It used to be that a way with words held the key to winning hearts, didn't it? Then we were told that body language was the true path to love, weren't we? Now, the experts are saying all you need is an aubergine, a peach, some droplets of water and a monkey covering its eyes.
But don't rush off to the supermarket just yet. The findings, from researchers at the Kinsey Institute, relate to the emoji versions of these things. According to a survey of more than 5000 people, singletons who regularly employ emojis – digital symbols used to express an idea or emotion – in their text messages are far more successful at dating than their loquacious, Luddite competitors.
It's all to do with communicating carnal desire, they say – and quickly.
So then, do you wish to get the message across to dashing Nigel from the tennis club that you'd be entirely open to him taking you for a drive in his Saab, next time it's hood-down weather? Well, don't waste your energy writing all those words down in full, just send him an icon of some painted nails, followed by a motorcar, followed by the woman doing a headstand with legs akimbo. He'll get the picture all right.
Want Pauline over the road know you're always available to trim her privet now she's kicked Trevor out and begun divorce proceedings? Don't muck around, send "Need some company?" with the coy, hand-covering-mouth smiley face at the end. You'll be tending to that topiary in no time.
It can be confusing, especially for a generation that hasn't grown up expressing themselves through bits of fruit, farm animals and yellow faces that cry a lot. But with more midlifers now online dating than ever before, help is required. That's where I, as a millennial, can advise. Here's all you need to know before emoji-flirting your way to passion...
1) Start with the basics
Tempting as it might be to dive right in at the deep end with the raunchiest, smuttiest emojis out there (these will be revealed in part two), don't startle Nigel or Pauline with instant filth. Begin with a smiling face, a smirking face, or a face with heart-shaped eyes – even a face with its tongue out, or a face blowing a kiss if you're feeling bold. Most of these are self-explanatory and harmless, and will serve the initial purpose of injecting your dry, dry words with a shot of fun and a chaser of… more to come?
2) ...But learn the dirty ones
Okay, listening at the back? An aubergine is a penis. A peach is a bum. And, according to a Generation Z (even younger, even more digitally native, barely uses words at all) colleague, "aubergine followed by peach is the absolute rudest thing you can do."
Over recent years, certain emojis that seem innocuous have been corrupted, meaning they should now only be used in very particular circumstances. The droplets of water on their own? Not water. The cherries? You guessed it! Peeled banana? I'm not actually sure, but definitely don't send it to the vicar.
As a broad rule, if you think it seems suspect, consider the context before you press send. I know, you'll never make moussaka again...
3) If you have to explain, it's probably too complicated
Imagine you've thought of a terrific little idea for an emoji pick-up line for Pauline. It begins with the icon of a martini glass next to a building. You then repeat this several times, with various country flags and a few emojis of Planet Earth scattered in between. After a few paragraphs, so many that all 195 countries have been represented, you introduce the icon showing a woman walking towards one final building and one final martini glass, then round things off with the one of a man standing, looking surprised. Send.
"What on earth is that?" comes the reply.
"'Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine'," you reply, "have you not seen Casablanca?"
"Why didn't you just write that? I don't think we should see each other any more."
Be clear and concise, is the message.
4) Moderation is key
I never thought I'd write these words, especially in the context of dating advice, but try and be less like Roger Federer*. The 20-time Grand Slam champion uses so many emoji on social media that he sounds unhinged, as if the smoothest man on the planet – on-court – is actually an emotional wreck off it. Don't over-do it.
*Unless you're at the tennis club, of course. In that case, deal with Nigel's new balls like the pro you are, and it'll be one-love by lunchtime. *Wink emoji* *Wink emoji* *Wink emoji*