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Modern dating illustration showing a skinny white man hiding behind a giant phone screen showing a black man's bodyMark Long

The A-Z of modern dating

The ultimate guide to getting it on in 2019

Lisa Harvey

It’s 2019, online dating is the norm, there’s an app for everything and everyone, and we’re free to make our own rules.

But… it’s also a post-apocalyptic mess out there.

From Birdboxing to Brexit-related dealbreakers, navigating modern dating might feel like a minefield right now but, with this comprehensive guide, you’ll at least have the right lingo to discuss your woes (and your wins).

A = Astrology

Forget filtering dating apps by height or location, now star signs are in the spotlight. “As a Taurus, I know I’ll have an explosive relationship with a Leo,” says Eve, 28. “Some people think I’m kidding when I ask for their star sign but I love that some apps let you search this way. And, while I won’t discount someone who’s great because they’re Cancer (too emosh for me), it’s something I bear in mind.”

An illustration of a hairy monster with an arm round a blindfolded womanMark Long

B = Birdboxing

Remember the Netflix thriller where Sandra Bullock tries to survive a post-apocalyptic world completely blindfolded? Well, ‘Birdboxing’ alludes to a similar-ish dating scene. As in, when someone is blind to – or chooses not to see – how rubbish the person they’re dating actually is. We've all been there.

Amy, 33, admits to having worn the Birdbox blindfold before. “He was funny on our first date, we talked about dating fails, music, our families – and I fancied him. But he also got wasted and left me in the bar. He did that a few more times, and I forgave him – until I found out he had a girlfriend.”

C = Cohabidating

As you’re no doubt sick of hearing, housing options for Millennials and Gen Z are looking more precarious than ever. Enter: cohabidating.

That’s the trend towards couples living together much sooner for financial, rather than emotional, reasons, according to GQ magazine. The jury’s still out on whether it’s a shortcut to relationship disaster or a savvy solution to get off the apps and out of the red.

D = Dealbreakers 

Not that long ago, we might have drawn the dating line on things like “Crocs and socks”, “I don’t wash” or “I prefer cats”. Now? The way we vote is a top dating dealbreaker. “It’s definitely a priority in my dating chat,” says Rhian, 29. “So many people write things like ‘Leavers swipe left’ on their app profiles or, ‘Hoping to leave the single market before the UK does’ but, in all seriousness, I reckon being Brexit opposites is more likely to attract rows than a relationship.”

E = Emotional resilience 

The good news? Experts think dating in 2019 is making us tougher. “Finding a partner in the current social situation is a self-development exercise,” says relationship therapist Susan Quillium. “Correctly handled, it makes you more aware of what you want… while teaching you survival skills. That, in turn, can make you more emotionally resilient.”

An illustration of a person rock climbing without any ropes towards a social media icon and inspecting it with a magnifying glassMark Long

F = Freeclimbing 

Looking through someone’s social feed before you date them is pretty much obligatory for most of us, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t risky. Step forward: freeclimbing. This refers to searching through a dating prospect’s social media, and going backward in their history, risking an accidental ‘like’, or seeing something you might rather not have. Just like freeclimbing, it’s dangerous, hence the (slightly tenuous) term. Even so… *checks privacy settings*

G = Ghosting 

Fact: the sudden, cut-all-communication-and-disappear dating trend of ghosting just will. not. DIE.

H = Hookups

It’s easier than ever to have casual sex but research from Harvard University in the US shatters the young single people ‘just-wanna-have-one-night-stands’ stereotype. They spoke to over 2,000 18-to-25-year-olds and found that teens and adults tend to “greatly overestimate” the size of the hook-up culture and that, actually, 85% of them preferred other options, such as spending time with friends or having sex in a serious relationship.

I = Instagrandstanders 

Posting with one follower in mind (read: an ex)? Or designed your feed specifically for someone you fancy? That’s called Instagrandstanding. On a specific level, it’s sharing a selfie-and-self-love caption post-breakup, or uploading back-to-back documentary-watching sessions to your stories because your crush once mentioned Louis Theroux.

An illustration of a woman juggling the heads of multiple partnersMark Long

J = Juggling 

Judging by the fact that people are writing survival guides on how to date several people at once and we’re all hooked on shows like Dating Around (where one person goes on five blind dates over a week), juggling multiple apps and dates has become the norm – and is even endorsed by some experts.

But other experts fear that our constant FOMO is causing us to miss out on potential partners. More than that, it’s turning 'appmin' into a meaningless task, says behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings. “People juggle app dating during their day, but they do it when they have a few minutes to spare, which means it can become quite soulless.” 

K = Kittenfishing

It might sound cuter than catfishing but ‘kittenfishing’ – which bascially means pimping your profile to create an unrealistic image of yourself – can be just as time-wasting. Whereas catfishers construct a new identity to talk to people online, the tactics of a kittenfish could be as simple as using an out-of-date, edited photo, or some classic height embellishment. A popular dating app conducted a survey of its members which suggested that 38% of men and 24% of women had been kittenfished – but only two percent of men and one percent of women say they’ve done kittenfishing, which suggests not everyone knows they’re doing it.

L = Labels

If there’s one L word that can throw a dating situation out of balance, it’s... labels. “This generation approaches things more flexibly,” Dr Anna Machin, who studies love and relationships, told BBC Three. “If gender and sexuality aren’t binary any more, I’ve found that many people are asking whether relationships should be.” And so ‘hooking up’, ‘situationships’, ‘together but not together’ can sit under the catch-all term of a ‘no-labels’ relationship.

But that doesn’t mean no drama. “You are free to be your true self rather than trying to fit the mould of someone’s ‘girlfriend’,” says Alex, 30, who spent a year in a no-labels relationship. “But falling in love without properly committing can lead you to spend too much time hovering on their socials, checking when they were last online.” In short, it’s complicated.

M = Meh

When it comes to post-date debriefs, ‘meh’ is the new ‘there just wasn’t a spark’. “With apps, ‘box-ticking’ comes first, but, in real life, it’s chemistry,” says Katy, 29. “Recently, I’ve been on distinctly average dates. The chat is always OK, but there’s just no desire to have sex, or see them again. I’m not naive enough to think there’ll be fireworks on every first or second date, but, for me, there needs to be some throwdown vibe.”

N = Non-first date 

“I met a guy I’d matched with for an after-work drink and, one wine in, he told me that it wasn’t a date – it was a casual meet up to see if he was curious to take it further," says Joanne, 27. And they say romance is dead. “That ‘actual’ first date never happened.”

But Niamh, 34, sees pros in a non-first date. “I’ve been disappointed meeting people IRL after weeks of messaging, so now I always suggest a coffee first. This way, I don’t end up wasting a Saturday night, money, or a pair of contact lenses on someone I don’t click with.”

An illustration of a woman trying to strike up a conversation with someone who isn't interestedMark Long

O = Openers

Once upon a time, “Hey, how are you?” was an acceptable way to kick things off. But using simple openers today is the dating app equivalent of tumbleweed. “If the best you can do is say ‘hi’ or ask them how their weekend was, you’re suggesting you lack effort and character” says dating expert Eden Blackman. Ouch. “Instead, start by referencing something they've shown in their profile.”

P = Profile doxxing

In 2019, anyone writing things like “No feminists or vegans” or “I like it rough” on their dating app profile risks getting their profile doxxed. As in, the controversial phenomenon of screenshotting personal info from dating profiles and sharing them on social media - either for LOLs or as a force for good if, say, it helps call out trolls. Sending WTF bios and weird conversations to the group chat is one thing, but if you’re simply a sensitive soul and putting yourself out there, the idea of being publicly doxxed – and shamed – on social media is adding to the anxiety of modern dating.

An illustration of one man choosing another man's outfitMark Long

Q = Queer Eye 

If you’re dating someone and they start tweaking your wardrobe, adding succulents to your flat, and teaching you how to make guac while sharing self-care tips – you could be being Queer Eyed. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

More than a makeover show, The Fab 5 (Karamo, Jonathan, Antoni, Bobby and Tan) who each specialise in a certain field (culture, grooming, food and wine, design and fashion), help boost self-esteem while tackling diverse stories on everything from toxic masculinity to loneliness. The message is less about changing who you are, and more about looking after – and flourishing with – what you have, whatever your sexual preference. Best of all, it’s keeping the self-worth conversations (see also 'T' and 'Y') going. No, you’re crying.

R = Real life 

Some of us would prefer to get RSI from swiping than ask a stranger out IRL and, although we know apps work (84% of Grindr users said they have fallen in love with someone via the app), calls for a return to the old-school method of meeting someone ‘out there’ – as in, without a phone – are getting louder. In fact, a BBC Radio 1 survey found apps are the least preferred method for 16-34 years olds to meet a new partner.

S = Skint

Dating comes at a high price – literally. “Apps make it easier to date but going on more dates obviously drives up my spending,” says Steven, 28. “I’m a big fan of splitting bills early on – it just feels more fair – but I try and suggest something that hopefully both of us would enjoy, like a Marvel movie, so at least we both gain something even if it doesn’t work out.”

However, some people are spending way more than a cinema ticket. One 2017 survey suggested that the average cost of a date in the UK is £129, across both people. 

T = thank u, next

It’s the song that broke the internet – and helped mend a million hearts. Today, Ariana Grande’s thank u, next, has become the break-up anthem for a generation. A reminder that the most important relationship isn’t ‘the one’ we end up with, but the one we have with ourselves. It spawned some decent memes, too.

U = Uninterested

Let’s clear one thing up: not everyone who’s single is looking for love. And it’s not because they’re fussy - they’re just not fussed about dipping their toes (or perhaps drowning) in the dating pool. A 2017 report suggested that 70% of singles in the UK hadn’t actively tried to find a partner in the previous 12 months.

An illustration of a woman swooping down from the sky like a birdMark Long

V = Vulturing 

Aw, swirling around something that’s dying and waiting for the scraps: what a romantic dating picture. But, unfortunately, that sums up vulturing. Urban Dictionary defines this trend as “the act of staying in the shadows, awaiting the romantic failure of an acquaintance so as to exploit the leftovers”. Sigh.

W = Weddings 

Fewer straight couples than ever are choosing to put a ring on it. According to the ONS, marriage rates for opposite sex couples in 2016 were "at historical lows". But the people who are heading down the aisle are more likely to make it work. In 2017, divorce rates hit an all-time low, with just over eight opposite sex couples per 1,000 getting divorced, the lowest rate since 1973.

Meanwhile, 2015 was the first full year for which marriage was available for same-sex couples and they accounted for 2.6% of all marriages.

X = X-rated openers 

Last year, research by YouGov found that 41% of women aged 18-36 had been sent an unsolicited dick pic. Cyberflashing, or sending someone an unwanted explicit photo without their consent, isn’t a specific criminal offence right now, but in late 2018 MPs called for specific legislation in this area. Not 1,000% sure that someone wants to see your junk? Keep it in your pants.

Y = You do you

Thinking you need to sell yourself when it comes to dating is the wrong approach. A better one? “Being completely yourself and welcoming them (your potential match) into your world,” says Susan Quillium. “For example, people who show ‘this is what I’m like so if you’re this sort of person, we could have this type of relationship’ are more likely to find the right partner for them.”

Z = Zzz

Overall, if dating feels more exhausting than fun, you’re not alone. Susan says some of her clients are showing signs of ‘dating fatigue’. “We might have more freedom than our grandparents did, and we can meet more people now, but too much choice can be confusing and lead to a lot more rejection,” she says. It’s through that level of rejection that we risk losing faith in ourselves, and in others. “I hear a lot of, ‘Why bother because all men/women aren’t worth it’,” she says.

So what’s a disillusioned dater to do? “First, I tell them this isn’t their fault – it’s the current social situation,” she says. “We’re learning, individually and as a society, how to deal with it.” She’s right: there are a lot of dating coaches, classes and matchmakers out there, and apps are waking up to supporting their users more. “Ultimately, it’s about reminding yourself that there are other people feeling the same – and who want to find love. The dating world is in transition, but I do think it will get better.”

Still, anyone else need a lie down?

*Some names and ages have been changed.