Words by Immy Patron
We’re spending more time than ever before familiarising ourselves with our own facial expressions on video calls, but what does this mean for those searching for romance? Immy Patron reflects on how her impromptu Zoom date held up a (rather revealing) mirror to her instinctive resistance to finding love online.
I have to say I was pretty adverse to the whole video date thing. Personally, without the tactile element of the whole affair I really didn’t see the point. The whole thing seemed to me unnecessarily awkward. What about the mounting tension when the audio doesn’t load? How could I replace the perfect alibi of my unshakable nervous chain smoking habit, when the conversation inevitably dwindles? But, despite having turned my nose up at the idea, and in honour of my devoutly hypocritical nature, I found myself reluctantly logging in to a dreamy night of virtual unease.
My existing reservations about Zoom dating, coupled with the fact that my friends found it hilarious, begged the question of why the whole thing seemed so exceptionally strange? Is it any weirder than committing a whole evening to someone you’ve never met before at a local pub (a moment of silence for the pub-less summer ahead) or dingy bar? Meeting a date for the first time over Zoom just serves to further accentuate the non-organicness of a modern rendezvous with a love interest — long dead is my dream of romantically catching the eye of a random stranger in a bookshop. And can you really get to know someone virtually? The whole thing made me feel like a socially awkward tween in an American rom-com, obsessing over the allusive ShyGuy67.
It did, however, provide a welcome shake-up to my normal routine. It was the only flirtation with spontaneity I’d experienced for a number of weeks. Yet, so much was lacking from what a date would usually offer. The excitement you feel if you fancy the person through a screen feels comparatively unsatisfying. It’s harder to fully gauge if you’re attracted to them without their physical presence. Without the tactile element, you don’t get to feel the micro-dose of electric current when accidentally brushing hands that tells you you’re interested.
The joyous presence of uninhibited fun on a date is fairly absent over Zoom. There are no drinks with your friends beforehand. No going over to your mate’s house after and indulging them with aggrandised anecdotes and tales of awkward sexual tension. There’s also the question of what next? As it’s looking unlikely you’ll be able to meet them (IRL) for weeks or even months, will your interest stay piqued? When you eventually clap eyes on them, do you run into each other’s arms after the to and fro of friendly text messages, or do you pretend you’re strangers and start from scratch? The social protocol for this kind of thing doesn’t seem to be laid out yet, and I’m not sure where to start with writing the rules.
The strangest part of this virtual date was the fact I could see myself. Not looking at the little box with your live moving face in is like walking past a mirror and not sneaking a glance at your reflection. In her Sunday Times Style column last week, India Knight said:
“Every day is a selfie now. I have to look at myself while trying to pretend that I am in fact interestedly looking at everybody else, and am not hypnotically fascinated by my own moving face… which adversely affects my conversation.”
My similar narcissistic tendencies were only amplified by the fact that I was on a date. On a real life first date, I tend to be so concerned with whether they like me that I don’t even register if I like them or not. Thanks to the wonders of Zoom, I can obsessively critique my own reflection for the entire duration of the date. How am I meant to relax? For every giggle, I monitor my double chins. When he was talking, I would dotingly check how my absorbed-in-his-story furrowed brow was looking. And has he noticed that I’m wearing the same trackies that I’ve been wearing for two months straight?
Although I won’t be hunting on Hinge for my next victim anytime soon, I must admit there were some things I preferred. Being unemployed, my inclination to get dreadfully drunk on a first date usually comes at a price — there was no begrudgingly buying another round for someone whose company you could take or leave. Without the usual day to day of ‘ordinary’ life, there’s a lot less small talk. Once you’ve got past the inevitable commentary on how weird this entire situation is of course (I never want to hear the word unprecedented again). This facilitates a more meaningful depth of conversation, a focus on the nitty-gritty details of each other’s lives. This — as anyone will attest who knows how invasive my questioning tends to be — was right up my street.
All in all, it was a fun evening. I’d missed getting drunk with anyone outside of my family unit, but my insatiable propensity for staring into my own eyes did impair my ability to instigate interesting conversation. I enjoyed the generous concoction of flirtation and alcohol that tends to make these things bearable, but I was left feeling better acquainted with my lipstick shade than I was with my date. To be honest, any experience that leaves you drunk and alone in your kitchen at 1am probably isn’t worth Zooming home about.