NOTHING makes you feel old like reading a story you’ve been told “everyone” can “totally” relate to ... and then realising “everyone” actually means those whose entire adulthood has featured broadband, emojis and hundreds of free texts. Or rather, a female subset of them who spend a lot of time on Twitter.

But while Cat Person, the New Yorker story by Kirsten Roupenian that went viral this week, is very firmly set in our technological age, it has plenty to say about the near-universal desire to connect with other human beings. The longing to share confidences, private jokes, trials and triumphs. To feel that somewhere, on this planet of nearly seven-and-a-half billions souls, is someone else who really “gets” us.

In case you haven’t yet read it, here’s a spoiler-light summary of the first 80 per cent or so: a young woman, Margot, and young(ish) man, Robert, meet, text, text, text, briefly meet again, text, text, text, then have a fairly excruciating “first date”. There’s an awful lot of texting involved. Things don’t end very well.

Young people’s problems, you might think. No wonder they’re unlucky in love when they’re glued to their flipping phones all the time. But this isn’t just a young people’s problem. A report released this week by the Mental Health Foundation and Age Scotland found that nearly 20 per cent of older adults in Scotland view technology as causing loneliness because it has replaced human contact. And while some respondents said social media use improved their mental wellbeing, overall it was seen as a poor substitute for meeting face-to-face.

The charities have a raft of recommendations for tackling loneliness and associated mental health problems among older folk, from befriending services and day centres to investing in community transport. But if we want to ensure the young people of the Cat Person generation are better prepared for their twilight years, perhaps the best place to start would be challenging the notion of The One.

The first problem with The One is that it’s all or nothing. You can only have one One, and if you’re a woman you’re likely to eventually end up minus One. The second problem is that there’s no such thing as a “soulmate” with whom you can perfectly slot together. If you manage to find someone who gives you butterflies, shares your taste in music and makes you laugh, you’re doing pretty well. But what if you differ wildly when it comes to politics, or tolerance of dirty dishes, or the need to save for a rainy day? What if you’re a dog person and they’re a cat person? Does that mean you’re back to square one?

In Roupenian’s story Margot and Robert build a false intimacy via text – each of them filling in blanks and projecting characteristics onto the other – only for Margot to realise that, actually, she doesn’t much fancy Robert in real life. Part of the reason the story has generated such a frenzy of debate is that the nuanced writing leaves room for wildly differing interpretations. Commentators have taken a black permanent marker to a piece of literature full of shades of grey, to cast one or other character as villain or victim.

But in real life, as in quality fiction, we’re all flawed. Algorithm-based dating technology may give the impression The One is out there, just waiting to be discovered by a diligent box-ticker, but what if a much better match is just a couple of years older, or lives five miles further away, or can’t be faffed with internet dating? A few days before Cat Person hit the web, the website Everyday Feminism republished a blog post from earlier in the year titled 10 Things Every Intersectional Feminist Should Ask On a First Date. Among the questions are “How do you work to dismantle sexism and misogyny in your life?” and “What is your understanding of settler colonialism and indigenous rights?” I appreciate the intent of this – I really do. No woman wants to waste precious time or winky-kiss emojis on a chap who turns out to have ropey views about marginalised groups. But it’s fair to say the fun of cocktail hour would be extinguished pretty quickly by a young lady whipping out a questionnaire before the daiquiris had even been shaken.

We’re all works in progress. Everyone has the capacity to develop and grow, and sometimes that means growing apart from a partner, friend or family member. But relationships should be about give as well as take, compromise as well as compassion. It’s always a good idea to treat others as you would wish to be treated, especially when it might be tempting to ditch an old friend in favour of a hot date, or to “ghost” a former love interest rather than having a grown-up chat, or to text Gran on her birthday instead of popping round.

No-one should feel obliged to keep in touch with a selfish or downright toxic individuals simply because of shared DNA, but disagreeing about Brexit, or independence, or same-sex couples on Strictly Come Dancing need not mean terminating contact altogether. The annual Christmas card mail-out is the traditional time to promise a long overdue catch-up. If each of us reaches out with a phone call or a visit to just one friend or relative facing a lonely festive period this year, the ripples will be felt through every village, town and city in the land.