by Claudia Connell
Tempted by online dating? You won't be after reading CLAUDIA CONNELL'S hilarious (and cautionary) account
(U.K.) Single? Starting to despair of ever meeting Mr Wonderful? Well, don’t — because, ladies, the world is full of handsome, charming men with six-figure salaries, who are all queuing up to commit to people just like you.
The virtual world, that is, not the real world — don’t be daft: men like that were all snapped up years ago.
I’m talking about internet dating, of course, where millions of singletons (and quite a few marrieds on the make) line up to be selected and rejected in a process that has become Britain’s most popular way for couples to get together.
Over half of all single people turn to the internet in their search for love. Apparently, some of them find it. I never did and I’ve never met anyone it has worked for either. In the long-term, that is. A stream of endless dates is guaranteed. But lasting love? I’m not so sure.
It was 14 years ago, when I was 30, that I first tried online dating. I was single and not in bad nick, but working long hours in a female-dominated environment meant I never got to meet anyone. Too young for the dinner party set, too old to be hanging out at nightclubs, it seemed like a hopeless cause until a friend of a similar age took me out and confessed her dirty little secret: she’d started to meet men online. She imparted this information in hushed tones, without making eye contact, and then, on pain of death, swore me to secrecy. I don’t think she could have been more ashamed if she’d confessed to drowning puppies.
Nowadays, the stigma surrounding internet dating has all but gone. So many people partake that it has became an acceptable way to meet the opposite sex.
But when I started it was a bit like train-spotting — you’d heard about it, you knew it went on, but the sort of people who did it were a little bit odd and not the type whose company you’d keep.
Today, there are hundreds of dating sites to choose from, catering for those with all sorts of criteria: vegetarians, Christians, single parents, sports fanatics, people who like pets. You name it, there’s a site where you can meet your perfect match who shares the same interest. But, 14 years ago, there were only a handful.
I browsed one site before signing up and handing over my money. I couldn’t believe my eyes when they matched me up with dozens of sexy, gorgeous hunks whose dazzling smiles beamed out at me from the screen.
Posing by their sports cars, keen to tell any prospective ladies that while they had two homes and earned a salary that could single-handedly pay off the national debt, they were still sensitive souls who liked to strum their guitars and do parachute jumps for charity.
They seemed too good to be true. They were.
After submitting my credit card details, the millionaire Brad Pitt lookalikes all mysteriously disappeared and no amount of searching ever uncovered them again.
They were, of course, plants, who were there to lure in naive punters. A man signing up for the first time (and I know this because I tried it) would have been greeted with pictures of Scarlett Johansson lookalikes, boasting about their cooking skills while posing in bikinis.
The first step when joining a dating site is to complete a profile. As I learned, this is a complete waste of time — especially for women. It doesn’t matter if you have climbed Everest in your lunch break and discovered a cure for cancer — no one will read it.
Some of the profiles are ludicrous. Match.com, the world’s biggest dating site, asks dozens of pointless questions that go on for pages and pages.
When I’m looking for a partner, there are certain things I’d like to know, but I don’t really care when he last went to the cinema or whether he likes biscuits.
I filled out my first profile questionnaire in painstaking detail. And, like everyone else online, I claimed to like travel, theatre and photography.
The truth is that I have hardly any hobbies or interests, but I’ve never yet seen a box I could tick that says: ‘Likes sitting in front of the TV, bitching about everyone on screen.’
One question some sites do ask is if you’d like to have children. What a mean trick. If you say ‘Yes’, you’ll come across as some baby-hungry bunny boiler, but say ‘No’ and you’re Cruella De Vil.
Any online dater will stand or fall on the strength of their photo.
And as the average person looks, well, average, they have to boost their chances of success by posting totally unrealistic images. So it was that on my first date, I found myself sitting opposite a very charming man called Patrick.
He’d claimed online he was 35. He certainly was 35, or thereabouts, in the picture he’d posted. But the man sitting opposite me was nudging 50. He had displayed a picture that was at least a decade old — one of the most popular online tricks.
I didn’t fare much better with the next guy. He looked nothing like his photograph — and there was a very good reason for that. It wasn’t him. It was just some random stranger whose image he’d scanned. When I questioned him about this, he snapped: ‘Well, I think we look alike.’
I must have had dates with six different men before I met someone I clicked with and who appeared to have been reasonably honest. We agreed to meet again and I went home to tell my flatmate, a fellow internet dater, that I had a good feeling about this one.
She replied cynically: ‘He’s probably back online now, lining up the next one.’ I checked his profile online — it was flashing, which meant that he was messaging someone else. She was right.
And that’s the huge stumbling block with internet dating: there’s too much choice.
There are on average seven women to every man, creating the kid in a sweet shop effect.
Why would a man give any woman a second chance when they know there’s six others online just waiting for his message?
If you’re a man, you can be as fussy as you want. Didn’t like her earlobes? Never mind. NEXT!
I also never made my peace with the fact I was looking for men via my computer. It felt a little bit grubby and, if I’m honest, desperate. Whenever I started to see someone on a regular basis, I could never bring myself to admit where I’d met him to my friends and colleagues. So I lied. They couldn’t believe my success in meeting men at the super-
market, the dry cleaners, on the bus, in the park. I even claimed to have met one man at the zoo. The zoo?! Why on earth did I think the idea of a childless woman cruising for men at the zoo was somehow less embarrassing than admitting the truth?
The longest relationship I had as a result of meeting on an internet dating site was seven months. During that whole time, I never went to his home; he always came to mine. He insisted this was because he had a flatmate and as I (by then) was living alone, we could have some privacy. It made sense, though I always had a niggling doubt. One day, my suspicions got the better of me. I searched the electoral roll and uncovered the real reason I never went to his home — his wife wouldn’t have liked it very much.
Of course, married men cheated before the internet came along, but online dating is like an adventure playground for philanderers.
Aged 34, I vowed to give up on internet dating for ever and take my chances in the real world. OK, I didn’t have a date every other night, but it was refreshing to meet people without having first to email each other for a week about our favourite films.
Then, a few years ago, I was lamenting my single status with a younger friend who suggested I join an online dating site. When I regaled her with my horror stories, she insisted that times had changed and I should give it another go. After nearly a decade away, she was right: things had changed. There were hundreds of sites to choose from, all with really positive, bouncy names that it must have taken marketing executives hours of brainstorming to come up with.
Names such as Soul Mates, Plenty More Fish, Love And Friends. I suppose Oddballs And Social Misfits is never going to attract too many customers, is it? The tedious questions were still there and all the men had user names such as Stud4U or Adonis82.
This time around I noticed that the pictures people had posted had taken a worrying turn.
Around 4.7 million people visit dating websites each year in Britain — and one third of online daters admit to lying in their profile Rather than just smiling into the camera, all the men felt compelled to display images of themselves performing some Action Man-like task. Rock climbing and marathon running were particularly popular.
Meanwhile, the women have decided they must all be fun, feisty Sex And The City type gals and post pictures of themselves in little black dresses sipping brightly coloured cocktails with a coquettish look on their face. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t want to see pictures of men in their pants, picking their teeth with a takeaway menu. But surely a little bit of reality wouldn’t go amiss?
But no one on an internet dating site is ever allowed to be just an ordinary Joe (or Josephine). The impressive sounding ‘psychological and compatibility matching’ is something that’s become big in internet dating since my time away.
It’s particularly favoured by newcomers eHarmony, who vow that their unique formula will match you with your ideal partner. But given that no one online ever tells the truth, how is that going to work? You might as well match up Pollyanna with Hannibal Lecter. In the end, none of these changes mattered because I was breaking one of the cardinal sins of internet dating. I was over 40.
In my younger days, an average 70 men would look at my profile in a day. And that was before online dating was massively popular. Aged 42, I was lucky if I got two. Even men ten years older than me clearly stated in their profile that 39 was their cut-off age.
As I’ve already said, they could afford to be selective. If the same man tried to approach a girl in her 20s in the real world, he’d probably be sent packing but, online, well, he might just be in with a chance.
I quickly realised that when it comes to online dating, there are three age brackets: 18 to 29; 30 to 39; and 40 to 110. During my three months online, I didn’t go on a single date and the only interest I had was from men over 60. I did briefly flirt with the idea of signing up to a site that targeted the more mature dater, but something in me balked at the idea.
I am no spring chicken, but I’m not ready for a life of early-bird suppers and cosy nights in watching re-runs of Murder She Wrote. So I logged off and I haven’t looked back.
And unless I hear that George Clooney has joined Match.com and is looking to shack up with a British woman over 40 with absolutely no hobbies or interests, then I doubt I’ll be tempted back.