Are you unconventional? Then dating apps might not be for you

I like The Undateables on Channel 4 and I hope that, despite the God-awful name, it has helped make people see the person behind learning disability. However, when people with other kinds of impairments go on (restricted height, visual impairment, physical disability), I get anxious for them. They often get paired with confident charmers who you sometimes suspect wanted a chance to go on the telly. All seems to be going well and the ‘undatable’ is hopeful. Then strangely, the conclusion is mutually reached that it was a great date but they’re just gonna be friends. And our protagonist smiles into the camera wistfully: ‘It’s given me the confidence to try it again.’

‘It’s a fix!’ I cry. I think they’ve been set-up and misled. I fear for them. I don’t know why they are being spun this story that app/internet dating is open to everyone – that the only thing holding them back from love was themselves. That is simply not the case. Dating might get you there in the end, but it is not easy, and if you are the slightest bit out-of-the-ordinary, you are likely to face a much rougher ride.

It is potentially a fantastic resource, dating. By all means persevere because if you’re looking for a long-term relationship, you only need it to work once. Before dating (became so mainstream), many of us were stuck in our limited social and work spheres, especially people working in traditionally gender-specific professions. Suddenly you have a way to connect with people from all walks of life. It can be enlightening; an exploration.

There is absolutely someone for everyone – in fact, many for everyone. But of course, going on a date is laden with the pressure/expectation that you’re both single and looking to hook up with someone. This creates is a subtle pushing and pulling between ‘does this person like me’ and ‘do I like them?’ Compare it to getting to know someone in a non-dating context. Firstly you don’t know if they’re single. Secondly, you don’t know if they’re interested in finding someone. Thirdly, they haven’t expressed any specific interest in you – haven’t seen your photos and chatted online about what you ate for breakfast. Normally, we are afforded a fresh uncomplicated space in which to get to know each other. Questions of ‘does this person like me’ and ‘do I like them’ are permitted to arise organically.

The pushing and pulling (between ‘do I like them’ and ‘do they like me’) can very easily tip too much the wrong way and it’s game over. For example, if you’re, say, 45% sure that you could like someone but they are giving indications of about 80% probability that they like you, the discrepancy is too great and you feel looming pressure and fear and probably end up trying to discourage them. If instead, you are 45% sure and they are giving indications that they are about 50% sure, then you don’t feel such pressure and you might continue to speak and get to know each other without perceived risk.

Some people say that dating apps are all about looks. A sensible(/experienced) dater uses dating profiles to get a very general sense of a person, because one really knows so little about a person from the photos and the blurb. Once past selection stage, on the date itself, it really comes down to personality anyway. Someone can look like a supermodel but, whether people admit it to themselves or not, it’s personality which really gives substance to sexual attraction.

A sensible dater also looks at a photo and asks him/herself whether, if this person had a great personality, they could see themselves with someone like that (and fancy them).

But for most people, conventionality wins out and people are looking for someone who looks ‘normal’/reasonably attractive by conventional standards. If you look anything other, or if you have anything else unusual about you, a lot of people will not even give you a look-in. Some of these may not be the sort of people you’d like anyway. But some will be people that if you met and got to know them in ‘real life’ (as us daters call it), you could easily get to know each other and get along.

Consequently, you may struggle with dating if you have a physical or sensory impairment. You may struggle if you have a stammer or lisp. You may struggle if you’re overweight, flat-chested, spotty or teeth are crooked. You may even struggle if you don’t quite pull off the personality of an appealing date – perhaps self-assured, charismatic, funny -coy/demure for a woman, and assertive and charming for men.

We can’t necessarily hold all of this against people, they are just betting on the odds to avoid failure, which would be a waste of everyone’s time. It’s the nature of the beast. Bizarrely, the same could apply in reverse: you might end up with someone who, if you’d just met them day-to-day, you would never have considered them a potential partner at all.

It’s not anyone’s fault, but it’s a shame that dating can’t be a fully inclusive process. While dating serves the majority, we owe it to ourselves to keep thinking of other ways to meeting potential partners, so that we don’t all miss out. People who are different or who have overcome personal challenge or disadvantage may well have a huge amount to offer – wisdom, resilience and strength which the rest of us couldn’t possibly imagine.