Content Block


Love is (still) a battlefield

In spite of the promises of apps such as Tinder and Happn, your chances of romance are likely to be determined by location and money

A few months ago at a party, a guest confided in me, phone in hand, that the biggest change she’d seen in London since moving to a remote Scottish island was not sudden sprouting of skyscrapers and tower blocks. Instead it was her appreciation of the romantic possibilities. Here in Hackney, the dating app Tinder offered up an endless stream of young men to like or discard. Back home, she was lucky if the same app threw up one potential match a week, such was the population sparsity.

Another friend lives near Tower Bridge, and started to notice an interesting pattern in the men Grindr offered up. During the day and early evening, youngish, city boys, almost exclusively white, were the dominant group online and nearby. Later in the evening and on weekends, the demographics shifted, as more tourists flooded in and the employees returned home. Travelling around London, friends have noted, with an amateur anthropologist’s eye, the difference in potential matches in Soho, Canary Wharf, Surbiton and Chelsea.


Where you live has a huge effect on your chances of finding love. Cities are notorious for being lonely, but the opposite seems to be true. Cities make it far easier to form “loose ties”  passing acquaintances with friends of friends that, despite the boom in online dating, remains the main way we meet prospective long term partners. Part of that is down to the sheer possibility for social interaction opened up in a city. With more bars, galleries, cafes and public spaces, people go out more, to different places, with an ever changing crowd of strangers at each place. The chances of meeting someone either outside your social circle, or casually linked increases.

The flip side of this is the recent assault on public space  squares, parks, open spaces: being outdoors increases the chances of casual meetings and is important when trying to maintain a social city. New buildings are often designed without thought for what happens around them, with little to encourage lingering and social interaction.

How long you spend commuting is a big factor in your ability to form relationships - suburb dwellers get a particularly tough deal in the love game, spending far more time commuting, and by extension have much less free time to spend socialising. An office romance might be a safer punt. A hyper-connected city expands the number of people you’d potentially partner with. If it take you very little time to meet, even to hook up, the geographic area you can consider your romantic hunting ground increases massively - and so do the numbers.

All aboard the love bus?

But contrary to The Proclaimers’ assertion, people won’t travel too far for love. An American survey showed that on average, most people will travel around five miles to see someone they’re dating casually, and put serious thought into hooking up with someone further afield. For cities with good transport links, that widens your romantic scope considerably. For those in more rural areas, it limits it.

But transport can also be a spot for romance and sociability. Looking at the effects of the free bus service for teenagers and pensioners, Transport for London realised that for old and young alike, travelling on buses made them feel less lonely. The freedom to take buses without having to consider the impact on their outgoings meant the bus became a social site. Teenagers got buses together and worked out routes so they could sit together for as long as possible. Pensioners began catching the same buses, forming impromptu social clubs. The idea that British people don’t talk on public transport doesn’t hold true after rush hour  people will start conversations based on books passengers are reading, snippets of overheard conversation  but for the young and old buses are a particularly fertile spot for meeting, in and out of the capital. The more affluent sections of the population tend to drive, get the metro or tube, or get cabs. A space dominated by the young and old gives space for some meaningful interaction.

Dating sites will occasionally publish lists of the “best places to be single” in the UK based on their data  move here! Find love! the attendant regurgitated press releases in the papers urge. But this overlooks one of the less palatable points about dating: we still consciously or otherwise, choose partners that are of similar socioeconomic status to us. London has the best schools in the country, after a period with disappointing results, and some put this down to cupid’s arrow. Increasing numbers of teachers marry other teachers, and most teachers now marry other graduates. For a couple, it’s tougher to find two graduate jobs at once outside of London, so many teachers end up staying in the capital for a long time, accruing experience, while schools on the coast or in small towns struggle to fill positions.

Ain't nothing going on but the rent

One socioeconomic factor arguably has more sway than any other over romance: inequality. Stress and money worries impact on physical health, but also mental health, undermining confidence, triggering depression and discouraging social interaction. Interviewing some young benefit claimants a few months ago, one 26-year old said the most embarrassing social effect of being on the dole was not being able to date  a woman he knew through friends had asked him out for a drink the week before, and he’d made up an excuse, as his Jobseekers Allowance wasn’t due until the following week. And even then, it would barely stretch to two pints of lager. The time-poor executive probably has ways of working a date into his schedule  the young lad on the dole has to come up with a way of dating that doesn’t involve expenditure.

For all that the internet dating can do in squashing down barriers between people, a wide range of concrete geographic factors still have more sway in your love life. No matter where you are, ultimately you’re more likely to find love through your friends  but cities make that possibility more certain through force of sheer numbers. As a friend on Tinder said while swiping right frantically “It’s like shopping for boys!”

Dawn Foster is a London-based freelance journalist, writing on politics, social affairs, education and economics. Dawn writes a monthly column for the Guardian

Related Posts