Lez Miserable: Ten online dating mistakes to avoid if you don't want to die alone

For starters, never describe yourself as "bubbly" or "normal".

Online dating has become as big a part of lesbian life as bikes and hummus. Nearly all the gay women I know do it, or have done it. While I’m not going to pretend to know much about chatting up women in real life, I’ve been doing it from behind a computer screen for a while now. Sometimes successfully. My advice to fellow users of OkCupid and suchlike is this - if you you’re not keen on the idea of dying alone, never, under any circumstances, do any of these things:

1. When you message someone for the first time, ask, “How’re you?”

We’ve never met. How am I? I could be in hospital, dying of botulism and you’d mostly be thinking, “Right. So no sex then?” In fact, nothing says, “I’m only interested in your rude parts” quite like the “How’re you?” first message. If you’ve read through someone’s carefully constructed dating CV – a comprehensive list of their interests, views and quirks – and the only thing you can think of asking is “how’re you?” you’re either really lazy or really horny. Or both. Be warned: no one wants to have lethargic sex with you.

2. Describe yourself as “bubbly” in your profile.

Who remembers Panda Pops? They were big in the 90s; Neon-hued, tooth-dissolving, liquid shame. I wasn’t allowed them. Describe yourself as “bubbly” and you sound like a human Panda Pop – sickly-sweet and fizz-brained. Remember, you’re looking for a date, not a babysitter. “Bubbly” people also sound like they say “fudge” when they bump into things.

3. Wear sunglasses in your profile picture.

A message from someone whose face is half Ray-Ban warrants an automatic no-reply from me. You just seem like one of those people who wears sunglasses on the tube. Or in winter. Or in the shower.

4. Or use a shot of your cat as your profile picture.

If you happen to prefer eating cornflakes alone in the dark to sex then go right ahead and do this.

5. Try extremely hard to appear enigmatic.

A lot of people fill the “about me” section on their dating profile with complete nonsense. Stuff like: “Anachronism. Drifter. Poet”. In fact, the word “drift” and any derivative thereof should be avoided at all costs. You’re not that feather from the opening credits of Forrest Gump. You’re about as mysterious as a tuna sandwich. Also, you can be exactly 98.7 per cent sure that anyone who self-identifies as a poet is not a poet. But they probably have a lot of really meaningful tattoos and a Moleskine notebook. Remember, you’re trying to hook up with someone and maybe have uncomfortable sex; not win the Booker Prize. It doesn’t get more lowbrow than online dating. Try to come across all esoteric and Sylvia Plath-esque and you will make eyes roll right out of their sockets.

6. Ask the person you’re messaging with if you can add them on Facebook.

The premature Facebook add is deadly. Give someone access to all those pictures of you drunkenly humping park benches, before you’ve even met them IRL, and that date just isn’t going to happen. Ever.

7. Mention that you like going out and staying in.

You enjoy existing. Congratulations.

8. Include a picture of you with your tongue between two fingers.

This is particularly lesbian-relevant. I don’t know where the two-fingered tongue salute came from or when it’s planning on leaving. Very soon, I hope. Look, tongue girls, you’re gay – you enjoy giving head to women – I get it. It’s not the vulgarity of the finger-tongue gesture that irritates me; it’s the try-hardness. It’s like a straight woman including a banana-eating picture on her profile. Unnecessary. Cease and desist immediately.

9. Describe self as “normal”.

“I’m just a normal girl…”. What does that even mean? There’s something glaringly un-normal about declaring yourself normal. At the same time, it strongly suggests that you’re duller than beige curtains and you tweet stuff like, “Going to bed now. Lol.”

10. Send messages that begin, “Hey sexy…”

You know those pop-ups that say things like, “teenage Russian girls want to date you”? What makes you think those are good templates for actual communication with someone you fancy? It makes you look spammy. Stick to “Hi”. 

When in doubt, stick to "Hi". Photograph: Getty Images

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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What is the EU customs union and will Brexit make us leave?

International trade secretary Liam Fox's job makes more sense if we leave the customs union. 

Brexiteers and Remoaners alike have spent the winter months talking of leaving the "customs union", and how this should be weighed up against the benefits of controlling immigration. But what does it actually mean, and how is it different from the EU single market?

Imagine a medieval town, with a busy marketplace where traders are buying and selling wares. Now imagine that the town is also protected by a city wall, with guards ready to slap charges on any outside traders who want to come in. That's how the customs union works.  

In essence, a customs union is an agreement between countries not to impose tariffs on imports from within the club, and at the same time impose common tariffs on goods coming in from outsiders. In other words, the countries decide to trade collectively with each other, and bargain collectively with everyone else. 

The EU isn't the only customs union, or even the first in Europe. In the 19th century, German-speaking states organised the Zollverein, or German Customs Union, which in turn paved the way for the unification of Germany. Other customs unions today include the Eurasian Economic Union of central Asian states and Russia. The EU also has a customs union with Turkey.

What is special about the EU customs union is the level of co-operation, with member states sharing commercial policies, and the size. So how would leaving it affect the UK post-Brexit?

The EU customs union in practice

The EU, acting on behalf of the UK and other member states, has negotiated trade deals with countries around the world which take years to complete. The EU is still mired in talks to try to pull off the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US, and a similar EU-Japan trade deal. These two deals alone would cover a third of all EU trade.

The point of these deals is to make it easier for the EU's exporters to sell abroad, keep imports relatively cheap and at the same time protect the member states' own businesses and consumers as much as possible. 

The rules of the customs union require member states to let the EU negotiate on their behalf, rather than trying to cut their own deals. In theory, if the UK walks away from the customs union, we walk away from all these trade deals, but we also get a chance to strike our own. 

What are the UK's options?

The UK could perhaps come to an agreement with the EU where it continues to remain inside the customs union. But some analysts believe that door has already shut. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as Prime Minister was to appoint Liam Fox, the Brexiteer, as the secretary of state for international trade. Why would she appoint him, so the logic goes, if there were no international trade deals to talk about? And Fox can only do this if the UK is outside the customs union. 

(Conversely, former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg argues May will realise the customs union is too valuable and Fox will be gone within two years).

Fox has himself said the UK should leave the customs union but later seemed to backtrack, saying it is "important to have continuity in trade".

If the UK does leave the customs union, it will have the freedom to negotiate, but will it fare better or worse than the EU bloc?

On the one hand, the UK, as a single voice, can make speedy decisions, whereas the EU has a lengthy consultative process (the Belgian region of Wallonia recently blocked the entire EU-Canada trade deal). Incoming US President Donald Trump has already said he will try to come to a deal quickly

On the other, the UK economy is far smaller, and trade negotiators may discover they have far less leverage acting alone. 

Unintended consequences

There is also the question of the UK’s membership of the World Trade Organisation, which is currently governed by its membership of the customs union. According to the Institute for Government: “Many countries will want to be clear about the UK’s membership of the WTO before they open negotiations.”

And then there is the question of policing trade outside of the customs union. For example, if it was significantly cheaper to import goods from China into Ireland, a customs union member, than Northern Ireland, a smuggling network might emerge.

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.