A 20-something looking to date will think nothing about going online, swiping left or right on whichever site is in vogue and chatting away to someone of the opposite (or same) sex — it’s unlikely they know any other other way to meet someone.
Venturing into the dating scene as a woman just out of her 40s (well, it’s nicer than saying 50) is a bit like sticking your head above the parapet — only to have it unceremoniously sliced off. It’s not for the fainthearted.
For almost two decades up to the end of 2016, I had dated one man: my now ex husband, whom I’d met in a pub among mutual friends.
Although dating sites did exist back then — Match.com was created in the mid 90s — it wasn’t the common tool used to find a partner, or at least not in the circles I mixed.
To meet someone on a dating site was considered a bit sad, desperate even. There had to be better ways. There was a hint of the smug married about it to coin aphrase.
Oh, ignorance is bliss.
Fast forward to 2021 and there’s nothing sad about this flourishing online industry, with about 8,000 dating sites in the world and many of them charging hefty subscriptions to be in with a chance of finding a match.
Yep, 8,000. Plenty of love to go around, it seems.
Except… there’s not. Yes, there are plenty of people to talk to, and with a flattering best-angle profile pic it can be a real ego boost. But nobody seems to be in it for the long haul.
If it was just me left feeling disappointed or let down while everyone else was finding lasting passion, I’d slink off to lick my wounds with a meal for one, never to swipe again (left or right). But it’s not. Testimonies across social media sites back up the theory that it’s a complete and utter waste of time. There may be a few who have found ‘the one’ but there are countless others who are just left hanging, completely demoralised by the whole experience.
The men are either married/in a relationship and want something on the side, or they’re single but only interested in a hookup. Or they don’t want to meet up at all, just chat online when they’ve nothing (or nobody) else to do. A penpal is all they’re after, a single friend remarked to me once. Time wasters, another one sniffed.
Some make all the right noises about wanting a relationship but bail when someone more interesting meets their eye. And ghosting (ending all contact without any warning) appears to be alarmingly frequent.
We met four times and it fizzled out. No hard feelings on either side, he was a decent person and there was a reason (long distance) that it didn’t go any further.
Since then though: disaster.com.
I had two dates with a guy about two years ago and suggested we meet for brunch on the third. For some reason, he thought I wanted him to meet my children. I had meant brunch out, not at my home but mixed wires are common when the relationship (to use the word loosely) is conducted via text message. I believe he is still running.
A few months later, another site, another meet up. We had a few dates, constant text messaging and he seemed keen. Then I got a text, informing me he’d ‘reconnected’ with an ex on the same dating app and thanks very much, goodbye and good luck. He didn’t even try to hide the fact that he was still using the app. Naively, I thought the ‘one at a time’ rule still applied. Still, I guess at least he was (sort of) honest.
I stayed away from it all for a while, opting for the single gal (well, single mother) life. But it’s so easy to sign up to the sites on a boring Saturday night with only a bottle of wine for company and get chatting — and hopeful — again.
One person I chatted to seemed keen to meet. We exchanged numbers and even began to have occasional phone calls. We arranged to meet for a coffee and he bailed at the last minute. Then he just disappeared. A few weeks later, I received a grovelling apology with excuses that seemed genuine so I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Then he vanished again. I got a further message asking would I like to meet and decided to take a leaf out of his book and disappear myself.
When Covid-19 hit, dating became even more virtual. Loads of ‘how are you managing during lockdown’ chats but no actual meet ups. Then restrictions eased and I decided to brave it again with a divorced dad I had been chatting to on Plenty of Fish.
We sipped coffee in Costa for an hour and it went well. We had dinner out the following week and it went from there. For three months he text every morning, every evening and several times in between, work permitting. We met up at least once a week. We both had children and other commitments, and there was no pressure on either side but it appeared to be an arrangement that worked on both sides. He seemed genuine, honest, without agenda. No red flags.
For the first time in four years, my children met a man I was dating. He was introduced as a ‘friend’ so as not to make a big deal out of it but, for me, it was a massive step and not one I would have considered if we hadn’t been dating in a pandemic (we were in each other’s bubbles and there was nowhere else to meet).
No row, no cool-off, just radio silence. He was online but not responding. No blue ticks showing on What’s App. And then came the ghosting. I was blocked on all social media in spite of showing no signs of being an axe-murderering stalker (I’m not, honest).
And so here we are again, back to the drawing board. It’s tempting to think ‘what did I do?’ but out of self-preservation I’m opting to take the ‘it’s them, not me’ response.
There may be plenty more fish in the sea but I’m not casting my net any further. Any flakes from now on will be of the chocolate variety and if I’m online, it’ll be shopping for shoes. I’m not ruling out meeting someone in the future — in fact, I really hope I do — but surely there has to be a better way.