E4’s new dating show Game of Clones proves finding love is about more than just a checklist

"Love back then was quixotic, spontaneous and exciting... modern dating seems to be about algorithms," says Lucy Cavendish

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When I was dating the first time around, approximately three decades ago, it all seemed rather simple. You met someone through work or friends, at a party or down the pub. You’d have a drink and then, if things were going well, you’d get it together. You gave it a whirl and hoped for the best. 

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I met the father of my eldest son (now 20) at a book awards ceremony. He sat next to me and made me laugh. We ended up together for a few years and travelled round the world. It might not have lasted forever, but was a lot of fun, even with its upheavals. I don’t suppose we were really that suited, but that didn’t matter at the time. After all, back then we didn’t have a computer app to work out our psychometric suitability.

Now we live in the age of Tinder where daters looking for love and sex check out potential partners online first. It’s clearly inspired E4’s latest contribution to 21st-century romance, Game of Clones (Mon–Fri 7:30pm). Having watched this new offering, in which people design the perfect date by putting their demands into a computer, all I can say is thank goodness for that. For love back then was quixotic, spontaneous and exciting, not predicated by a checklist from hair colour to breadth of bottom. Modern dating seems to be about algorithms. If you put in enough data into the computer, the perfect person will emerge, right? 

Well, not really. I may look back at my dating life and think – oh, how I wish we’d had Tinder back then because it all looks a bit exciting with all that choice, all those men! When I was single later in life (a few years back), I dabbled with online dating. At first, Tinder did feel exciting, swiping right when I found a face I fancied. It was a relief to find there were so many single men out there and many of them seemed perfectly decent.

However, I realised that Tinder is actually a bit boring and a bit safe. For a start, I’m not sure if anyone really finds the person they think they want. We all type in what we want, then spend the evenings chatting online but not meeting anyone. Cyber-dating just isn’t real. It’s like having an naughty online penpal. There’s a bit of ooh-là-là and nothing else. Everyone feels too scared, too full of trepidation to throw caution to the wind and go on a date.

What we need is real and proper dating as in Channel 4’s First Dates, where people meet in real life. It’s far more dangerous, random and thrilling to meet someone in the flesh than it is to base your choice of potential partner on a computer’s recommendation.

I’m not sure if this new generation of Millennials – obsessed with physical fitness, going to bed early, drinking green juices and saving to buy a flat – understand this. My generation gave most things a whirl because, hey, why not? I doubt if these hyper-conscientious youngsters get the idea of dating at all. I don’t think love or desire or passion feature… so dates sort of go by rote with people going through their checklist of must-haves. No one can come up to that, so everyone is single, and love is more about a joint mortgage than a chance meeting and a lock-in in the pub.

I’m utterly relieved not to be dating now. What I thought was a red-hot opportunity is a damp squib. Love, after all, just isn’t about a checklist.

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Game of Clones is on weeknights at 7:30pm on E4