Valentine’s Day 2023: What it’s really like on the dating scene in Birmingham

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Writer Laura Blaj has lived in Birmingham for 13 years and has bee dating on and off for the last decade - here’s how she finds looking for love in the UK’s second city as Valentine’s Day approaches

Aww the cuffing season is slowly approaching its end…The final act? A hyper commercialised holiday we are all aware of. How could we not? It’s everywhere, with pink and red hearts insistently poking us from every corner, there’s no surprise that as much as £1 billion is spent in the UK on Valentine’s Day.

The value of romantic love has gained much prominence over the last century, but does this still ring true in 2023 or is coupledom losing its privileged position?

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These days some people can get a date faster than their favourite pizza delivery (mine is @Otto in JQ - please let me endorse your brand in return for a life of free pizza!).

Although in theory we are casting our nets further afield are we less capable of meaningful connections? Are dating apps becoming the “Deliveroo’’ of love?

I’ve lived in Birmingham for the last 13 years and have been dating on and off for the last decade. Due to my job location and friend circles, I have also dated in London and Manchester and have friends who experienced dating in rural areas too. Here is what I’ve learned.

Whilst my view is based on a small sample - approx. 6 -7 years of continuous scrolling through thousands of profiles - it seems to me that there are far less people like me and in my age group of 30 somethings, in Birmingham compared to London.

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I have a slight preference for artsy types, I still like a good party, but I am not 20, at least according to my passport! Last time I went to a techno night in Birmingham I found myself surrounded by 18-year-olds.

Birmingham is still a bit too quiet during weekdays. Sipping a G&T in an almost empty bar, I am often left wondering, WHERE ARE ALL THE 30-YEAR-OLDS IN BIRMINGHAM? Is no one over the age of 30 having fun on weekdays?? God! don’t answer that, no answer could bring me any joy.

Londaaan on the other hand, is a different story, not better but different. Testimony? My two best friends: both incredibly beautiful, intelligent and funny women who have been running on the dating treadmill for years…Why? The idea of a huge dating pool is somewhat a mirage.

Laura BlajLaura Blaj
Laura Blaj | Laura Blaj

Can you find love in a big city like Birmingham?

A committed relationship is not the first thing single people want from the big city experience and there seems to be a higher focus on careers and going out. Young people can be…young for longer. Add to that the “ I only date in my zone’’ and you’ll soon realise it’s not very easy to form long-lasting connections.

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The Great British Countryside – as you’d expect the challenge here is mainly the lack in numbers for potential dates. I have friends who extend their reach on dating apps far more than city folk like me would consider acceptable.

I also read an article where a woman described her dating experience as being a bit regressive in terms of feminism and dating norms, with men calling themselves ‘’true gentlemen’’ or listing things like ’’nice bum’’ as qualities they look for; to reassure Sarah, I have seen loads of ‘’true gents’’ looking for ‘’nice bums’’ in Birmingham too, not sure what that actually says…Stay classy Brum.

Our need for love has been exploited commercially for years. Starting with ads like ‘’Lonely hearts’’ in local newspapers, dating is now an industry set at a whopping £311 million! Creating profiles and the huge popularity of dating apps is, however, a modern construct. But can technology help us discover an algorithm for love?

The dating evolution begun with the emergence of dating apps, changing the way we meet and interact as well as expanding the ‘throwaway culture’, leaving many with demoralising experiences.

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Birmingham skyline from OrelleBirmingham skyline from Orelle
Birmingham skyline from Orelle | Local TV

The hook-up culture in Birmingham

With more emphasis on superficial aspects and physical appearance, the dating hook-up culture dominates large cities like London and Birmingham. Many feel the dating fatigue because of the endless scrolling, the ghosting, catfishing, the 3-day text replies, the confidence of uninstalling the apps after 2 dates with your ‘perfect match’ only to ‘tails between legs’ install it back the following week. It’s not surprising the activity resembles more a job hunt than the joy of finding love or the romance of a meet cute story.

A while back I found my then boyfriend, let’s call him “a cheating economist”, on dating apps. He tells me he uses the apps simply as a game, one that boosts his ego whilst sitting on the toilet, which I sort of get, toilet time alone can be very lonely for millennials.

This really got me thinking about gamification and how powerful the pull of these apps can be - are they that addictive? Seven years after continuously using them, I am now inclined to believe the answer is yes.

Am I a professional dater?

Some would say I am a professional dater but what I am is truly exhausted and a bit behind on dating admin Bumble: 93 likes in my queue, over 3000 matches; Hinge: 59 queued likes; Tinder: I don’t dare to open yet and finally, Thursday: 0, thank God the matches disappear like Cinderella at midnight.

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I’ve had many ‘’Hey beautiful-where are you from’s’’ and scanned what’s likely to be a similar number of profiles to compete with Tesco’s best till workers.

If I was an alien studying human dating patterns I would easily come to the conclusion that pizza on pineapple is a key debate in human society and men generally prefer to date hiking clowns or “someone that doesn’t take themselves too serious” with an “adventurous spirit”.

We also must acknowledge the same dating system allows for racialised behaviours, making some users systematically undesired. Evidence from the OkCupid supports this suggestion, with Black women and Asian men being most affected and less likely to get matches.

It’s not all bad though, as online dating has allowed for a safer and more accessible environment  to date and share experiences for the LGBTQ+ communities, a platform that allows people to explore their sexualities without being judged, a sense of belonging and shared acceptance of different kinks and sexual experiences.

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Laura BlajLaura Blaj
Laura Blaj | Laura Blaj

And who pays the bill?

Analysing modern dating culture, Ellen Lamont concludes in her recent book ’The Mating Game’ that although both men and women want egalitarian partnerships, they feel they are innately different and don’t see traditional courtship conventions as threatening their feminist beliefs.

The tension seems more of an internal conflict between our commitment to equality and our belief that men and women are fundamentally different. I struggle to define this balance and often have conversations with my friends around who should pick up the bill on a date.

Karley Sciortino debates this in detail in her article where following a night out her date “played the man” taking the initiative and paying the bill. She says “Wow, I feel like a whore—in a good way.”

For some of us this is all part of conventional seduction scenarios we are all used to. It is not surprising when romance has been for many years engrained in the portrayal of gender differences with films that play on gender-norms and the worst stereotypes, from slut-shaming to the prince-charming complex.

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Many women still use chivalry as a litmus test for a man’s character as I am sure plenty of men still judge women by their appearance and effort on dates too (and let me tell you make up ain’t getting cheaper either!)

After all the challenges, perhaps what we need is a real love revolution, a way to find happiness with others,  with or without being in a couple and here is something encouraging to know: According to happiness expert Paul Dolan, LSE professor of behavioural science women who are single with no children are the happiest subgroup in society.

So what is the best way to celebrate Valentine’s Day?

If you do decide to go for a drive-through around the biggest dating malls and find a lovely date, here is my advice: Don’t celebrate Valentine’s date in the city, it’s going to be massively crowded.

Take a hike instead (literally), or organise a film & pizza marathon (Otto I still hope you’re reading) – the point is you shouldn’t need to spend fortunes on cards and flowers or just do things to join in on a consumerist bonanza, after all, according to J Lo…Love don’t cost a thing.

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