The Times they are a-changin’

Theophrastus alerts me to an article in The Times:

Almost certainly, the most exciting thing that ever happened to me occurred one evening last January in freezing weather when I — in a hideous outfit of ankle-length Puffa and beanie pulled down to eyebrow level — was stomping along the South Bank in London. By Blackfriars Bridge a tall, dark, thirtysomething man, not unattractive, ran up to me, gasping, “Excuse me,” in a foreign accent, “are you Swedish?”

“No!” I barked. “I am British!”

“Oh,” he said, nervously stroking his phone, then: “Are you single?”

Hello, I thought, but replied: “I’m married.” The man frowned, then said: “Sorry, but I have to ask . . . I’m Mexican, my wife is Swedish. We wanted a threesome, but . . . could you join us for a foursome?”

Any article which starts off vying for a winning spot in the Didn’t Happen of the Year Awards is unlikely to get better as it goes on.

My response — along with desperately trying not to laugh — was to decline politely, hurry off and call my nonplussed husband to crow that I’d still got it, and he was invited too. But I was confused as to why this poor chap needed to shiver by the river, accosting any vaguely Scandinavian-looking woman for group sex. Surely there was an app for this? I was right.

Hence your article, and your need to invent a story as a lead-in.

He could have been on Feeld, “the app for couples and singles”, which allows you “to meet open-minded people”. “We call it a space to explore your sexuality,” explains Feeld’s joint founder Dimo Trifonov. Launched five years ago, the app was initially called 3nder (pronounced “thrinder”), but Tinder sued, so they rebranded.

“We didn’t like 3nder anyway,” says Trifonov, 28. “That name came with all this clickbait stuff about us being the threesome app, the orgy app, the sex app, but what we’d done went way beyond this.”

Not for the first time on this blog we’re hearing people who engage in meaningless sex with random strangers attempt to ascribe a deeper meaning to it.

Oh really? “Yes, people who’ve been with us for a long time write to us saying, ‘You’ve changed my life,’ ‘You’re a breath of fresh air.’ They say we’ve allowed them to feel more whole. Feeld is like an open field, a field of feelings, and you just jump in to find things you’ve never discovered before. The world is still binary, but we are trying to provide a space which is less dependent on labels and the usual norms.”

Yes, that is pretty deep.

Sitting in the Stygian basement of a hipster Shoreditch hotel, Trifonov and his co-founder and girlfriend, Ana Kirova, 27, don’t come across as a pair of sexual revolutionaries, but rather — with him all in black, dragging his fingers repeatedly through his hair (“It’s a tic”) and her in specs and a pink sweatshirt — like an adorable couple relaxing after a day’s hiking in the Cairngorms.

They are from Bulgaria, and met six years ago in London, where she was studying and he was working as a graphic designer. Not long into their relationship, Kirova found herself falling for a Frenchwoman she was working with.

A bisexual Slavic graphic designer who’s into orgies and polyamory? If it transpires she’s a regular at Burning Man, I’m suing for copyright.

“It was really scary,” Kirova recalls. “I was so attracted to her, just like falling for a guy — I couldn’t talk to her, I felt uncomfortable near her. But at the same time I really was in love with Dimo and I just didn’t know what to do — exploring my feelings on my own would be cheating, right? And if relationships are based on trust it’s really important to be able to communicate how you feel.”

So she lacks impulse control and is driven by short-term gratification. Sorry, why is this in The Times, exactly? Did readers complain Oliver Kamm was sapping them of their will to live?

If it were me, I know I would either have told Dimo nothing and suppressed my feelings, or told Dimo nothing and embarked on an inevitably disastrous affair. The more enlightened Kirova wrote a confessional letter to her boyfriend. “I thought it was creepy and odd and that Dimo would feel disappointed and threatened and shocked, but instead he just said, ‘That’s such a normal feeling, don’t worry — there must be people feeling like you everywhere. Whatever makes you happy.’”

“Do whatever you want, I don’t care,” is so romantic I’m surprised poets haven’t made more use of it.

The couple tried to explore Kirova’s yearnings for extracurricular relationships, but were ostracised on traditional dating sites. “People were like, ‘What are you doing here? This is not for couples’, ” she says. Yet the swinging world carried distinctly grubbier overtones of car keys in bowls.

Whereas if the selection process is done via app it instantly becomes classy.

“I remember connecting to a couple who were so excited that we were also in a couple, they kept pushing to meet me just because of my couple status. I felt a bit violated, like, ‘I’m not an object’. I didn’t even know if this was my thing, I just wanted to explore,” Kirova says.

I expect they’d encountered single people who’d entered the scene and found them too creepy even by the standards of polyamorists. And that’s saying something.

And so, “more as a social experiment than a serious thing”, Trifonov set up a website for people wanting threesomes. Overnight it attracted tens of thousands of visitors. In 2014 he launched the app, which was downloaded 40,000 times. It grew so fast it crashed — a problem when it came to raising funds — but three years ago with $500,000 of investment it was relaunched “to a high industry standard”.

An app promising easy sex, no-strings-attached sex is popular? These people must be marketing geniuses.

The biggest markets are the US, Brazil and the UK, where the busiest areas are London, Bristol and Glasgow.

Can you imagine the state of the average subscriber?

About 35 per cent of users are on the app with a partner, and 45 per cent identify as something other than heterosexual. The dozens of sexual preference options on the app include androgynosexual, objectumsexual and skoliosexual (“I have no idea what this means but I love the idea,” confesses one user who has chosen this as his identity),

I’m glad my concern such an app would attract weirdos hasn’t come to pass.

while the people you are looking for can identify as — among many others — gender-nonconforming and two spirit.

Two spirit? These Canadians get everywhere.

Feeld is similar to many other dating apps — full of young, shiny people in swimsuits

I expect that “full” is doing a lot of work. Even normal dating sites look more like a response to a casting call for The Lord of the Rings. I can’t imagine a threesome dating app in which Glaswegians feature prominently brings much improvement.

“I was amazed at first to see all these people saying, ‘I like BDSM, I am also a company director and I like cycling,’” Trifonov says. “I was like, ‘Wow! I always thought people who were into BDSM were freaks, but they happen to be normal people.’”

Aren’t all cyclists into BDSM, of a sort?

Among their generation polyamory is increasingly seen as a viable lifestyle option, with a recent survey of 2,000 people by the healthcare company EuroClinix pronouncing one in five to be enjoying — to give the dictionary definition — “multiple, non-monogamous relationships”.

Which means one in five people have a cohort of Tinder hookups on standby in lieu of one person with whom they can build a functioning relationship.

Feeld’s employees include several practitioners of polyamory, including one couple in an open marriage. “It’s a bit like having many friends and being able to explore these friendships. So you might have a tennis friend — no one thinks that’s dangerous for a relationship — but instead of tennis you could have a friend for something kinky,” Kirova explains.

Ah yes, this was my Katya’s explanation of polyamory. It seems to rest on the assumption that having sex and playing tennis are similar activities. Although I confess, when it comes to Maria Sharapova I do wish there was more crossover.

“It’s no different to a standard monogamous marriage — if you care, you’re going to make it work.

Making your bed is no different from learning Swahili. If you care, you’ll just get it done.

There just needs to be trust and communication.”

Areas in which the polyamorists featured on this blog have been famously good, of course.

In the period between falling for the Frenchwoman (nothing happened, Kirova realised “it was just a crush”)

Nothing happened between me and Sharapova, either. I realised with her spending so much time playing tennis and showing no interest in bluegrass, it probably wouldn’t work out.

and setting up the app, the couple — in her words — “had experiences with people, but nothing that could be considered a relationship”.

I didn’t bone my secretary, I simply had an experience with her.

Since working together full time, the pair have become “extremely monogamous”. They tried to meet other people through the app, “but it felt like we were just trying to do something for the sake of it, so we ended up doing nothing,” Trifonov says.

Far be it from me to suggest these two people don’t know what the hell they want.

Still, they say, polyamory may be part of their future. “I’m still with this awareness that attraction happens to everyone, regardless of whether they are in a relationship or not,” Kirova says. Her favoured term for their partnership is “monogamish”, which means that you’re committed to each other, but can have relationships with others. “I really like that.”

So they’ll kind of stay with each other unless and until someone else comes along. Sounds like the basis for a fulfilling relationship.

Monogamish, monogamous — either way the couple have found a potentially lucrative niche. Are they rich? “Not really,” Trifonov says.

I did wonder how the connecting of 40,000 weirdos could be monetised, at least outside of Burning Man.

They’re not sure if they will marry or not. “In London you can consider these things later in life. In Bulgaria when you’re 22 you have to have babies,” Kirova says.

As I’ve said, I have no idea what this article is doing in The Times but since they’ve decided to encroach on Cosmopolitan‘s market share anyway, can they at least promise a follow-up on these two in a few year’s time? I have a feeling it would make for good blogging.

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21 thoughts on “The Times they are a-changin’

  1. Just a PR piece paid for by this app. It seems nearly every newspaper article these days is just PR. And poorly written at that.

    I’ve seen former friends buy into this polyamory nonsense and have it completely ruin their friendship with each other. One entered a non-monogamous relationship with a girl, who ended up sleeping with the other guy a lot (who was his flat mate!). Having drunk all the kool aid, the first guy had to continually tell himself it was fine and he shouldn’t want anything monogamous (I’m sure words such as “patriarchy” and “ownership” were thrown around). Shortly however the girl decided to go fully monogamous with the flat mate and in the process end the guys’ friendship completely.

  2. “The concept of monogamish, it seems, may extend to humans, but when it comes to pets — forget it.”

    The final line of the article just nails it, a dog is for life, a wife is for Christmas.

    This does follow a short commentary on how a dog gets a relationship better than them.

  3. skoliosexual (“I have no idea what this means but I love the idea,” confesses one user who has chosen this as his identity),

    I’ve just looked it up, and apparently skolios means “curved, bent, crooked”. So… sexual attraction to hunchbacks, maybe?

  4. Her favoured term for their partnership is “monogamish”

    Isn’t that when you have one partner, but can’t have any possessions invented after the 17th. Century?

    I bet the beards would be OK.

  5. Marketing object achieved, anyway. Getting an article published in The Times, is certainly a lot cheaper than running a half page ad. Would be inclined to take the biog stuff with a very large pinch of salt. You’ve got to give the journalist a basis for the copy, because you can’t expect them to just write you free promotional blurb. So there you go. Something mildly titillating to pad out the rag between the lifestyle ads.
    Sort of surprised something like the app wasn’t already out there. There’s a market for it. Wonder why the Hubpeople, populate the net with various swinging sites all seem to be the same thing, haven’t done one? Although I’ve always suspected those largely moneterise out of hopeful single males fantasising about hooking up with largely non-existent couples & single women for free rumpy-pumpy. The truth being, neither of those groups have any problems finding a spare bloke when they need one. Is that the target market for thiss’un?
    As an aside, my limited experience is it’s women are the main instigators of all this multi-person frolicking. Blokes not nearly so much. Lot of blokes may fantasise about sharing a bed with two chicks, but fantasising is about as far as it goes. Guys are territorial. Witnessing the other half getting hot ‘n heavy with another woman can be somewhat intimidating. Especially being sidelined as not required, just at the moment, why don’t you take the dog for a walk? Inserting another geezer in the mix can push all sorts of primal threat buttons hard wired into the psyche. You need extraordinary self confidence levels to handle that sort of thing, most men don’t have. Hence a lot of MFM type fun ‘n games depend on the resident M being somewhat sub.

  6. They say we’ve allowed them to feel more whole.

    Apologies for being puerile (and drearily conventional) but isn’t that last “W” redundant?

  7. “Did readers complain Oliver Kamm was sapping them of their will to live?”

    /applause!

  8. It appears that Feeld is in fact a very complicated plan by ‘Dimo’ to stop his girlfriend cheating on him.

    At first he says it’s OK for her to have affairs, but he doesn’t like it, so he creates an app in order to gain some sort of control over the experience and maybe get a bit of extracurricular himself in order to shore up his ego.

    Five years down the road, having seen the freaks who signed up to the app, she decides to stay faithful to him (if the app’s profitable that will have helped) and although they talk airily about polyamory, they don’t mean it. Job’s a good ‘un.

    I’d have just binned her, but each to his own….

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  10. Long time reader, think this may just about be my first post…
    I actually met Dino several years ago in relation to an earlier incarnation of this app. From memory, and subject to being somewhat inaccurate due to the passage of time:
    – I think 3ndr was listed on one of the main crowd-funding sites, but then got pulled as the site had second thoughts, so I contacted him directly regarding an equity investment.
    – I personally found him to be quite infuriating to talk to, as he just couldn’t stay on any one topic or complete a thought. On the flip side, maybe that’s the kind of creative brain that’s useful for a founder
    – There was something a bit sketchy about the history of the development in that the creators/developers weren’t being paid. I don’t want to put something libelous on Tim’s site, so I won’t go into details especially given I have no contemporaneous notes, but it was enough for me to think i) he’s not done any of this work himself, ii) there is a potential tax complication in the future here and iii) I don’t want to be a part of it
    – From numbers I saw it was making a reasonable amount of cash, and I would imagine it is today still (but you can understand why he would want to imply otherwise, there are no barriers to entry for a competing app).

  11. >I personally found him to be quite infuriating to talk to, as he just couldn’t stay on any one topic or complete a thought. On the flip side, maybe that’s the kind of creative brain that’s useful for a founder

    Or maybe he just smokes a lot of dope.

  12. [ Reaches for rolled-up newspaper. ]

    Don’t: Tim likes it like that.

    In other news, I’m afraid I saw quickly where this was going and just scrolled through – beginning to get weary of this stuff a bit now Tim 🙁

  13. “……..I have no idea what this article is doing in The Times but since they’ve decided to encroach on Cosmopolitan‘s market share anyway.”

    Well, why not? It’s what all the other newspapers are doing. Some more than others……… yes, I’m looking at you Daily Telegraph.

    It’s gone from newspapers being a fairly male focussed product, to them all desperately trying to turn into Femail. Can’t think why circulation is on the slide.

  14. one in five to be enjoying — to give the dictionary definition — “multiple, non-monogamous relationships”

    Ah, now there’s a statistic you can believe. A survey of 2000 people who had absolutely no incentive to admit they hadn’t had a shag in months, if not years. “Um, yeah, I’m single but I have several fuck buddies”. Right, sure.

    Ignore The Pedant General. These posts are great. They’re amusing and remind me I did the right thing getting married.

  15. In other news, I’m afraid I saw quickly where this was going and just scrolled through – beginning to get weary of this stuff a bit now Tim

    All right Grumpy, I generally only do them if I’ve got nothing better to write about. 😉

    And tomorrow I’m skiing so you can entertain yourselves. Harrumph.

  16. The app name reminds me of lyrics from the classic Macc Lads song Get Weavin’:

    Get weavin’, in Macclesfield
    Get weavin’ and get yer knackers feeled

  17. That did come across a bit grumpier than I intended 🙂

    I’m afraid – and this would really sting if it got back to the authors – that it’s all becoming rather predictable. They think they’re edgy but they’re really not…

  18. Pedant & Tim
    To resolve your differences, perhaps agree that for 35 yr old Times writers sex is a New Thing..
    Tim, going ski touring?

  19. Anyone would think that they hit upon a novel idea. The fact that there was already in existence at least one popular website for swingers makes their story even less believable, as the female could have just gone there.

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