Friday 23 March 2018

Date like the States - what our woman learned in New York

After moving to New York, Jo Linehan went on more dates in three months than she had in three years in Ireland. So what did she learn?

Jo Linehan: living in New York exposes you to so many cultures. Photo: Kip Carroll
Jo Linehan: living in New York exposes you to so many cultures. Photo: Kip Carroll
Queens of New York: The stars of Sex and the City

It's my first week in New York, in the wee hours of the morning, and I'm heading home after my first big night out in Manhattan. In the midst of bleary-eyed commuters emerges an Adonis, six-plus feet of pure American charm. He sits down, introduces himself and asks how the night has been. I look over my shoulder to see who he could possibly be addressing. And then it dawns on me: It's me! A man has, willingly, started a sober conversation with a stranger on public transport. We chat effortlessly until we get to his stop in Brooklyn where he asks if I'll come join him at a party he's heading to. I decline, but we swap numbers and agree to meet again.

I wake up the next morning wondering if it was a dream or too many whiskeys, when my phone pings and it's The Adonis setting up a coffee date. That is how easy it is to date in New York.

And it was only the beginning. My regular coffee shop in Bushwick became a pick-up hotbed - every time I needed an Americano, I swatted away a bubbly bearded dude. On a trip to the MET one Saturday morning, hovering over a Jackson Pollock retrospective, an Art major talked me through the piece before suggesting he educate me further over dinner… Now before you think I have a swollen head, let me make it clear that I know that this was not particular to me - it's the city.

Having dated on and off for three years in Dublin with limited success, I always believed that dating was hard work. Trying to light-heartedly summarise your life to a stranger over a glass of wine on a school night (heaven forbid you waste a precious weekend evening with someone you barely know) is as joyless as it sounds. I have no idea how desperately trying to prove yourself as a hilarious/ interesting/ completely normal human being to someone in a bar is the go-to for founding a relationship. What are the actual statistics of hitting it off with someone on a first date like this? There's no proven percentage, but I'll take a whack at it and say it's in the lower end of the scale. And if that's the reality, honestly, why does anyone bother?

Irish people are great a few dates in, but in my opinion, the initial, staid dating routine we've embraced? Not so much. At 27, I've collected a litany of phrases ready to roll out whenever the dating conversation comes up with friends: "It's impossible to meet anyone in Dublin; People on dating apps are lying and/or crazy; Every date revolves around alcohol." And I have had enough experience to justify every one of those answers. So, when the opportunity to move to America to work as a freelance journalist came around late last year, I jumped at the chance to work - and date - in New York. It was Fair City versus Sex and the City and I was more than ready to accept the challenge. With my optimistic American mentality set to 'super-friendly', I embarked. Here's what I learned about dating like an American.

Dating in New York is a hobby. If you're not on a date or coming home from a date, you're looking for a date or divulging the details of your latest encounter with friends, swiping left on that app or weighing up the merits of your next dating profile picture. In New York, dating is for FUN. It's the real life version of a grown-up candy store.

Think about it; absolutely anyone you've ever wanted to date is here - dancers, traders, artists, musicians, natives and expats. Living in the city exposes you to so many cultures, races, shapes, sizes, and allows you to try a little of everything - you have your pick.

The first rule of dating like a New Yorker is to forget any kind of end goal, because dating here is all about opening your mind to someone and something new, no more, no less. If you're looking for commitment or marriage, there are a hundred proven Manhattan Matchmakers who will happily hook you up. But for dating, it's all about an education in personalities and, above everything else, having a really good time.

This unspoken consensus immediately relaxes every dating situation. So you have a conversation and a coffee with someone for half an hour, and it's either fun or it's not. Big deal! You can happily move on to the next person guilt-free having lost little of your life.

This is a lesson for me. Like any good Irish girl, I over analyse, pre-judge, and over-think everything, so paring things right back to their simplest form - a meeting of two (hopefully) attractive minds - is daunting but rewarding. When everyone is dating, stress levels dissipate drastically. This goes against everything we've grown up with as Irish people. We never want to offend, never want to seem rude, our modus operandi is pretty much keep everyone happy at any cost and if you're seeing someone, you are seeing someone. There can be no blurred lines - you're in or you're out, so decide and stick with it.

Of course, the fact that there are literally so many people in New York - 8.4 million to be exact - means that the opportunities to run in to potential lust-interests are plentiful. God love us back home, we just about make up the quota for a small country. Before you even begin to look for a partner, the odds are stacked against you, and a limited pool of available people definitely makes us edgier daters as a nation. And while in New York you'll never meet this person ever again, in Ireland you're probably connected to them in more than three ways and are potentially related. Gulp.

New Yorkers don't mince their words or waste time in business or finding the perfect apartment, so it's no surprise that they don't beat around the proverbial bush when it comes to dating. Time is money, people, so speaking your mind and cutting to the chase is imperative. And no one is really concerned about embarrassing rejections. Chatting to someone casually in the queue for a coffee in Ireland might have you painted as a lonely psychopath, in New York it's the perfect way to optimise your time management skills and pair your necessary caffeine fix with a potential love connection.

And this openness is across the board; taking the subway to Brooklyn your fellow passengers will deem you cool enough to ask, "Hey. I've just finished my double shift at a bar and have an hour to kill before my Saturday Night Live audition. Want to head to my hood's dive bar and grab a locally brewed beer?"

Central Park? The ultimate pick-up spot. I have witnessed passing joggers and cyclists banter in a blur of Lululemon and Under Armour and inevitably swap numbers. Even grocery shopping pick-ups are a thing. A rugged server named Mike in Herald Square's Trader Joe's asked me if I wanted to get a coffee after his shift, after he approved of my basket contents (he was vegan, I had all of the makings of a virtuous tofu scramble). It just happens in New York, like asking for directions. And the more you open your eyes, the more you see it.

Which brings me on to the subject of the kinds of dates New Yorkers embark on. Day dates are very much in. Drinks are expensive in the city, as is eating out, so coffees, walks, and activities are embraced with aplomb.

Daytime dates are a rarity in Ireland. We just love a good jar and to be fair, we have brilliant pubs and bars, so it's our default setting. But I'm suggesting that having seen a viable alternative to being six drinks in because it's going great or because it's going terribly and waking up the next day wondering if that blurry person was good looking and funny - or if it was the Merlot - might be something we could potentially adopt here. Maybe. Irish have more fun in their baby toes than any other nation in the world - being in New York made that even more apparent to me.

I do, however, love how New Yorkers brilliantly attune their search. If they want money-ed minglers they head to Wall St for cocktails. Foodies hit up Smorgasbord in Williamsburg at the weekends. Outdoorsy types sign up for weekend hikes on

The same kind of scoping intelligence can be applied here - you know if you hang around Dublin's South William Street on a Sunday you'll be on the radar of a very different crowd to the Sunday-night-in-Flannery's clientele. Go where you're desired tribe will be. In New York, apps and dating sites, much like back home, are huge. Because if your not out and about, or you're in between one of your seven jobs, then you need a way to optimise your dating opportunities, obviously.

Some things I learned though: If you're straight in America, Tinder is not your friend. It's a seedy hook-up app and no one will ever openly admit to using it. However, if you're gay, Tinder is actually where you'll best find someone looking for a relationship, while Grindr is the hook-up app of choice.

Currently, Bumble - a Tinder-esque app that allows you to swipe left or right on potential matches - is the king of dating apps in the city. There's nothing revolutionary about it but - and I don't know how they do this - everyone is better looking and more educated on Bumble. Plus, even if you match with someone, the female has to start the conversation. And based on your picks, it'll fine tune your suggested matches.

If I were Jewish in the States I would be on J-Swipe, the Jew-only app that New Yorkers adore. The Happn app is just taking off too, an application that allows you to find people who cross your path daily, as is Hinge, an app that only allows you to connect with people you have a connection to via Facebook, email or personal recommendation.

So, amazing dating world aside, how does anyone find a relationship in New York? With all of the choice and their free and breezy approach to multi-dating, does anyone want to lock anything down?

I'm unsure. I met more than a few girls and guys who were benefiting from a Sugar Daddy/Mama scenario, living on a rich New Yorker's dime in exchange for some mid-week fun away from the Upstate ball-and-chain. I met more than a few 'open relationship' guys who vehemently defended the concept to me (I still think they're just being greedy).

Native New Yorkers are all in long-term relationships. It's as if being raised in NY, they decided early on to save time and energy and lock down a mate immediately, choosing instead to live vicariously through their friends.

I did, however, meet some incredibly nice newly established couples and when I quizzed them on how they had met they told me OK Cupid was their go-to site. "Dating website profiles take time to do properly, so if you invest, you'll attract the right kinds of people," one friend told me. "There are definitely people looking for relationships in New York - just after they've had some fun."

Needless to say the experience was amazing. It opened my mind and my eyes to the amount of great people you can meet on any given day when you're not stuck in your phone or lost in thought about what to make for dinner.

Over the last three months in New York I was approached dozens of times and physically went on 13 dates. Last year in Dublin I went on about three. There is potential everywhere, and that is the real New York dater's secret.

As Irish people, we are very hard on ourselves, and a little shy, and if I can take anything from New York, it'd be to lighten up and be bolder.

Perhaps we could even develop an Irish version of J-Swipe - I-Swipe maybe? Because New York has a lot going for it, but they absolutely don't have our craic.

Top 5 tips for dating like an American

1 Chill Out

Seriously. Stop putting so much pressure on that Tinder date. He/she is DEFINITELY not the one, but you might have fun. Relax.

2 Your Pace Or Mine?

Forget the pub, what about a hike in Howth? A beach walk in Bantry? Activity dates have been proven to be far more successful than the traditional drink-and-chat scenario.

3 Get App-y

There are so many dating apps, do your research and find out which one best suits your needs. Looking for a relationship? Plenty of Fish and OK Cupid are the go-tos. Always wondered who that hottie on the bus to work is? Download Happn.

4 Forget Your Type

Stop it. Tying yourself down to a 'type' is closed-minded and just plain silly. Of course, you need to know the characteristics you want in a partner, but keep your mind open to new experiences.

5 Call It Quits

Hang on now, don't get too carried away. Yes, Americans multi-date, but that's no excuse to get a name for yourself. Be honest with people if you're seeing someone else as well as them - that's just good manners.

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