I’m nearly 26 years old and I’ve never been on an online date. Not once. I’ve come close on a few occasions - one guy I cancelled on twice still graciously invited me for a third, and another revealed himself from behind a smokescreen of sincerity to be a total twat (he commented on the weight of a former partner and expected me to join it as if his criticism was a springboard for my ego. Not today Satan).
Tinder, Bumble & POF: that’s as far-reaching as my app knowledge extends. I’m so out of the lusty loop that I wouldn’t even be able to recognise how outdated those platforms are, although I know when I mention them to my single friends they'll often recoil as if I’ve just stepped out of the 1990s. I had a brief flirtation with Tinder when I broke up with my first boyfriend 4 or 5 years ago and I’m fairly certain I downloaded Bumble whilst I was still with him (just to see how it worked, you know…), but that’s the last time I rolled the dice on internet dating and back then, you could still send pictures as messages. There was no super like. ‘Swiping right’ had yet to enter the collective vocabulary as a synonym for pledging interest. Nobody - and I mean nobody - was using the Snapchat dog filter. It was the olden days.
Since the age of 18 I’ve spent a grand total of about 6 months as a single person, 6 months which were populated almost exclusively with the presence of my now-boyfriend Keiran. I wasn’t ever really alone, not in the proper 'single' sense of the word. It was during that brief window of singledom that I flirted with the open-ended possibilities of dating apps, but having already rooted down into the earth of someone new, the likelihood of that developing was already slim. I’d found a new home, a new hearth beneath which to glow. Perhaps it was coincidental timing. Perhaps I’d mentally checked out of my previous relationship a lot earlier than it had officially ended. Perhaps I was subconsciously terrified of being by myself, of having to mould the clay of my identity into something which wasn’t attached. Whatever it was that was edging me forwards, I slipped out of single life seamlessly and with little resistance.
And I was happy to. I delight in love. I unfurl endlessly into the centre of someone, the soft core of their vulnerability. Prickling hairs at the tenderness of their touch. Familiar sounds muffled through the crisp of crumpled bed sheets. The cleft of their back which invites wandering fingers to rest, gently. Keiran and I have fought and we have at times struggled, but there's something with us which feels... rare. Like the bones of our beings strengthen off one another and our minds dutifully follow.
Love is a mystery to me, a spinning compass. There are endless directions to explore, a never-ending myriad of movements in the pursuit of really knowing someone. It is safety and growth, a nurturing bed within which to germinate. I have never felt ‘less than’ in the sling of love, but sometimes -
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wonder. That I wasn’t curious about who I’d be had I given myself more space to be solo,
That I didn’t at times panic that I’d jumped into forever too fast, flinging my weight into the pit of the long-jump when I should have been dancing across all manner of hurdles. It's not regret for the situation I'm in, it's FOMO for the situations I've never known.
I’ve never been on a Tinder date and maybe I never will. Maybe I’ll never know what it’s like to be ghosted or experience the ‘ick’. Maybe I’ll write endlessly about love from a pool of reference smaller than a bathroom basin. If dating in your 20s is a rite of passage, maybe I’ve moved past that corridor completely. There are a thousand things I will never have done and may never do, and quietly, ever so quietly, it’s frightening.
Because what if it’s a mistake? What if I dedicate every inch of myself to this home and it one day collapses in on itself? The foundations shift and suddenly it’s not a home, it’s just a space, a space where the walls are inching outwards and I’m no longer coddled by the warm embrace of its closeness. What then? I can’t rewind time and push back when the feelings advance. There are no do-overs. I will have missed the heralded ‘golden era’, the period of no responsibilities and outward exploration.
Amidst the choppy seas of the turbulent twenties, I am buoyed by my love. I slide past heartbreak, isolation, rejection; I am supported, I have a level to come back to. I needn't be carried because I can swim for myself, but it’s there, waiting, a floatation aid should a tempest lurch forward. But in all my drifting I miss the things I’ve never known. The things I may never know. The passing of time is a one-way ticket and when you commit early on - when you say yes, this is the thing, they are the one - that fear of the temporal being outside of your control is scary.
Some love stories will have you believe that to doubt is to not fully love. Twitter will certainly tell you so. That if you ever wonder ‘what if’, pine for those wild moments unlived and tawdry tales untold, that you must not be invested in your relationship. That you’re holding on to something which has already passed its prime, too frozen with fear to break away and try something new.
I think most people in long-term relationships would say otherwise, especially if the first buds of interest sprung up when both partners were barely blooming themselves. It’s natural to be curious. It’s natural to sometimes feel like you’re missing out on the shagathon unfolding around you and you’re not the antichrist for wondering what it might be like to be a part of it. You’re not betraying your partner if you’ve at times lamented the impossibility of a fresh first date, or if you've felt that pit-pang of jealousy as your single friends list the many love interests hot on their tail.
It's not the people that you're interested in, it's simply people being interested in you. Being someone's safe bet is hardly the epitome of desire, and fuck, we all want to feel sexy. Yes, it's all worth sacrificing for the connection you've built and buffed and blossomed into something genuinely special, but -
It isn’t a smear against your relationship to wonder. We’ve all wondered. To act on those curiosities is of course a different ball park, but to occasionally find your mind floating into the avenues of ‘what if’? Don’t beat yourself up about it, and don’t squash it deep down inside of you so it starts gnawing from within.
So many of the people I know have expressed the same intrigue. When you commit to commitment early on in your 20s, you never get to find out who you'd have been without it. The time passes and that's it - that famous period of frivolity is gone. And again, it's a worthwhile trade, but that doesn't stop you wondering, or at times panicking that in the grand scheme of your much wider, longer, larger life, that you could possibly have made a mistep.
I say: don’t panic. If you're happy in where you are, declare it with your chest. Whilst the single people are gathering experiences like a seashore cockle collector, you’re crafting and shaping something beautifully worthwhile. A person to learn the fibres of your soul. Comparably, neither is better than the other; the value only applies in relation to what you want and what you need. And if you’re in a place where you feel nurtured, respected, loved and held up? It’s enough.
Expecting perfection right down to the thoughts in your head is unrealistic and far too uncomplicated to be human. Whilst you are part of a long-term relationship, don't forget that you're also your own person too. An individual, willingly leaning into a partnership which feeds you. Yes, you may never date again. You may never feel butterflies for the first time or frantically rewrite a text with the support of your group WhatsApp, but the old truth remains: you can't have it all. And you've taken a different path because that different path suits the rhythm
of your heart.
But it's still okay to wonder.