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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Arsène Wenger: how can an intelligent manager preside over such a hollowed-out team?

The Arsenal manager faces a frustrating legacy.

Sport is obviously not all about winning, but it is about justified hope. That ­distinction has provided, until recently, a serious defence of Arsène Wenger’s Act II – the losing part. Arsenal haven’t won anything big for 13 years. But they have been close enough (and this is a personal view) to sustain the experience of investing emotionally in the story. Hope turning to disappointment is fine. It’s when the hope goes, that’s the problem.

Defeat takes many forms. In both 2010 and 2011, Arsenal lost over two legs to Barcelona in the Champions League. Yet these were rich and rewarding sporting experiences. In the two London fixtures of those ties, Arsenal drew 2-2 and won 2-1 against the most dazzling team in the world. Those nights reinvigorated my pride in sport. The Emirates Stadium had the best show in town. Defeat, when it arrived in Barcelona, was softened by gratitude. We’d been entertained, more than entertained.

Arsenal’s 5-1 surrender to Bayern Munich on 15 February was very different. In this capitulation by instalments, the fascination was macabre rather than dramatic. Having long given up on discerning signs of life, we began the post-mortem mid-match. As we pored over the entrails, the curiosity lay in the extent of the malady that had brought down the body. The same question, over and over: how could such an intelligent, deep-thinking manager preside over a hollowed-out team? How could failings so obvious to outsiders, the absence of steel and resilience, evade the judgement of the boss?

There is a saying in rugby union that forwards (the hard men) determine who wins, and the backs (the glamour boys) decide by how much. Here is a footballing equivalent: midfielders define matches, attacking players adorn them and defenders get the blame. Yet Arsenal’s players as good as vacated the midfield. It is hard to judge how well Bayern’s playmakers performed because they were operating in a vacuum; it looked like a morale-boosting training-ground drill, free from the annoying presence of opponents.

I have always been suspicious of the ­default English critique which posits that mentally fragile teams can be turned around by licensed on-field violence – a good kicking, basically. Sporting “character” takes many forms; physical assertiveness is only one dimension.

Still, it remains baffling, Wenger’s blind spot. He indulges artistry, especially the mercurial Mesut Özil, beyond the point where it serves the player. Yet he won’t protect the magicians by surrounding them with effective but down-to-earth talents. It has become a diet of collapsing soufflés.

What held back Wenger from buying the linchpin midfielder he has lacked for many years? Money is only part of the explanation. All added up, Arsenal do spend: their collective wage bill is the fourth-highest in the League. But Wenger has always been reluctant to lavish cash on a single star player, let alone a steely one. Rather two nice players than one great one.

The power of habit has become debilitating. Like a wealthy but conservative shopper who keeps going back to the same clothes shop, Wenger habituates the same strata of the transfer market. When he can’t get what he needs, he’s happy to come back home with something he’s already got, ­usually an elegant midfielder, tidy passer, gets bounced in big games, prone to going missing. Another button-down blue shirt for a drawer that is well stuffed.

It is almost universally accepted that, as a business, Arsenal are England’s leading club. Where their rivals rely on bailouts from oligarchs or highly leveraged debt, Arsenal took tough choices early and now appear financially secure – helped by their manager’s ability to engineer qualification for the Champions League every season while avoiding excessive transfer costs. Does that count for anything?

After the financial crisis, I had a revealing conversation with the owner of a private bank that had sailed through the turmoil. Being cautious and Swiss, he explained, he had always kept more capital reserves than the norm. As a result, the bank had made less money in boom years. “If I’d been a normal chief executive, I’d have been fired by the board,” he said. Instead, when the economic winds turned, he was much better placed than more bullish rivals. As a competitive strategy, his winning hand was only laid bare by the arrival of harder times.

In football, however, the crash never came. We all wrote that football’s insane spending couldn’t go on but the pace has only quickened. Even the Premier League’s bosses confessed to being surprised by the last extravagant round of television deals – the cash that eventually flows into the hands of managers and then the pockets of players and their agents.

By refusing to splash out on the players he needed, whatever the cost, Wenger was hedged for a downturn that never arrived.

What an irony it would be if football’s bust comes after he has departed. Imagine the scenario. The oligarchs move on, finding fresh ways of achieving fame, respectability and the protection achieved by entering the English establishment. The clubs loaded with debt are forced to cut their spending. Arsenal, benefiting from their solid business model, sail into an outright lead, mopping up star talent and trophies all round.

It’s often said that Wenger – early to invest in data analytics and worldwide scouts; a pioneer of player fitness and lifestyle – was overtaken by imitators. There is a second dimension to the question of time and circumstance. He helped to create and build Arsenal’s off-field robustness, even though football’s crazy economics haven’t yet proved its underlying value.

If the wind turns, Arsène Wenger may face a frustrating legacy: yesterday’s man and yet twice ahead of his time. 

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit