Online dating has lost its true romance at Christmas – Sarah Todd

IT IS a sad truth that the internet has replaced social gatherings, along with mutual friends and family as the way couples meet. This report was buried among election news but is worth reflecting on as a sign of our times.

Loneliness is a major issue amongst young people this Christmas.

The Husband was met (it was the 1980s so forgive the attire) when this correspondent cheekily twanged his braces. A telephone number was taken – no mobiles then – and the following week he took me out for a drink.

Nowadays, if all the stories of political correctness gone mad are to be believed, he could have claimed to have been left psychologically scarred by that little red-head creeping up behind and getting hold of his clothing.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Is Facebook to blame for loneliness amongst the young?

With Christmas upon us it seems very much a backwards step that human beings are reduced to swiping right or left on a phone – apparently this is how online dating works – rather than striking up a real-life conversation.

There is something just plain wrong with the way people seem able to say all sorts from behind an electronic screen, but then can’t string two words together when they actually encounter somebody in the flesh.

This is true not only when it comes to finding love, but in all areas of life. Restaurant customers sit and say ‘‘lovely’’ when asked how their meal is 
and then get home and – behind the safety of their keyboard – write the most savage of 

People of all ages are prone to loneliness, research shows.

The Daughter, now nearly 19, tells her mother that young people tend to follow each other on social media for a while rather than going straight up to make conversation if they find somebody attractive. Then there will be a time of sending messages way before any date takes place.

It’s good to be able to report that she chatted properly for the first time to her boyfriend – like generations of rural youngsters before her – while taking a stint on the ducking stool on the young farmers’ stand at the Great Yorkshire Show.

Talking of the show, my late grandmother always used to remember with a smile at showtime how certain farming families would spend all day outside the members’ pavilion with their unmarried daughters dressed up to the nines; hoping to catch a potential husband as they wandered in with their mind on a drink rather than marriage.

Here’s hoping that our newly-elected Prime Minister will spur some of us on to speak up more. To take the bull by the horns and risk ridicule. There is something so attractive – sorry, the fire of my middle-aged love for Boris Johnson is still burning brightly – about the way he spent the election campaign making conversation. Bricklayers, boxers, fishmongers; he risked them telling him to clear off and went over to have a chat. In stark contrast, there is something so unattractive about the metropolitan elite’s inability to pass the time of day with the working man or woman.

This writer has always been one of those people who says ‘‘hello’’ to somebody who catches her eye in the supermarket car park or crossing the street. It could be the mum struggling with the shopping or the old chap who has his dog in tow. Some people look straight back through you; but the majority smile and return the compliment. There should be more of it.

Self-employed, there’s no longer a Christmas party for this writer. But The Husband gets to quite a few dos. One Christmas party he ate 50 sprouts, cheered on for the fun of it. He reports back that the japes aren’t so great any more. Rather than turning up beforehand and mingling; many of the younger generation pre-load on drinks at home before venturing out. Then, rather than mixing, they tend to stay in the groups with which they arrived. They certainly wouldn’t dare to take part in a sprout eating competition with that grey-haired fellow in braces (being a Yorkshireman they’re probably the same pair).

As a young journalist, the Christmas party used to be a hotbed of festive romance. Take the shy sports reporter who had never so much as spoken to anybody from the advertising department. The party would be the night he would have one extra beer and pluck up courage to go over and have a chat to the girl selling the adverts below his football reports.

Yes, we must all be mindful of modern social etiquette but, to put it bluntly, there’s no wonder so many young people nowadays describe themselves as lonely. And it’s time to face facts. Online friends aren’t the same as real friends.

The Irish poet William Butler Yeats had it right when he spoke of “… no strangers here; only friends you haven’t met”.

Sarah Todd is a farmer’s daughter, mother and journalist specialising 
in country life.