For the young heterosexual Spectator male, the dating world is beset with perplexities. It was all so different in his father’s era, when making a pass was not seen by women as harassment or assault but as par for the course on the romance-seeking circuit.
Lunging for kisses without invitation and even pressing girls against a wall were the normal codes of conduct until 2000. The perma-passion of the dance floor, where women and men moved in rhythm, held in each other’s arms, allowed for swifter interpretations and conclusions than any other flirting method. Indeed, some men were even taught by their mothers that it was ‘rude not to have an erection’ when dancing a slow waltz with a woman.
In olden days, these evidences of lust were not perceived as problematic, and women were not offended or traumatised by the overtures. We may have shuddered as we pushed the unfanciable lungers gently away; we may even have been stern with the ones we actually fancied, if we thought they were coming on too strongly or too suddenly. But there was no need for PTSD therapy or to press charges. Having established there was no interest, the lungers moved on, no offence having been taken. ‘It was worth a try,’ they would grin.
But today’s young red-blooded males who fancy women are paralysed by fear of giving offence or being sued. The need for new guidelines is urgent because we have a body of evidence that girls are getting anxious that men might never lunge again, and are desperate for them to come forward, as it were. So when a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love, how can he safely make his feelings known?
Freddie F, 26, has come forward to pose the questions that he and his baffled group of friends want to ask. I have been helped in answering Freddie by a panel of junior advisers.
A kiss or a handshake?
Q: How should I greet girls I’m introduced to at parties? A few years ago, it seemed that handshakes were dying out. A quick continental kiss was much cooler. But is that harassment? What is a safe but modern way to greet a girl?
A: Some girls find being kissed on both cheeks by a man they’ve only just met too intimate. It’s also impractical because it’s so fraught with opportunities for awkward misread gestures, resulting in sad little kisses hanging lamely in mid-air while the recipient, perhaps expecting only one kiss, has already withdrawn. The continental kiss is altogether too disruptive to standing groups at parties: it takes roughly 12 seconds to complete and totally fragments the rest of the group. Warning: the continental kiss can also smudge make-up and carefully coiffed hair. Far better for Freddie to stick out a rigid hand and arm and keep his body upright so that no kisses are expected.
The skin-brush move
Q: On the rare occasions that I feel I’m getting on well with a girl, I’ve often given her shoulder or knee a light touch, partly to emphasise a point in conversation but also to let her know I’m keen. Is this now not on? Are there any safe spaces on a person’s body I can (respectfully) lay a hand on or should I keep my hands to myself?
A: Touching the shoulder or arm in a social situation is fine (the knee is dodgier), and even in today’s #metoo culture, the gesture cannot be construed as sexual harassment. Moreover, in fine weather, a seemingly harmless brush of skin on skin is key to diagnosing attraction. As the French say: ‘L’amour, c’est une question de peau.’ If the girl is interested, you should be able to sense it from her reaction. Ideally there will be a volt of electricity. She may blush, or the skin on her arm may goose-pimple. If she’s open to further skin-brushing, she will keep the arm in proximity to yours. If not, she may roll down her sleeves and keep her arms at her side.
To lunge or not to lunge
Q: Let’s say I offered to give a girl a lift home in a taxi I’d called after we’d spent the evening together in a group and she had responded well to my skin-brushing. Can I make a pass at her in the taxi?
A: You must read the signals carefully. She may be grateful for a free lift, may even fancy you, but may not welcome accelerated intimacy. If you feel ‘an atmosphere’ developing, you could ask her if she’d like to come in for a coffee at yours. However, men can be overly optimistic at discerning such atmospheres. Being locked in a car with you may make the girl feel uncomfortable. Has she placed her bag as a bulwark between you or has she put it on her other side, forcing her closer towards you? Are her arms folded and her legs crossed? If so, do not lunge.
Do I have to pay for her dinner?
Q: Online dating is everywhere. But if I’m Tinder dating, I might be out for three meals a week. Do I always have to offer to pay or can we go halves?
A: Experienced online daters meet first for early drinks. If it goes well, then going on to a restaurant is an option, and if not, you can part ways amicably on the grounds you have a dinner arrangement.
These are the unspoken rules to online dating. Bear in mind the existence of a genre of women who take advantage of the online dating system by going out for expensive dinners every night with a different date. Our straw poll revealed 60 per cent of girls under 30 would see the man insisting on paying as an irritant. They view the gesture as patronising and they dislike the vague implication that there may be a favour expected in return for the financial favour bestowed.
The vanishing act
Q: My colleague Hugo is a bit of a goer. He meets a lot of girls on dating apps but then doesn’t see them more than once. Hugo asks: ‘I know that many girls complain that boys they’ve met once after hooking up online just vanish afterwards, leaving them confused. Is it kinder perhaps to be clearer? Should I text a date and say: “I had a lovely time but I just don’t fancy you enough to repeat the experience. Good luck!”’
A: As the late, much-fancied Mark Boxer once observed, ‘It’s the height of bad manners to sleep with a girl only once.’ If you feel yourself interested only in casual coupling, you must make this clear at the outset and before anything takes place. A girl could accept being ‘dumped’ or ‘ghosted’ following a drunken encounter in a nightclub, which led (inadvisably) to full intimacy, but for a man to go to all the trouble of three hours of chatting first, and implying that he has come to like her as a result of getting to know her, is deeply wounding, if she hears nothing from him again. The obvious option for someone like you, Hugo, is to use professional services and not undermine the self-confidence of perfectly nice girls who are secretly looking for love even if they are peer-pressured into pretending to be laddish and up for it.
I’m just not that into you
Q: But from the perspective of someone who has just been on a date with someone he has met online, how can he tactfully say: ‘Thanks but you are not the one for me, so do you mind if we don’t meet again?’
A: As long as nothing happened on the date, the general policy is just not to be in touch and the girl will get the message. It’s unnecessarily crushing to imply to a girl that you don’t fancy her. The girl will inevitably be talking online to a couple of men and will understand that the ones who aren’t interested will not be getting back to her.
How many can I date at once?
Q: Can I date lots of people I’ve met online simultaneously or is that still considered rude?
A: Yes you can, until you take things further than kissing with one of them. Then it is incredibly rude and you must make a decision to be exclusive with just one. You must have a conversation about exclusivity at this point as, remember, she may also be dating other men simultaneously.
Kissing and consent
Q: How do you lunge in the age of consent? Surely it’s beyond awkward to say: ‘Can I kiss you?’ I worry that legally drunk girls now can’t legally consent. How can I ask a girl if she’s had too much to drink to consent to a snog?
A: Just use your own common sense. Instead of saying ‘Can I kiss you?’, which is rather unmanly and timorous, when the acute moment has been reached, say to the girl ‘Kiss me!’ in a firm and seductive voice. This puts the ball in her court, as if she is willing she will be in the position of the one doing the lunging and there will be no ambiguity as to whether it is ‘consensual’ or not.
Softly does it
Q: What is the correct response if you decide to lunge at someone and they duck? I remember that once, when lunging at a girl I liked, she moved out of the way and I went face first into a brick wall.
A: This unfortunate circumstance has happened to most men. To be sure your advances will be accepted, lean in and first softly brush the hair from her face as if preparing the way for a kiss. If she stays still and looks at you appealingly, you have the all-clear. If she recoils, you can withdraw, stating that you were removing a twig or a feather lodged in her hair, thus saving your dignity.
If she’s drunk, don’t do it
Q: What if the date goes well? Can I still invite a girl back to mine for ‘coffee’? How explicit should I be in the age of consent?
A: Yes, this is fine. You must use your own discretion when lunging. Obviously if the girl is too drunk you shouldn’t take advantage of her.
Am I a cad or just polyamorous?
Q: I gather it’s trendy to be polyamorous, i.e. old-fashioned to have just one monogamous relationship. Once upon a time you were a cad if you had more than one girl. Can I just claim to be polyamorous now?
A: It depends on your class. An English public-school boy cannot claim to be polyamorous — he would be ridiculed. Polyamorousness only represents a small substrata of society and, predictably, there are more polyamorous men than women. I would steer clear of any mention of non-monogamous relationships, as most girls are more old-fashioned than they claim and would like to settle down with one person.
A final note: nothing beats a large, mixed-sex house party for romance to flourish, especially if a dance floor can be cleared and space made for some slow waltzes.
Mary Killen writes The Spectator’s weekly Dear Mary column. Write to the editor or email email@example.com.