AFTER BEING MARRIED for some twenty-five years or so it comes as a bit of a shock to find yourself involuntarily single again. Why this came to pass has never been adequately explained to me, and if it had I probably wouldn’t have understood anyway, but there you have it. As Robert de Niro says in The Irishman, “It is what it is”. No point in crying over spilt milk I say. All water under the bridge now.
Eventually, when the fuss and hullabaloo has died down – it could take weeks, it could take years – one inevitably begins to ask the question whether one is content to stay single or whether you would prefer to hook up with a new partner or companion for the rest of the journey through life. Sometimes this decision is not easy. Being single again can be fun; it’s definitely much less demanding emotionally and financially, carries far less responsibility, and the knowledge gained that being single doesn’t necessarily mean being lonely, just sometimes solitary – which is a different thing altogether – can be quite comforting.
Be that as it may, you might decide to find a new partner and start dating (a horrible imported word from the USA but I’m afraid in standard use now). At this point, if you are of a certain age, you will rapidly find that it ain’t the way it was in the 70s or 80s. The days of “You dancin’? You askin’?” are a distant memory, as are the bright-eyed, alcohol-fuelled hook-ups of university yore. And oh, to be back in uniform, when a hand brushed through your over-long lustrous locks and the stock reply to a questioning female of “I could tell you what I do for a living but then I’d have to kill you” frequently led to a speedy drive back to the officers’ mess in the ridiculous sports car that you couldn’t really afford, and where upon arrival, and with a bit of good fortune, Robert, as we used to say, was your father’s brother.
No, all long gone.
Now you have to face the full horror of online dating. Entering this bizarre brave new world is truly a voyage of eye-opening discovery. Where to start? There is a plethora of websites seemingly catering for all tastes. Some of the ones I have browsed, but not paid to join – yet, I hasten to add – include the Guardian newspaper’s Soul Mates, attractive if you’re of a leftie, vegetarian, open-toed-sandals-in-all-weathers sort of person; or Elite Singles, which seems to be populated by everything but; and my own favourite Blues Match, which caters for the upper percentile of intellectual society who attended, or claim to have attended, Ivy League or Oxbridge universities (did I mention I went to Cambridge? No? Well, you know now).
All are equally horrific in their own ways. Initially, however, no matter which site you choose, you have to create and upload your personal profile. This is oftentimes where truth and reality part company. The temptation is always to present oneself as someone or something that is at variance with the actualité, and many people just invent a persona, complete with false photograph, name, attributes and interests, and most popular of all, age. And nobody, but nobody, knows if you’re fibbing or not. What could possibly go wrong, eh?
Now, being a heterosexual sort of person, the following observations pertain to the female profiles I have perused on various sites, but could equally well be appropriate to the male profiles, which I do not browse for obvious, heterosexual, reasons. I am that “man looking for a woman” in internet dating site-speak. There are hundreds of thousands of profiles posted online, so the choice is wide and varied. It’s what you might call a target-rich environment.
Faced with this abundance of sites and profiles, I have compiled my own set of rules, which I hereby commend to you. Bear in mind the caveat that what you see might not be what you get and you’ll take the first step in avoiding disappointment. So, here we go. First of all, look very carefully at the photograph, if there is one. (If there isn’t, be instantaneously suspicious). There is a distinct possibility that it might be of someone else, even someone quite famous. I have seen more that one profile featuring a photograph of Susanna Reid, who I understand is a television personality, and quite obviously it isn’t her. Although, famously, the American actress Sharon Stone had her profile removed from one dating site because the moderators could not believe it was actually her. It was.
Next, where has the photograph been taken? Look at the background, which usually tells you quite a lot. A lot of folk use photographs taken on holiday, or at weddings, because that’s where and when quite understandably people might think they’re looking at their best. What sort of holiday is it, what sort of wedding? There are lots of clues to be found here. Some are taken in the garden, or up a mountain, or in a restaurant. What sort of garden is it, and what sort of house does it belong to? What mountain? And what sort of restaurant? All the clues are there if you look hard enough.
I have compiled a set of red alert no-nos which I apply to sort out the wheat from the chaff. At the risk of offending absolutely everybody, here goes! First and foremost, tattoos and/or multiple piercings merit an instant delete, as do dreadlocks or any outlandish hair colouring. Be wary of too many photographs where the individual is wearing sunglasses; I much prefer to see the lines and crinkles that come with age and laughing a lot. And posing with animals, especially horses or – Heaven forfend – cats is a big red warning flag.
There are plenty of clues in clothing too. That leather miniskirt may look cool on a twenty-five-year-old, but not quite so much when you’re double that age plus some more. I have a particular aversion to those little off-the-shoulder numbers that many women seem to espouse, probably because of some deep-seated primordial experience lodged in my subconscious. And the occasional “Hen Party On Tour” tee-shirts, well, what can I say? Apply your own judgement, peeps.
What is really off-putting, though, is the list of activities that many put under the heading of “interests”. Internet dating sites seem to be populated by what I can only describe as a race of superwomen. PhD? Of course. Everest? Climbed it just last year. Hiked the Silk Road to Samarkand? That’s so last year. Plus writing several novels, played international level sport, on friendly terms with George and Amal, and can rustle up a four-course dinner for eighteen at an hour’s notice. And finally, of course, loves small children and animals.
My nagging question is always that, with such a fabulous array of attributes, why would any women like that be looking for a man in the first place? She should have one already, or at least a gaggle of potential suitors outside her door. It makes you suspicious, doesn’t it? Too good to be true.
It’s all a bit wasted on me anyway, because like most blokes of my age I’m just looking for someone who can tell me which tie to wear and who is happy to toddle down to the pub with me on a Friday night. I don’t have the time or energy anymore for a high octane relationship with an overachiever, impressive though it may appear on paper. Maybe someone should point out that there’s a whole world out there of men who just want the simple life? They can be good fun too!