating. It also taught me to just relax. As cliche as it sounds, rejection isn’t the end of the world - so what’s the harm in putting yourself out there once in a while? Good things don't always come to those who wait, sometimes, you need to go out and get it yourself.