Single In London & Spoilt for Choice
Select Magazine 00-05-1989
How does one survive as a 'single' in such a single-mindedly ruthless city as London? CHRISTOPHER LONG sought wisdom from those who ought to know.
By Christopher Long
A delightful girl from Scotland spent two days in London recently on what was planned as a massive pending spree. Armed with plastic cards and a vast budget we were amazed to see that the fruits of a whole day's shopping in the Capital was just one tiny carrier bag.
"The problem is that there's just so much to choose from and you keep thinking you'll see something better. So I ended up with nothing in the end!"
This sums up a major dilemma for single people in London. The bewildering choice of prospective partners is so mind-boggling that too often they never make a choice at all.
Being practical for a moment, London should be the greatest hunting-ground anywhere in Europe. Concentrated in a few square miles are literally millions of single men and women of all ages, shapes, sizes, nationalities and predilections.
Shopping for a partner couldn't be easier, in theory. You don't need wheels and you don't even need a circle of friends in order to meet others. They're all around you in their thousands, in offices, clubs, pubs and discos. They can even be found in their millions strap-hanging on the tube or stretched out enticingly in the park. What's more, only the choicest specimens are on offer. The time-wasting marrieds have mostly pushed off out of London to the suburbs or the country. The competition is so intense that even the dowdiest new arrivals quickly polish up their presentation. And, this being the prosperous and enterprising South, they're all in work, all earning excellent or even massive salaries, usually well-housed and mostly under the age of forty.
What's more, the trains arriving at King's Cross, Euston, St Pancras and Paddington deliver thousands of new recruits each day. This being London, you can meet someone, find you've made a mistake, part company and be almost certain you'll never bump into them again. Anonymity is guaranteed, all indiscretions forgiven and forgotten, providing endless new opportunities to come.
Yet and this is the great puzzle there is probably more loneliness, frustration and dissatisfaction in London than anywhere else in Britain.
By common consent, it's women who appear to suffer the most. High-earning, high-achieving women may have all the totems of success: well-stocked wardrobes, well-tuned bodies, stylish apartments and an enviable lifestyle. Their diaries may be filled with dates, the answerphone stacked with callers and three holidays a year may offer sun, snow and adventure at frequent intervals. But why is it that even if they're not alone in their beds they often feel as if they are?
John, a 32 year-old partner in a major London chain of wine-bars, feels that the obsession with image has a lot to answer for:
"I see thousands of singles every day mostly singles. The sad thing is it's hard to see them as individuals because I see them all as fitting stereotypes. They're like actors who begin to believe they are the role they're playing. How can you expect someone to know you and like you if you're always being someone else? And what happens if they do get to know you and then find you're not what they expected? What's worse is that I do it myself as well. London's so big and intimidating that I think most people don't think they'll succeed by presenting themselves as themselves. They prefer to fit an image which says 'I'm like this' when what they mean is 'I'd like to be like this but deep down I don't like what I really am'."
Carina, a 28 year-old advertising executive, echoes his thoughts:
'Before, you always knew what you were supposed to pretend to be. Now you don't know what to pretend."
Success and emancipation have made meeting and dealing with men at the office very difficult for women, she thinks:
"Women have entered a man's world which always seemed rather mystical. But all they've learned is how cold and callous men can be with women if they have to compete with them. It's not that men are nasty to women at work but the problem arises because it's difficult to know what image to present."
"How many Barbie Dolls get promoted? At parties you can afford to be cute and soft and attractive old-fashioned. But that's under false pretences because most of your life, at work, you're not able to be old-fashioned."
"A lot of men can't think how women are going to benefit from being independent. They don't regard their careers and independence as a great achievement just something they've been brought up to do in order to survive."
The result for many London women is that men now regard them as independent in a way that denies men any need to protect or take care of females.
"I want a man and a relationship but a career hardens you particularly in London. Also, you're so tired at the end of a day that it seems impossible you could cope with a job, children, domestic chores and a husband. It's a vicious circle: the less dependent you become on relationships to keep you occupied, the more you find alternative ways of enjoying yourself. The fewer relationships you have, the fewer you want."
"I don't think women know how to treat men any more than men know how to treat women nowadays. We say we want sensitive men but then we call them wet, so that rules them out. Or we say we want them strong, dominant and masterful and we decide they're cold and uncaring. We've all got an idea of the ideal man who's often based on what our mothers and childhood and fairy-stories and fathers and uncles have led us to expect someone more or less caring, more or less attractive and almost always in control and protective. But even if we're secretly looking for someone like that we find it patronising at work even if they'd suit us fine at home."
"So, we still go for this old stereotype rather than practical reality. Instead of the sort of man we could easily find at work we look for the sort of man who probably doesn't exist any more if he ever did. So, with all these millions of men in London, you're still alone."
Judy, mid-thirties and a successful photographer, finds London a problem for many single women:
"The trouble is we just don't have enough time for our personal lives. I spend a lot of time alone in a dark-room and it's nice to think you could spend time at the end of the day with a boy-friend. We all want cuddling and affection, but perhaps men just don't see that. I suppose in the end you just want someone to look after you. For example, I've just had a phone call from a female friend a really successful executive who's always jumping on and off planes and very attractive but she's on her own and miserable."
So, if the London work-place presents identity problems for potential relationships, can't men and women be more relaxed with each other elsewhere? No, it seems. Yet again the pressures and successes of new-found female emancipation leave people floored despite the richness of choice:
"One reason some women can't get it together with the right man is that men don't read the signals that say we fancy them," claims Patricia, a London model.
"What's more women don't know how to signal to men any more. We're our own worst enemies. Rather than improving our situation, our success has actually hindered it. Of course men have always been able to go out and meet women, but they're scared off by women who pursue them it's just not feminine! Women feel more feminine if men pursue them. So, there's still this nonsense of women sitting and waiting for the phone to ring. It's even worse for career women. During the day they're accustomed to ringing up and getting what they want in their careers. Suddenly, at home, being 'real' women, they have to wait to be asked! What's more career women are usually much less confident and more frightened of being rejected than most people would ever believe."
So, the advantage of the London singles scene is clear it has two of the three magic ingredients for all singles everywhere: a sufficient number of suitable and available people plus the opportunity to meet them easily. What it lacks, it seems, is the third vital ingredient: an atmosphere conducive to allowing people to communicate what they want from, and can offer to, a relationship.
At the opposite end of the spectrum from the high-fliers there are still a few 'old-fashioned' people like Rick and Pippa.
Rick, a freelance session musician, in his late thirties and separated, says he gave up trying to meet women at parties a long time ago:
"For several years I used to go to clubs and parties hoping to meet someone fantastic. In the end I thought there was something really wrong with me. I could talk to girls quite easily and it's fantastic how many there are to choose from. But the moment we left the party or we met the next night it never seemed to work out. It always seemed as if I and she were two different people altogether strangers with nothing in common. I decided it was because people went to parties with such high expectations, so keyed up to meeting somebody fantastic that they easily convinced themselves they had. What's more they behave so unnaturally that when they have to meet stone-cold sober there's nothing to relate to in the person you met the night before. Then everybody finds themselves going too far too fast in a sort of desperate attempt to keep the 'relationship' going. Then they panic about AIDS or what the other person's going to think afterwards and it's all a bloody nightmare."
"Then I realised I never met successful partners at parties or occasions when people dress up to be something they aren't so now I usually ask people out on the spur of the moment like the girl at the top of the house and a girl at my agent's office who kept a picture of her baby on her desk but wasn't wearing a ring. Actually that didn't work out either but that was my fault!"
Pippa, a penniless artist from Chelsea, aged 24, says she's not surprised that upwardly-mobiles have a hard time:
"There's too much pressure on women to have careers. I was never pressurised and I'm probably the most contented person I know but I earn a pittance!"
"I feel a lot of women put all their energy into their careers and there's not time for a relationship and not a great prospect of happiness at the end of it. There's this population of women in the City doing banking and bonds and things that nobody else really understands and it doesn't make sense. Making £500,000 a second it's not real life, it's fantasy-land. All these huge salaries and competing and doing things that don't relate to real life or real people I can't see how women who do all that can expect to find simple happiness with a man."
"There's no shortage of men. It's just that these women rule out nearly all of them as non-runners and there's only a tiny proportion left and they have to be perfection."
"They're so competitive they even make looking for a partner as competitive as possible. They're attracted by each other's success and image but that's not what makes for a good future. It's not like marriage, is it? What about giving and caring?"
Pippa, of course, found her man painting beside her. Two weeks after they met they got engaged. Three weeks later they were married and four weeks after that she discovered she was pregnant. They are now blissfully happy.
The final irony about London is that everything is increasingly geared to singles, couple-making and pairs. Clubs, pubs, theatres, concert-halls, restaurants, museums, cinemas and even the size of London apartments are all ideal for partners. Families with children are rapidly vanishing. Schools are closing down; London's working-class housing estates are increasingly being pulled down, converted for single (or one-parent) occupants and the whole economy of London is geared to the DINKY syndrome (Dual Income, No Kids Yet).
However bizarre or rarefied your tastes there are whole slices of London life to cater for vegetarians and non-smokers, gays of both sexes, health and fitness freaks, the dissolute and bohemian, the intellectuals and the ravers. There are jobs, large incomes and every sort of person, nationality or type you could imagine with whom to share it.
What's more, AIDS, hepatitis and herpes are at the forefront of everyone's mind bearing in mind that here more than anywhere else is a population daily reminded of their dangers. If for no other reason, men and women have an unparalleled incentive to stop those one-night stands and suck-it-and-see flings. Healthy sexual and emotional appetites can only be safely satisfied in more permanent and committed relationships.
London should be paradise on earth for singles of all sorts. And, indeed it would be. If we were honest. Which we're not!
The man or woman of your dreams may or may not exist that depends upon the extent and exoticism of your fantasies but here in their millions are people with the same hopes, fears, desires, despairs and the need to care and be cared for as the rest of us. The opportunity to meet them only requires a little effort and daring.
Whether they come to fruition only depends upon abandoning those lying images and deceitful style-games. Honesty, my interviewees are agreed upon, is the best and only policy for survival in the seething Capital or anywhere else for that matter.
Select Magazine was published for members & subscribers by the computer dating service, DateLine.
© (1989) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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