Having a fab time with digital dating in my forties

Suzanne Harrington has embraced the wonderful potential of digital dating for the mature woman.

There’s an awful lot of old guff written about dating in your forties. As though being in your forties is an acquired disability, like head trauma or clitoral atrophy. (You think I made the second one up? Use it or lose it, kittens).

But let us not stampede south right away. Let us instead examine the notion of the over-forties dating scrapheap, and how it applies only to ladies — you may have seen the Amy Schumer sketch Last Fuckable Day. If you haven’t, you should watch it on YouTube.

As forty-something women, we are told how our erotic capital is somewhere between badly overdrawn and bankrupt — unless we take the following steps to make ourselves more dateworthy: Teeth whitening, bosom restructuring, forehead Botoxing, lips filling, face contouring, vagina tightening, body sculpting, nail and lash extending, wardrobe overhauling, diet restricting to include only chia and kale. Oh, and hot yoga, Pilates, Zumba, running. Maybe some aura cleansing and chakra realignment. Life coaching. Counselling.

Only then should a forty-something woman consider filling out a dating profile. You’ll need a professional photographer for your profile picture of course, not so much to slather Vaseline on the lens as industrial wallpaper paste. Because, middle aged ladies, apparently you are dating plankton. Bottom feeders, hoping for any leftovers that the fresh faced, lissom twenty and thirty-something goddesses haven’t entirely devoured. Men your own age, on the other hand, are all George Clooney.

And if you believe any of that, you’ve been reading way too many women’s magazines. For we are queens. No longer princesses, we have ascended the throne of ladyhood, and reign supreme over our lives. Never has it been a better time to date, and don’t let anyone tell you any different. I’m 49, and for the past decade have enjoyed great dates, amazing relationships, a few kicks in the face, and a lot of love. And no, I have not had my teeth whitened or vagina tightened. I’m quite fat, in early-onset menopause, with a scruffy house, loads of dependents and sod all cash. I wouldn’t know a manicure from hole in the ground.

What I do have, however, is what all forty-somethings have — wisdom, experience, and that sexiest thing of all, confidence. This applies even more to fifty-somethings and beyond. The older you get, the better the skill set. The only thing that’s stopping you from having a ball is your own head telling you that dating is for other people. It’s so not, believe me.

  • DO

    go online. You only meet people at dinner parties in Richard Curtis films — in real life, we meet digitally. This is our starting point, where we state what we want, and shop around for a suitable match.

    And yes, it’s initially clinical. And yes, it works. Also, forget about studio-standard photographs — just take a few selfies in good light. Posing like a femme fatale is kind of lame. Instead, just look happy and approachable, and keep your profile short. Having said that, big yourself up.

    Your online profile is not a place for false modesty, or minimising yourself — nothing worse than a profile that starts, “I don’t know what I’m doing on here...” Yes you do, you are dating. Get on with it.

  • DON’T

    sit at home waiting for your inbox to fill up. Treat dating like job hunting. Send out lots of brief cheery messages to anyone you like the look of; if you don’t hear back from them, delete and move on. No agonising about why they didn’t reply — if everyone fancied everyone, it would be chaos.

    Also, if you’re going to use a swipe app — like Tinder, or Bumble, which lets women make the first move — be aware that you’re in different territory from sites like eHarmony, Match, OKCupid, Plenty of Fish, or subscription sites. Generally, paying sites tend to act as a filter; if you want hook-ups, just get swiping.

    If you’ve come out of a long-term setup, you might want to kick up your heels via a swipe app, but if you want to form a relationship, go for a subscription site. Like most things, you tend to get what you pay for.

  • DO

    adopt a totally zen approach to first dates. Imagine you are David Attenborough, or an anthropologist on a field trip. Be friendly, warm, and boundaried. If you like your date, stay for another coffee or drink — if you don’t, thank them for their time and leave.

    You owe nothing, there is no obligation — just don’t be brutal about it. Kindness is all. Equally, if you like someone but never hear from them again, take it on the chin — you’re just not their type, it’s nothing personal. You will have terrible dates, and you will need a massive sense of humour. Think of them as future anecdotes.

    My Worst Date Ever (and there have been several — it’s an occupational hazard) talked about himself for an hour, telling me how cool and interesting he was, while all the time glancing at me with a mixture of pity and regret. Stupidly, I’d broken my own rule of coffee-only on a first date, because he was a friend of a friend, and so I accepted a dinner invitation.

    On meeting, he made it perfectly clear he was far too fabulous for me, and that the mutual friend needed Specsavers. It was dismal — I was newly single, and feeling a bit fragile — but I got over it. That’s another major advantage of being in your forties — cockroach-like resilience, and kickass self-esteem, even when you accidently spend the evening with a twat.

  • DON’T

    ever think of your date’s kids and past partners as “baggage”. They are part of the story of his / her life. Steer well clear of those who don’t have any baggage — it means they have never formed a lasting relationship.

    By our age, this is not a good sign. Beware also the Old Git, so set in his ways he is calcified, and the Dodger — he has “not yet” met the right person because he doesn’t ever want to. (Swipe app culture really, really exacerbates this). Also watch out for Mr Bitter, who loathes his ex and talks about it rather too much, and for the Kidult, the middle-aged guy who rides a skateboard and takes E and forgets to turn up.

  • DO

    let go of your list of musts, shoulds and can’ts. Be open minded and open hearted, and totally honest. If your gut feeling is good, go with it. Love comes unexpectedly. I almost cancelled my last date, because I was too busy, and the date had got my name wrong in a text — he called me Kate.

    Great, I thought. A jaded serial dater seeing so many women he’s mixing up names. Turns out it was far more innocent than that — he was going to a Kate Tempest gig that evening (as was I) — and had Kate on the brain. We had a lot to talk about. We’ve been talking non-stop ever since, and have met each other’s kids. Falling in love in middle age is exactly the same as falling in love as a teenager, but with emotional maturity and a slightly heavier wallet. I highly recommend it.

And yet were I to have ever believed the old guff about dating over forty — or in my case, almost over fifty —I’d be sitting indoors waiting for friends to fix me up at dinner parties. And miss out on all the fun I’ve been having for the past ten years?

Not a chance. Get out there ladies, and grab it by the horns.


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