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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Keep the Burkini, ban the beach

Beaches are dreadful places. Maybe it would just be easier to ban them.

To hell with political correctness, I'm just going to say it. I think women who wear burkinis to the beach are silly. I also, for that matter, think women who wear bikinis to the beach are silly. Not because of what they're wearing – women, quite obviously, should be able to wear whatever the hell they want without interference from eyebrow-furrowing douchecanoes and neighborhood bigots whose opinions are neither relevant nor requested. No, my problem is with the beach. 

Beaches are dreadful places. I question the judgement of anyone who chooses to go, of their own free will, to a strip of boiling sand that gets in all your squishy bits, just to lie down. I associate beaches with skin cancer and sunstroke and stickiness and sharks. As a neurotic, anxious goth who struggles with the entire concept of organised fun, even the idea of the beach distresses me. I won't go and you can't make me. Especially given that if I did go, whatever I chose to wear, some fragile man somewhere whose entire identity depends on controlling how the women around him behave would probably get outraged and frightened and try to ban me.

Men love to have opinions on what women should wear on their holidays. Nipples are not to be tolerated, and burkinis are now an invitation to Islamophobia, so I can only imagine how my grumpy summer goth robes would go down. The annual summer storm over women's beach attire has a xenophobic twist this year after burkinis – the swimsuit alternative for women who want to conform to a “modest” Islamic dress code – were banned on many beaches in France (although one specific one, in the town of Villeneuve-Loubet, has been overturned by a test ruling in the country’s highest court).

Not to be outdone, Nicholas Sarkozy has promised to institute nationwide legislation against the “provocative” garment if he's re-elected as president, jumping gleefully on the bandwagon brought to global attention by race riots in Corsica. Photos have emerged of Nice police officers apparently forcing a sunbathing Muslim woman to strip down and issuing her with a penalty slip. I can only imagine what that poor woman must have felt as the state swooped down on her swimsuit, but hey, Sarkozy says that public humiliation of Muslim women is a vital part of French values, and women's symbolic experience is always more important than our actual, lived experience. There are many words for this sort of bullying, but Liberty does not come into it, and nor does Equality. Fraternity, of course, is doing just fine.

Whatever women wear, it's always provocative to someone, and it's always our fault – particularly if we're also seen to be shamelessly enjoying ourselves without prior permission from the patriarchy and the state. If we wear too little, that's a provocation, and we deserve to be raped or assaulted. If we wear too much, that's a provocation, and we deserve racist abuse and police harassment. If we walk too tall, speak to loud or venture down the wrong street at night, whatever we're wearing, that's a provocation and we deserve whatever we get. The point of all this is control – the policing of women's bodies in public, sometimes figuratively, and sometimes literally. It's never about women's choices – it's about how women's choices make men feel, and men's feelings are routinely placed before women's freedom, even the simple freedom to wear things that make us feel comfortable as we queue up for overpriced ice cream. It's not about banning the Burkinis, or banning the bikini. It's about stopping women from occupying public space, curtailing our freedom of expression, and letting us know that whoever we are, we are always watched, and we can never win.

If you ask me, the simplest thing would just be to ban the beach. I consider people on the beach a personal provocation. Yes, I grew up in a seaside town, but some of the beach people come from far away, and they aren't like me, and therefore I fear them. The very sight of them, laying around all damp and happy, is an active identity threat to me as an angry goth, and that means it must be personal. As far as I'm concerned the beach is for smoking joints in the dark in winter, snogging under the pier and swigging cheap cider from the two-litre bottle you've hidden up your jumper. That's all the beach is good for. Ban it, I say. 

I do, however, accept – albeit grudgingly – that other people have different experiences. Some people actually like the seaside. And given that I am neither a screaming overgrown toddler with affectless political ambitions nor a brittle, bellowing xenophobe convinced that anything that makes me uncomfortable ought to be illegal, I have learned to tolerate beach people. I may never understand them. That's ok. The beach isn't for me. Not everything has to be for me. That's what it means to live in a community with other human beings. As performative Islamophobia and popular misogyny bake on the blasted sand-flats of public discourse, more and and more conservatives are failing to get that memo. I'd suggest they calm down with an ice lolly and a go on the Ferris wheel – but maybe it'd be easier just to ban them. 

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.