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Thank goodness that online dating is now all dating these days. Most of us are no longer conscious of how thrilling its effortlessness had once seemed. Online dating liberates us from the prison walls of our own lives, from that thin, unappetising trickle of friends and acquaintances which previous generations were once meant to choose from. You can now choose from the entire world, or at least from an entire world. If you want sex in a stranger’s house on the afternoon of Wednesday 17th August, with a middle-aged lady who takes an almost pathological delight in administering blowjobs, then the internet will whip up an instant army of such individuals for your inspection. You are left only to secure the prettiest smile that you can get for a photo of your own smile, or the firmest tits that you can get for a snapshot of your dick.

Previously, you would often have to retreat to a toilet somewhere and use nothing but your bare imagination to bring your sexual fantasies to life in front of you. Now you can get up in the morning and, after murmuring a few scraps of voice-to-text, you will have coordinated a satisfactory semblance of your most intimate fantasies, to be delivered to your home or picked up out in the neighbourhood, by mid-afternoon.

Back in 2016, many people recoiled automatically from the idea of online dating. The technology had been around for over a decade before polite society was even prepared to concede that it existed. By now, we can no longer imagine this frame of mind, any more than we can look upon monogamy from the inside and understand how people were capable of enduring such desperate poverty.

To illustrate this reluctance, I have published below an extract from a short story which was featured on the Tychy website in April 2016. It might seem morbid or outlandish today, but back in 2016 it was widely admired for reflecting its readers’ fears about online dating with an especial, even shocking acuteness:

Edward had expected the usual flitting back and forth of emails over whole evenings, and he was therefore taken aback when the girl came straight to business. The pert, sing-song whistle of his tablet awoke him immediately the next morning. “I’m here now. 1- Polwarth Gardens. Come any time.”

His mind turned uneasily to the logistics of this. It would take at least an hour for him to get there. He would need to catch a bus and change at Princes Street. He would have to force himself to eat breakfast first. He was suddenly frozen between an impatience to get there and a terror at arriving.

He tried to eat a bagel but it was so dry and dense that he could only chew endlessly on the first powdery mouthful. The walls of his apartment seemed to scowl at him the longer he remained within them. He next decided that it might be wiser if he drove to Polwarth Gardens.

He usually kept his car only for excursions out of Edinburgh, but today the driving would occupy his mind. He pictured himself sitting on the bus, with nothing to think about except what might be waiting for him at the end of his journey. His brain would rattle with anxiety, exactly like the frame of the bus as it swung through the city. His heart would sink deeper with every junction that was cut away from between him and the girl. On the bus he would feel like a prisoner who was being carried to the apartment, whereas if he drove, it would give him an illusion of control.

He sent her a message: “coming.” On an impulse, he clothed himself in power: a tee-shirt which was intended to stretch with a gasp over slabs of chest and prickle damply over his stomach muscles; glossy shoes, usually preserved for George Street nightclubs, which clicked militarily when he walked. On the way out, he met himself in the hallway mirror and he appeared gaunt and pompously dressed. Something in his eyes unglued and he bowed his head, humble again, more like a fretful child than an adventuring lover.

As his car wound through the city streets, he tried to reason with fate, or whichever of its representatives might be listening, that he deserved to have it easy this time. It was his turn to be smiled upon.

On the last date that he had arranged using the same website, the girl in question had insisted that they meet in a hotel. No, for it to be in either of their homes verged upon the offensive. At the hotel, the girl had become entirely engrossed in the hotel, in the magnificence of its palatial foyer and in the drinks that she could drink in its bar. Beneath the soaring bill, Edward had felt like the mother abandoned at the foot of Jack’s beanstalk. When they had drunk together in the bar, and surveyed a flotilla of pretty courses together in the restaurant, the girl had never quite made eye contact with Edward, or seemed to hear any of the nervous jocular remarks that he was making. Finally, she had marched him smartly upstairs and lay down on the bed for him. She had pulled a pillow over her face, and apparently stopped breathing, during intercourse. Afterwards, she had looked instantly bored with the hotel and they had both agreed to leave its beautiful bedroom, and its palatial foyer, and its murmuring and clinking bar, to blaze away by themselves all through the night.

Edward knew that he had arrived at Polwarth Gardens far too early. He had better hurry though, because any more of this sweating would make him grimy in the bedroom. It felt as if liquid was pouring out of the soles of his feet and into his shoes.

He rang the buzzer and was let up.

No amount of nicely written emails and flatteringly staged photographs can ever sway the first, devastating impression. Would she look straight through him, make up her mind in the twinkling of an eye, and shut her door in his face?

There was a silhouette waiting in the open doorway at the top of the stairwell. Edward would have to climb all the way up to and past her feet, whilst she stood there and studied him. Edward dropped his eyes and scampered rapidly up the stairs.

On level ground, he saw that she had thrown the door wide for him without looking into his face at all. He was currently reeling down a stumpy corridor, having snatched only a useless glimpse of her faceless presence. His destination was an open door and he could see a double bed waiting through it. The curtains of the bedroom had been drawn to block out the morning sunshine, producing a thin artificial gloom, neither of night nor of day.

There was nothing to confirm this as a girl’s bedroom. The bed was planted hugely in the centre, as if the room had cupped its hands around it. Edward could see no make-up, and no hairdryer, and nothing glittery or furry or trivial. Perhaps she had borrowed this room from a male friend.

When he turned around, she had flooded into his face. Her tongue plunged into his mouth and it swept the cellar floor in great arcs. He was kissing back automatically, hardly daring to trust his good luck. Fate had, for once, winked quite clearly at him.

They manoeuvred each other’s bodies on to the bed and then they had sat down next to each other. Edward could now fully take in the girl and he peeped shyly at her. She was so dazzlingly beautiful that it was amazing to look at her. This was the sort of girl who he could never normally even dream of laying a finger on, any more than you are allowed to stroke an angel’s wings.

Blinking, she flared her nostrils very slightly, infinitely composed and with an unconscious uprightness to her hourglass figure. Her breasts looked too ponderous for her to comfortably carry along. They instead seemed to float as if on water. She flashed him a surprising, kindly smile with some seediness or a half chuckle mixed somewhere within it. Yet this did not appear to be connected in any way to her eyes, which were remote to the point of incomprehension. The pupils were blank panes with nobody staring out of them.

She blinked slowly, pulling the blinds down on the glass for good, and she now leaned in to bite at his lips in a tiny act of viciousness. They kissed again and both allowed the kiss to fold clean over them, so that they were inundated. At last she severed the kiss and settled back, a little gingerly, on the bed. With nimble legs, Edward had climbed on top, but he was evidently ahead of her. The girl indicated she wanted to hug him and enjoy him that way, and so he sank down to insert himself into her arms.

Everything would just have to wait. Still entirely clothed, they clung to each other blissfully and the girl purred with satisfaction.

Have patience, the pulse in Edward’s limbs whispered to him.

After an interval of a suitably tasteful duration, Edward’s hand awoke itself and it slowly began its long squirming zigzag down to between the girl’s legs. It broke into the bakery warmth of her knickers and stroked her sleek, grainy hair. She moaned almost silently in encouragement. He then felt an elegant hand, a little cooler than everything else in this jumble of flesh, reach for the shaft of his penis. She gave his penis a stern tug.

They were both stuck for a while repeating the same acts, like children each playing with their own toy. Edward relaxed and unloosened himself so that his hands began to dance to and fro, from breasts to pussy, and breasts to pussy, enjoying each in turn. He now unpeeled away her jeans and knickers in a mighty wrench. He dived between her knees, locating her vagina with his penis, or at least some gap in all of there for him to fuck.

They had finally slipped into a recognisable gear. But whilst the animal part of Edward was completely engrossed in fucking this girl, his mind had taken a step to one side. Here it paused, alert and calculating.

He had heard a footstep.

In the silence of the apartment behind him, perhaps just outside in the corridor, there had been the clear pressure of a boot on the wooden floorboards.

So Edward was at this moment doing two things at once. He was consumed in making love to this girl and yet he was also listening keenly to the silence behind him.

The girl had grown impatient and with a quick flutter of her hand she had signalled to him to dip out of her body again. Furiously, she ripped away all of his clothes and tossed them from the bed practically with contempt, like a pirate expelling captives from the ship. Somewhat fussily, Edward looked up so that he could remember later where his pants and socks had landed. A condom had been floating around for a while and the girl took this opportunity to ladle it on to his penis.

Her hand skirted across his stomach muscles with the airiest of fingertips and it crept up past his face until it was swarming within his wiry hair. Her other hand was nagging at his penis to keep it throbbing.

He had assumed that she lived in this apartment alone. There had been only one name pasted beside the buzzer – a blurred, lengthy surname which started with Mac-. So maybe there was a second flatmate who was a peeping tom? This seemed altogether inadequate in accounting for that sinister footstep out in the corridor. The footstep had been bold, unfrightened, and somehow conscious of its right to tread there.

Should he stop and inquire? This was presently as realistic as stopping the Earth in mid spin.

She had interrupted a renewed artillery of his fucking to apparently volunteer herself. He sat up perplexed and found to his wonder that her head was browsing around his waist. Without using a single finger, she crammed all of his penis neatly into her compact mouth.

He was still listening, however, and he flinched when he heard it again. This time there was no denying the clearness. The weight of a human body on the floorboards outside and the knock of a hand against the wall.

Edward was about to come and he politely fended the girl off, to repress this sensation. Soon she had reclined back into her old place on the bed and he was fucking her again. He was definitely going to come now. The flaming sun of his orgasm was being unveiled.

He nonetheless hovered in the shade for a second longer. He was still frenziedly speed-reading the silence, still desperate for another tell-tale footstep to jump out.

Unexpectedly, the girl laughed.

Edward flung himself upright. His hands shot over his genitals and he then remembered his exposed arse and another hand had leapt back to shield that.

There was sunshine and the room was overflowing with people.

Men, women and children, all in tweed suits and cushion-patterned dresses and straw hats, all in their Sunday best. They leaned peering in around him. Fiercely assembled at the foot of the bed were what looked like the senior personages of a kirk, the glowering minister with his cross, the precentor, a stout old man robed in a sash. The fatuous warblings of a colliery brass band floated over them on the summer breeze. The crowd’s astonishment was very hearty and it contained within it both a spiteful jeer and a groan of dismay…

I need not detain the reader any further with this story, which continues tiresomely and at some length. This extract should suffice to illustrate the anxieties about online dating which were widely shared throughout this period.

Incidentally, the Tychy blog was liquidated in 2019, along with many other independent Scottish websites such as The Flying Rodent, the Lallands Peat Worrier, the Wee Ginger Dug, and Cum Lazaro. In that same year, the SNP government had assigned a Named Person to monitor every Scottish blog and guarantee the wellbeing indicators of their readers. Tychy was deemed to fall short of the standards of the day.