The Soho Sex Column: Has online dating become the only way to meet people?

Soho House The Soho Sex Column Friday 1 July | Soho House

Our resident sexpert, Olivia Petter, is a fan of music festivals as a cure for app fatigue. Rendezvous at House Festival?

Friday 1 July 2022   By Olivia Petter   Illustration by Derek Abella

When William Shakespeare wrote ‘if music be the food of love, play on’, I think he was talking about music festivals. It’s something I’ve thought about often, actually, because outside of dating apps, it’s those muddied fields where the majority of my friends have found love.

I realise this sounds odd. With toilets you can smell for miles, no shower facilities and the overriding sense that everyone has gone fully feral, festivals are hardly an obvious breeding ground for romance. And yet, almost everyone I know has a festival love story. 

Some have been short-lived: a bashful boogie at 3am here, a failed fumble in a tent there. But others have gone the distance. Chance encounters at cider bars have led to cohabitation, engagements, and even children. One friend met a guy in the crowd watching Ed Sheeran and they wound up spending the night darting around various dance tents together until she began to vomit uncontrollably on a hay bale. He held her hair back and they went out for two years.
For context, I’ve just come back from Glastonbury. With euphoria permeating the air, the Somerset bacchanalia can feel like its own microcosm of joy and reckless abandonment. Inhibitions are shed, authentic selves embraced. Anything feels possible. With this in mind, it’s no wonder so many people find themselves falling unwashed hair-first into a dizzying festival romance. That’s why it’s one of the first things I tell people when they, like you, exhibit symptoms of dating app fatigue. 

Of course, festivals aren’t for everyone. My point is that there are plenty of ways to meet people that don’t require you to choose six hot photos that capture your personality and divulge a ‘shower thought’ you once had. It might feel like everyone is finding love online, but the pandemic has given people a new lease of life when it comes to meeting outside of our screens. You just need to be open to it.

I say this as someone who is trying to do the same. Because, despite my own misguided fantasy that I’d meet the love of my life at Glastonbury, I ended up bumping into my ex so many times that we decided to see if we could hang out as friends. Amazingly, we could – and it was lovely, even if it did make me sob for several hours afterwards. 

Obviously, having an ex by my side meant I probably wasn’t going to find anyone new. But maybe forging that friendship was romantic in itself – a sliver of light where there had once been total darkness. 
I still have faith in real-life romance, in whatever form it may take – and you should too. You might find it in a festival field, at a friend’s party, or even in the supermarket. Of course, you could also find it online, if you’re one of the lucky ones. Don’t lose hope – god knows I’m trying not to.

The quick-fire round

What role do you feel dating apps play in finding intimate relationships within society?
If by intimate you mean sex, I think it’s quite clear that dating apps have facilitated many sexual encounters. But if by intimate you mean, well, real intimacy – the kind that involves sharing a bowl of pasta on the sofa in your pyjamas at 11pm – I’m not so sure how easy it is to find that on Hinge. At least not quickly, anyway. You can’t Deliveroo a long-term relationship. Be patient – the intimacy you’re looking for will come, eventually.

Any tips on trying to meet people in person? I’m tired of the apps
Put yourself out there. Say yes to invitations you would normally decline. Go to the parties where you don’t know many people. Attend cultural events and talks you’re interested in on your own. Ask friends to be set up. Most importantly, be open to new opportunities. You never know where your next love story will begin. Embrace it.

If you want to get in touch, please email me at All submissions will remain anonymous. 
Olivia Petter is the relationships writer at The Independent and author of Millennial Love, which is out now in paperback with 4th Estate

Interested in becoming a member?