Appy dating, or what happens when you’re hooked on hookups?
You may recognise her from Tinder. If you’re always on the online dating site that is, and you can’t go more than half an hour without a swipe, a like, a click through. Comedian Eleanor Conway knows all about that, which is why her stand up show is called You May Recognise Me From Tinder.
You may recognise it from last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, where she performed the blunt and funny follow up to her 2017 debut hit show, Walk of Shame, which was written when she was in recovery from alcohol addiction. This time round it’s her addiction to Tinder that’s the target of her humour and she’s bringing it back to Scotland as part of her UK tour.
An up-close, funny, frank and full-on adult-rated account of her adventures on dating apps, webcams and sugar daddy sites, You May Recognise Me From Tinder is all about singles and sex, intimacy and addiction.
“It’s sex positive and funny. Men love it and women absolutely love it, because I’m saying things we might usually only say to friends or even just think.
“I’m talking about sex addiction essentially,” she says. “The fix of meeting someone and getting a match, getting likes, going on hook-ups. Eventually that didn’t satiate me and I ended up on a sugar daddy website. Finally I thought, ‘what am I doing?’”
Conway doesn’t do things by halves. Drink, drugs, sex and comedy, she was never one for holding back.
“I’m the same with biscuits, drink, drugs, sex, exercise, sugar,” she says. “I have to watch my behaviour.”
Always online but not having got beyond a third date in a decade, she became hooked on the app itself, checking it three times an hour, making dates while checking out others for potential, stressing about missing another fix, till finally, dissatisfied with hook-up sex and realising it had stopped being fun, she swiped left and ditched the whole scene. Still sober and in recovery mode once more, she’s hit reset and turned her journey into jokes and another show.
Today it’s comedy where she gets her kicks, but as an all or nothing kind of woman, 100-date tours are how she rolls.
She’s speaking on the phone from Perth, Western Australia, where she’s gigging at Fringe World, the city’s annual arts festival. Then it’s back to the UK with the tour which includes stops in Inverness, Edinburgh and the Glasgow Comedy Festival this month and next.
“I’m enjoying the sunshine, the beaches, pilates every day…”
At 41, and sober for nearly six years, Conway’s comedy career is taking off, but life wasn’t always such a laugh.
Now based in East London, Conway was born in Milton Keynes, a place she dismisses as ‘having no soul’. She left to do an HND in music technology in Barnsley, then sound engineering at university in Leeds, before opportunity literally came knocking.
“The guy who lives two doors down knocked on my door and asked me if I wanted to be a presenter. I said yeah OK.”
She was hired for a show called UK Uncovered for NUTS TV, of lads’ magazine fame, filming at clubs around the country. Moving to South East Asia she set up a production company and worked in-house filming the DJs and artists who visited, such as Black Eyed Peas, Moby, then back in the UK, worked with The Ministry of Sound. Then she won a competition with Virgin Music, to travel the world’s clubs interviewing the likes of 50 Cent and Justin Beiber. Immersed in a hedonistic lifestyle, it was easy to indulge.
“Then I thought ‘I can’t keep doing this, what else could I do? Comedy looks good.’ I hosted chat shows at Edinburgh, pretending I did comedy, then I got sober and actually started doing comedy.”
Waking up with strangers/in hospital/at random locations/covered in vomit didn’t put her off drink and drugs, but finally professional envy of other comedians did. That and her Facebook post complaining about a post three-day bender hangover that saw someone contact her, tell her about getting sober and take her to an AA meeting.
In recovery she wrote her award-winning debut show, Walk of Shame, about her battle with addiction. The 100-date tour, including the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe, sold out in ten countries.
“That show saved my life,” she says. “It gave me consistency, staying sober a day at a time and letting the days stack up.” It also led to her writing about dating sober for the Guardian and guesting on BBC’s Woman’s Hour. But free of her addiction, she had also freed up a lot of time.
“When I put the drinking and everything away I got really good at Tinder and that became a fix, different online places for me to get my kicks, different ways I could have immediate sex. I don’t think it’s talked about that much, but anyone that’s found themselves scrolling and matching on Tinder, even on a low level, can understand. You get really engrossed in the next match: has that person messaged back, who else is out there? Tinder is a very junkie sort of mechanism. You get obsessed.
“So I was having a lot of hook-up sex, not relationship sex, and to be honest, it was a bit hit and miss and you think hang on, I’m not getting anything out of this. I was watching Secret Diary of a Call Girl and thinking, she’s getting Louis Vuitton, a two bedroom flat, and orgasms. Right, I’m going to try it.
“Every woman I know has thought about selling sex at some point,” she says. “Because our bodies are commodified all the time and we go through life doing stuff for stuff. Also I used to edit porn, so the idea of sex for money doesn’t really bother me. So I went on sugar daddy websites where you go for a date and make an arrangement on how much he wants to spend on you each month.”
So, do the sugar daddies ever want a platonic relationship, a companion to go to the cinema with, or Munro bagging perhaps?
She laughs. “There isn’t a bloke on there going ‘I’m just going to give you loads of money but I don’t want sex.’”
Conway acknowledges that sugar daddy sites were crossing a line, and her behaviour may not be typical for everyone in her audience. “But they can still relate to my over use of Tinder and pornography, the desire to seek intimacy. And it’s interesting to explore the full gamut of where you get your kicks in 2020, and where your kicks lead you?
“With Tinder I got to the point where I worried where my next fix was coming from, checking it three times an hour, anxious all the time, thinking about sex or dates in the same way as a drug addict is thinking about his next fix. The line became blurred and I thought I need to step away from this, stop being on Tinder because it wasn’t making me happy any more.
“At the end of the day Tinder is an app, Tinder does not want you to find love, it wants you to stay in the business of searching for love, searching for new stuff to click on. Instagram keeps you searching, Twitter keeps you searching, none of these are goal-orientated, it’s just about stealing your attention. And that’s where we’re all at. It might not be Tinder, it might be Instagram, it might be the Guardian app, it might be box sets on Netflix. It’s the same behaviour.”
Conway is at pains to point out that Tinder can be fun, that some of her best friends have found love on Tinder, but it doesn’t work for her.
“There’s something about the app and my addictive behaviour, it’s like the perfect storm and it sends me mental. So I’ve recalibrated all my sexual behaviour too.”
With the support of her sober friends she gave up the dating and concentrated on connections with her platonic relationships, friends and family.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not averse to a hook-up once in a while, but when I’m acting like a feverish junkie, getting likes and chatting to guys while arranging to meet others, it’s not a healthy way to live.”
As well as the upside of turning her distress into comedy, Conway also sees a positive side of giving women a voice.
“It’s the side of women you never really see, talking about sexual desire, the things a man might say. But we’re all human, young, old, big, or short, whatever we look like, and technology allows us to get it when we want it. It’s our one win over straight men. It’s like a superpower.”
As well as the humour, Conway is making a serious point about technology’s role in the exploitative world of porn. A positive for Conway is the idea that women are taking control of themselves, and in the porn industry, making money for themselves. Although she stresses there are definitely areas where women are still being taken advantage of.
“But I think it’s changing, the way women’s bodies are portrayed, more varied, more intimate. It’s because performers can put their stuff on free sites, have fans subscribe to their own websites, and have taken the money out of the market to some extent. I definitely think it’s a good time to be a woman. The powers that be are throwing us a few more grains of corn, we can cultivate our own audiences and bring home the bucks.”
Having an addictive personality, Conway recognises that she has replaced her other addictions with work and carving out a career in comedy, doing live shows and podcasts.
“I think I might have become a workaholic,” she laughs. “I’m a nightmare. I check my ticket sales about 150 times a day. It’s insane. I’m obsessed.”
Maybe that’ll be her next show, how to give up an addiction to work?
“Maybe. People say to me if you give everything up, what if you run out of things to write about? But there’s always something to talk about isn’t there?”
So what’s the ultimate goal, what’s next?
“World domination. I’m an addict aren’t I? I want it all. And it still won’t be enough.”
Eleanor Conway: You May Recognise Me From Tinder, National Tour:
21 February-25 April; 29 February, Teuchters Comedy Club, Inverness; 1 March, Monkey Barrel, Edinburgh; 20 March, Glasgow Comedy Festival, for tickets go to www.eleanorconway.com
ELEANOR CONWAY’S TIPS ON USING DATING SITES AND GOING OUT WITHOUT ALCOHOL
Don’t show your face in any NSFW texts.
Be clear about what you want from prospective matches dating or hook-ups.
Don’t be too prescriptive on your Tinder profile.
If someone unmatches you on Tinder do not follow them to Instagram to ask them why they unmatched you.
If you’re going to take a photo of your boobs lying down, push them up with your elbows so they don’t look like pancakes.
Give yourself a two hour maximum, people will get drunk by 10:20pm and no-one will remember you weren’t there. Did I say 10:20pm? that’s a weird time. Let’s make it 11pm.
Your higher power can be anything, anyone, you want it to be (even Ed Sheeran).
When you want to leave just ghost, leave. Don’t go round announcing it because people will try to talk you out of leaving and then you’re stuck in a loop of ‘don’t gos’ for another hour with a load of drunk people.
If a drinker asks you to go to a party with them, make sure there’s a third person with you so you are not responsible for their night, then you can leave (in early recovery you need to control your environment, how to slot in and out) so those two can stay and you can leave when you want.