My friend Svend once described me as “the most boringly heterosexual man I’ve ever met.” Which is fair enough, because although I’ve always been open in principle to the idea of sex with another man I’ve never felt the slightest interest or desire actually to do so.

Which meant that Josh was out of luck when we met up for coffee.

I’d thought I would be having coffee with a divorced mother-of-two called Jane. But Jane turned out to be Josh. Evidently my first foray into the world of dating after a fifteen-year hiatus wasn’t going to be quite as smooth as I’d envisaged.

Needless to say, sparks didn’t fly over cappuccino and double-decaf-macchiato with vanilla. After a few minutes of small talk, we parted ways. I’m still curious about who was really sending me those witty and amusing texts.

But at least we had met in real life. This business of face-to-face has, evidently, fallen out of fashion since the last time I was single and looking to mingle. Nowadays it’s all online flirting and swiping and tiny frequent jolts of dopamine which have replaced the magnificent avalanche of well-deserved mutual orgasms.

Melanie on Tinder did her undergraduate degree at Harvard which complemented mine from Oxford and she had nearly as many Masters degrees as I do and she was sane and lovely and funny and sexy and… after three days of increasingly steamy messaging back-and-forth revealed that she actually lives 1,892 miles from me. Her Tinder location being, sadly, untrue.

Then there were the several women on OKCupid who likewise seemed clever and funny and interesting and according to the OKC questions were very sexually compatible with my own predilections and preferences. I ended up sexting several and having phone sex with five of them, though the orgasms were all on their side. Of the three women who agreed to meet up with me in real life, however, all turned out to be very anxious about sexually transmitted diseases. Which enabled me to discover that talking about sex and having virtual sex have become substitutes for actually having sex. The fact that (a) as a middle-class person over the age of 22 your lifetime risk of getting an incurable STD is actually three times less than being struck by lightning, and (b) I can furnish a very recent full-spectrum blood panel showing that I’ve never had anything more serious than malaria, made no difference. Fear is the currency of the USA. So these clever and sexy and interesting women have become prisoners of a mass-manufactured fear that bears as much relationship to reality as any random statement by Donald Trump.

Years ago I read a story by the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, the theme of which was a future in which people were so accustomed to living alone and interacting only via hologram that they could no longer tolerate the stress of being in the proximity of another human being. Apparently we’re nearly there.

After several more experiences I realized I had a taxonomy of Modern Modes of Dating:

  • com is for when you want dinner but no talk about sex
  • OK Cupid is for when you want dinner and some talk about sex
  • Tinder is for when you don’t want dinner but do want to talk about sex

Now at this point you’re probably thinking, “just another tedious piece of self-pity by yet another boring middle-aged man who can’t get laid.”

Yet nothing could be further from the truth, except the part about not getting laid. I’ve been delighted to discover that the world is full of interesting and funny and clever women, even if one or two of them may turn out to be overly-optimistic gay men. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover that my online profiles receive far more interest that I’d ever have expected – men, after all, being ten a penny online. I’ve had many interesting virtual conversations with women who, despite the blanket of fear that covers the USA, have found they can channel their sexual energies through the virtual worlds of texts, instant messages, and voice communication. The virtual has replaced the real because it seems safer. As one woman told me without a hint of irony or sarcasm, “If you wanna touch a pussy, get a cat.”

Years ago I took my first multi-day hike into the wilderness with a couple of acquaintances. Our plan was to cover at least 20 miles per day which, given the huge elevation gains and descents, the rough terrain, and the unforgiving ground, was ambitious. My two friends found plenty to complain about: tired legs, sunburned skin, rubbing from the pack straps and hip-belt, blisters on the feet… But I hadn’t expected to be spared these inconveniences. In fact I’d expected rather worse. And that freed me up to enjoy the magnificence of the wilderness, the extraordinary silence, the vastness of the views from the top of 3,200 meter peaks. Since that first exploration I’ve gone solo into the wilderness many times and no matter how many mosquito bites or cuts and scrapes I’ve suffered, I’ve always felt the same sense of sheer delight at the unexpected pleasures nature offers if only you’re open to perceiving them.

I feel the same way about dating in 2016. Provided you don’t have any expectations, there are treasures to be found. I’m amazed by how many bright and funny and interesting women I’ve been interacting with. At work we’re all wearing masks but online we’re free to reveal to virtual lovers our truest selves and thus experience a strange kind of Great War trench camaraderie, something along the lines of: “Yes, this is bloody awful, but thank god we can share a mug of tea.”

And while it’s true that I’m probably not going to get laid, which in the old days was more or less the point of dating, it’s also true that there’s a different sort of pleasure in reaching out and encountering new minds.

Now if only I wasn’t allergic to cats…