Confessional, Personal

Algorithm

Welcome to LoveApp! Log in with Facebook?

Sign in, upload a profile photo, set the parameters. Is 25 too young? Is 35 too old? You’re now of an age where marriage and kids don’t seem like such a terrifying prospect. You’re still not sure about the big, white wedding thing, but you doubt anyone younger will want that any time soon either, and your fertility has already begun its decline. Don’t waste your time on 25. 27 to 34. That seems reasonable. Dan Stevens is 34, and if he wasn’t already married, you’d be trying to meet him at a press night to get his number.

Distance is trickier. What if the love of your life lives in Staines-upon-Thames? That’s nearly 30 miles away! You think about how you lived two miles from Staines for three years of your life and never found true love at the Wetherspoons on the high street, so it’s probably unlikely now. You decide 12 miles sounds reasonable. About as far away from your house as Highgate. Lovely Highgate.

What are your interests? You don’t want to come across as being too much at this early stage. Maybe don’t mention the novel you’ve half written in your biography. He can find out about that later. You decide to include the bit about being a PR and a singer; those are relatively vague, non-threatening, feminine traits. You include a quote from a Netflix original you love. If they pick up on that, you at least know they enjoy that one show. It’s such a good show, you think, remembering how the comedian said he probably won’t write another series. End on a high.

Additional photos. Men are dreadful at uploading pictures of themselves in huge groups of other men, which means you can never tell who this ‘Jeff’ is. You don’t think you have any group photos anyway. Just plenty of individual shots taken by a patient friend before a night out, and classic, only-child holiday photos taken by your Mum. Do you look too unfriendly here? You like the way your cheekbones look, so it stays. Better have a full-length one, too, just because… you’re not sure why. You wouldn’t date anyone who didn’t like you for being overweight, anyway. You forgot to eat dinner again. Your jeans are feeling a bit loose.

You put down your phone and exhale. What are the chances that an bit of computer code can find a partner who is in every way perfect for you? What if your ideal man is actually 24 and living in Berkshire, and so outside of your self-imposed parameters? You smile grimly and remember that one guy who was the literal embodiment of perfect. You remember how badly it hurt when he told you he was leaving you for someone else. Perfect is overrated, anyway, you think. It’s about much more than limitations and preferences.

You remind yourself that in a huge, international city like London, the chances of meeting The One on your commute are pretty minimal. Besides, nobody makes eye contact on trains, and you usually listen to a Spotify jazz playlist and plough through whatever book you’re reading that week. You can’t think of anyone you know who met their significant other on public transport, but plenty who made it to Serious Relationship Status on a dating app. This gives you hope. You pick up your phone again and open the app.

A face pops up. It’s a photo of a smiling man, who you establish by looking at the black writing underneath the face is 29, and called Tim. Hmm. You don’t really see yourself with a Tim. There’s something imperceivable about him that makes you think of a funeral undertaker, perhaps in the way his hair is parted to the side. Your finger hovers momentarily over the (X) and taps down. In less than five seconds, you made a decision that Tim was not the man for you. You blame the algorithm. Surely it would know that you would never date a Tim with a silly haircut?

But what if you met Tim in a bar, or at a wedding? His friends have no idea why he is single, because by all accounts he’s awesome. He’s been hurt by an ex-girlfriend who strung him along for months before announcing she’d been sleeping with a co-worker, but he’s over it now and ready to commit to someone deserving of him. He doesn’t want to mess about. He has gentle eyes the colour of sea glass, but you couldn’t see that because of the poor resolution of his profile photo, or maybe you were immediately put off by his undertaker hair and didn’t care to look. Tim comes from a kind, liberal family and has a sister called Genevieve who loves karaoke and walking her little dachshund, Rigby, on the Kent Downs.

You won’t ever meet Tim. He was right there, in the palm of your hand. The algorithm thought you two would have a great time! The algorithm saw two, good-looking young people who both enjoyed literature and American football and did its level best to hook them up! In five seconds that connection was broken, because you made a snap decision based on a couple of tiny bits of information about that living, breathing human being.

The way people meet and fall in love is undeniably changing. Perhaps your reluctance to get on board with dating apps is generational, because you can still remember very clearly being told by your teachers and parents to never, ever meet someone from ‘the internet’ in the real world, or get in an unlicensed mini-cab. In a world where one of the sweetest things your date could do is summon an unlicensed mini-cab from the internet and send you home alone and slightly hammered, it’s not surprising you’re a little overwhelmed by this seemingly rapid u-turn in expectation.

Another face pops up. Jonathan, 31. This time, you give this profile a thorough read-through, and think of a future of possibilities based on a handful of photographs, and a few lines of text. You momentarily think of Tim, and how you were too quick to dismiss him. Or was it the idea of him? Your hand moves left. (❤️).

Confessional, Personal, Travel, Updates

Rewinding, and NYC

Cold, but happy.
Cold, but happy.

Everyone has a happy place. It might be somewhere that no longer exists but in memory, like a beach visited in childhood. It could be a family home, or somewhere further afield you don’t often visit. Hell, it might even be Disneyland. Your happy place might be nowhere specific, but somewhere indefinable surrounded by the people you love.

My happy place is New York City. I love it for many reasons, and I enjoy being there at any time of year, even in early June when the damp and cold makes you feel like you’re going to go mouldy. My aborted trip to see my friends at French Woods in July was a huge blow to my confidence and self-esteem, and in the months that followed I became defeatist and increasingly isolated. I had my show, so I couldn’t take off for the week. What I wanted most – to see my friends at camp – was somehow out of my control. It was impossible.

I decided about a week ago to fly out to Manhattan next month, for about as long as I can afford given the shoddy exchange rate this side of the referendum ($1.22 = £1? Lame). 2016 has largely been a series of disappointments, save for a few moments of happiness (Edinburgh, hey) where I felt kind of normal. It certainly didn’t help that 2015, in comparison, was one of the most exciting and wonderful years of my life. 2016 never had a hope in hell, really.

Why do I love New York? Let me list the ways. I love its diversity, and seeing people from places you don’t often come across in the UK like South America and North Asia. I love its chaotic order with its grid plan and subway system simmering away a few feet under the concrete. I love the culture and the museums and the parks. I love the food. God, I love the food!

I feel free in NYC. Despite the tall buildings, stagnant air and tumult, my mind makes sense of what is happening around me in a very specific way. This is the New York I know from Hollywood movies and television sitcoms. All around the city are recognisable markers that reconfigure your location on the planet. You are, inescapably, there.

I fell in love in New York. Not with any one person, but with the music my new friends and I made and the incredible feeling of achievement – and loss – when it was all over. It is this that draws me back. I’m not trying to recreate those feelings, because I know they’re gone. Like any beautiful memory from the past, I hope my return makes me feel comforted and valued. I made an impact in this place, albeit a hundred and fifty miles out of the city centre. I made myself proud and I worked hard and took risks. I was the best version of myself in my happy place. After this year, I need to remember that feeling more than ever.