28 Dates Later by Willard Foxton: Part Five, #Twittercrush

In which Willard meets a fan.

After 4 online dates, I must confess, I was getting a little demoralised with the process. The one thing no-one tells you about online dating is how incredibly time-consuming it is. I mean, I realise I have made a rod for my own back by running err… (counts) 17 profiles at once, but I'm not sending more than a few messages from each every week.

My hit rate is about one date arranged for every 5-6 messages I send on the mainstream sites, and anything from zero to fifteen on the more niche ones. I've developed a decent routine of getting up on a Saturday morning, sauntering over to my local pub, and spending about three hours writing witty, charming and amusing messages to women I'm attracted to, while eating a fry up & drinking fresh coffee.

It's a bit like having a relatively unrewarding second job, where I'm paid in bacon and anecdotes.

My rather imposing (but lovely) local

I quite enjoy reading other people's profiles and then responding - no copied and pasted nonsense from me, only fine, hand-crafted, bespoke messages. As much as I enjoy writing them,there's a certain existential angst to writing these missives - the knowledge that most of them will never be replied to.

I hear it's no better for women. Most of the messages are sent by men on the bulk of the sites; so rather than writing a huge number of messages, they are responding to a constant stream of madness pouring into their inbox. And trust me, no woman on an online dating site is escaping without complete lunatics messaging them. For example, take a look at this site, where Asian girls post the deeply offensive messages creepy orientalist white guys send them – "I have studied many martial arts and know how to protect a woman", is a particular favourite, although I doubt I'll try it myself.

At the far end of the sort of messages your female friends get is this zoot-suited, mulleted racist who drives a – quote – "Rape Van" around San Francisco & shrieks insults at women who refuse to sleep with him. So, while he may represent the extreme of what women have to put up with online, I'm pretty sure he's not totally unrepresentative. (You may also be intrigued to know he makes a living offering expensive classes on how to pick up women, but that's another story for another day.)

So, what was my fifth date, and why am I wittering on about how hard online dating is? I'm back on to the regular dating sites this post - and while sending my weekly quota of messages (and not having much luck), I happened across this interesting article in the Independent, which suggested "If you're a regular Twitter user and you're single and you haven't swapped flirty direct messages (DMs) with someone and subsequently developed a bit of a crush on them, you're doing it wrong."

I am a regular twitter user. I've never sent flirty messages on Twitter. Could twitter be a dating site? I mean, I write the rules, after all.

And, whilst embarking on this project I'd got chatting to someone who I really liked on twitter. She's funny, witty, quirky, interesting. Exotic pets (crucially, not reptiles). Single. Now, obviously I haven't actually met her; in fact, I don't even know her real name, or even what she looks like. But having chatted to her, I felt like I knew her a little – not a lot, just enough to suspect we'd probably get on well. There was one problem. I didn't feel massively comfortable about approaching a woman romantically online.

I know, ridiculous, right? I've just told you I spend three hours every Saturday morning writing charming messages to complete strangers because a computer thinks we might be compatible, but actually ask out a girl who I like & know a little? Madness. Every time I opened the message window, to type my 140 character charming message, I got the image of all the times female friends have told me about them being approached by guys when they didn't want it. Was I basically the electronic version one of those perverts who shouts at women on train platforms? Was asking her out shitty harassment and should I just fuck off back to OK Cupid?

I worried. I asked the advice of my friends. One of my oldest friends gave me a good analogy, "It's more like chatting to a stranger on the platform while you wait for your train, realising you like them and then asking them out"; another, more recent (but equally wise) friend said "it's all in the method. If you're respectful towards her it's fine. If you bulldoze in there with an unbecoming sense of entitlement you'll come off a twat." Emboldened, and with my twattishness dialed down to zero, that evening, I decided I would message her.

I probably spent about an hour pouring over the best way to ask someone out in a 140 characters. After writing it, hovering my finger over the send button – it felt genuinely exciting, interesting, fun, nerve-wracking – exactly what dating should be like. So, I pressed send, and waited. And waited. And waited. Tick tock, tick tock.

My phone beeped – it was her! But… sadly, she explained that she wasn't on the market. Flattered, and cheered up by the message, but not on the market. So, I hear you ask, why is she on the list? Does she count as a date? Well, it was an interesting experience, and I guess, typical of what can go on online. Equally, the experience was fun – probably more fun than some of the dates I've been on, in fact. It felt worth writing up.

And who knows, maybe one day, she'll change her mind…

This post originally appeared at 28 Dates Later. Stay tuned as we catch you up with all Willard's disastrous dates so far over the next week.

Photograph: Getty Images

Willard Foxton is a card-carrying Tory, and in his spare time a freelance television producer, who makes current affairs films for the BBC and Channel 4. Find him on Twitter as @WillardFoxton.

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Northern Ireland election results: a shift beneath the status quo

The power of the largest parties has been maintained, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

After a long day of counting and tinkering with the region’s complex PR vote transfer sytem, Northern Irish election results are slowly starting to trickle in. Overall, the status quo of the largest parties has been maintained with Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party returning as the largest nationalist and unionist party respectively. However, beyond the immediate scope of the biggest parties, interesting changes are taking place. The two smaller nationalist and unionist parties appear to be losing support, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

The most significant win of the night so far has been Gerry Carroll from People Before Profit who topped polls in the Republican heartland of West Belfast. Traditionally a Sinn Fein safe constituency and a former seat of party leader Gerry Adams, Carroll has won hearts at a local level after years of community work and anti-austerity activism. A second People Before Profit candidate Eamon McCann also holds a strong chance of winning a seat in Foyle. The hard-left party’s passionate defence of public services and anti-austerity politics have held sway with working class families in the Republican constituencies which both feature high unemployment levels and which are increasingly finding Republicanism’s focus on the constitutional question limiting in strained economic times.

The Green party is another smaller party which is slowly edging further into the mainstream. As one of the only pro-choice parties at Stormont which advocates for abortion to be legalised on a level with Great Britain’s 1967 Abortion Act, the party has found itself thrust into the spotlight in recent months following the prosecution of a number of women on abortion related offences.

The mixed-religion, cross-community Alliance party has experienced mixed results. Although it looks set to increase its result overall, one of the best known faces of the party, party leader David Ford, faces the real possibility of losing his seat in South Antrim following a poor performance as Justice Minister. Naomi Long, who sensationally beat First Minister Peter Robinson to take his East Belfast seat at the 2011 Westminster election before losing it again to a pan-unionist candidate, has been elected as Stormont MLA for the same constituency. Following her competent performance as MP and efforts to reach out to both Protestant and Catholic voters, she has been seen by many as a rising star in the party and could now represent a more appealing leader to Ford.

As these smaller parties slowly gain a foothold in Northern Ireland’s long-established and stagnant political landscape, it appears to be the smaller two nationalist and unionist parties which are losing out to them. The moderate nationalist party the SDLP risks losing previously safe seats such as well-known former minister Alex Attwood’s West Belfast seat. The party’s traditional, conservative values such as upholding the abortion ban and failing to embrace the campaign for same-sex marriage has alienated younger voters who instead may be drawn to Alliance, the Greens or People Before Profit. Local commentators have speculate that the party may fail to get enough support to qualify for a minister at the executive table.

The UUP are in a similar position on the unionist side of the spectrum. While popular with older voters, they lack the charismatic force of the DUP and progressive policies of the newer parties. Over the course of the last parliament, the party has aired the possibility of forming an official opposition rather than propping up the mandatory power-sharing coalition set out by the peace process. A few months ago, legislation will finally past to allow such an opposition to form. The UUP would not commit to saying whether they are planning on being the first party to take up that position. However, lacklustre election results may increase the appeal. As the SDLP suffers similar circumstances, they might well also see themselves attracted to the role and form a Stormont’s first official opposition together as a way of regaining relevance and esteem in a system where smaller parties are increasingly jostling for space.