Back in the 1990s when my mother was single, she and her girlfriends used to sit around our house in Toronto drinking wine and talking about all the dates they weren't going on.
"All the good men are either taken or gay," one of them would invariably say.
"Nobody even looks at me since I turned 40," another would add.
"I don't even want a relationship, I just want someone to go like this," a third would moan as she mimed fondling a pair of breasts, and they would all shriek with laughter.
After watching this proto-Sex and the City set piece at an impressionable age, I considered myself lucky to have ended up in a stable relationship by my mid-30s. Better to be boring and married, it seemed to me, than miserable and single. All my mother's girlfriends worked hard at their jobs and spent their evenings at home eating Lean Cuisine and talking to their cats.
If they wanted to "get out and meet someone," which is what all their married friends told them to do, the options were dismal: Either hang out at a bar like a volunteer prostitute, or submit to the alternative horror of a blind date. (I knew one woman who claimed to have gone on blind dates with every available Jewish man in Toronto. Twice.)
In any case, there was a good reason why so many hard-working single men and women ended up isolated and celibate in the prime of their lives. Once the majority had paired up, single people simply had no good way of meeting each other.
The Internet, of course, changed that completely, but it was the explosive popularity of apps such as Tinder starting in 2012 that really transformed how singles meet.
Today, my single friends are on Tinder or Grindr, depending on their preferences, and quite a few are on both. I can't think of a single person I know who hasn't at least tried it. I find it remarkable how different the experience of being single is for my 30- and 40-something friends compared with my mother's – or even my own a few years ago.
For one thing, no one is going without sex because they don't know where to find it. Sex – and from the sounds of it, good sex – has become safely and plentifully available when and if a single person chooses to look for it. The same goes for short-term romantic companionship. If you fancy a date with a tall, gainfully employed person who enjoys Chopin and sushi next Saturday night, that can be arranged. If you'd rather something more carnal, that's also just a swipe and click away.
Naturally there are problems with this new world order. The primary one is something one girlfriend calls the "grocery-store mentality" – people on Tinder often come to view dating as one long romantic shopping expedition with a never-ending supply of humans to sniff, squeeze and price-compare. Another issue is the fact that many gay bars are struggling because Grindr has made them obsolete (according to my sources, Airbnb/Grindr sex parties are now all the rage instead).
More than anything, though, I'm amazed at how my single friends sound when they talk about being single. They still complain over wine – some things never change – but the air of misery and boredom is gone. They no longer feel pathetic or overlooked, the way my mother and her friends felt. They are not on the shelf but out there – actively dating and having sex – and the ones who aren't are abstaining as an active choice.
When I get together with my single girlfriends now, they talk about their "Tinder dates" the way my mother's friends talked about their yoga classes and book clubs. Having an active romantic life has become just another side-interest to be practised, managed and enjoyed. As for long-term partnership, I'm sure they'll get there when and if they want to. But increasingly, given this sharp improvement in singleton quality of life, why would they?
Take my friend Sylvia, who just moved to London from New York. She is single, 41, and has a demanding job. When she left her hometown, people told her she was crazy – how would she make friends or find a partner at her age without her network of family and friends? Well, she hasn't had much of a problem. In fact, she's so busy with work, social engagements and Tinder, I have to book dinner with her weeks in advance.
Last weekend, over wine, she told me about her job, her new flat, the books she's reading, the bands she's seen recently and her Tinder dates – she's got several on the go. Her life isn't perfect, of course, but she is busy and content. "It sounds strange to say this," she said, "but since I turned 40 it's just been non-stop dating. I'm actually thinking of taking a breather." Then she glanced at her phone, swiped and clicked.