Authors: Monica Porter
Now that's all well and good. But obviously, being equal doesn't mean you are the same. And while you needn't be the same in all respects â how monotonous that would be! â it helps if you are in accord in the more crucial matters. For example, in your general outlook on the world, that all-important
which enables you truly to understand each other and connect. In this respect we were opposites. And while opposites can attract, they can just as easily repel. If your take on life, your core philosophy, constantly chafes against theirs, ultimately you are going to wear away those positive elements which attracted you to each other in the first place.
I remained committed to the relationship even as, with the passing years, it slid slowly down the pan. Because what was the alternative to keeping it together as a couple? Joining the brigade of lovelorn, single, middle-aged women who dine out and holiday together, who put a brave face on it while desperately hoping for that white knight to come galloping along at the eleventh hour? The prospect made me cringe. I found myself in the peculiar position of dreading the inevitable dissolution of this partnership, yet at the same time the thought of it lasting forever made my heart sink. In the end the decision was taken out of my hands. He simply left, it was over, and once again I was stunned by how distressing the death of even a doomed relationship can be.
By now I had begun to feel that you really could read men like a book: generally some combination of Alice in Wonderland and Dracula.
It seems that roughly every decade and a half I reinvent myself. And thus to my incarnation, at sixty, as a signed-up member of the internet dating scene, with the difference that by this stage of my life I was too battle-scarred, too cynical to believe in knights on white chargers, those mythical bearers of true love.
No, I would not be setting myself up for major disappointment. But fun and games? Uncomplicated enjoyment? Sex in the city of London? Bring it on. I would pack in as much of it as I could, while I still had the face for it, the body for it and the desire for it. After that first taste of honey, with my 26-year-old classic-film buff, I could hardly wait to see who would emerge from the ether.
They say that time spent in research is never wasted, but, eager to get going, I spent scant time researching the relative merits of the thousands of dating sites now proliferating on the web. After a cursory search, I alighted on one which seemed straightforward, nothing specialist (e.g. sites for chess-playing vegetarians or left-handed wine connoisseurs) and not one for âmature' or âsenior' daters. A three-month subscription was inexpensive, and this seemed a reasonable consideration in making my choice. It wasn't one of the major, well-known sites.
I put up my profile. Everyone was anonymous, of course, going by a user-name. My user-name was Monica followed by a single-digit number chosen by the site (I wasn't its first Monica, clearly). I uploaded a modest, smiling head-and-shoulders shot. In describing myself I was honest and to the point. I said I was looking for âsome easy-going fun with the right guy'. And I gave my accurate age. Then I sat back to wait for the messages and âwinks' (the standard signal from a member who has spotted you and wants to register an interest) to ping onto my laptop.
But the responses were slow in pinging. Over the following weeks I received a trickle of interest from men in their late fifties and sixties, divorcees plus a few widowers. But their photos were unappealing and the self-describing narratives on their profiles were either dull or cheesy or just left me cold. My own searches through the database threw up similarly uninspiring cases.
Then I noticed one contender who seemed more promising. Joe49 was no youngster, his profile stated that he was 63. But he had a pleasant, intelligent-looking face, a nice head of hair (always a winner) and â a real bonus â his occupation was given as writer/journalist, same as me. He lived on the southern fringe of London, while I lived in a northern suburb, but that shouldn't pose a problem. I sent him a wink, and when after a couple of days that elicited no response, I messaged him: âHi there Joe. At the risk of being a bit forward, do you fancy a drink sometime? We're both journos, at the very least we can gripe about the state of the newspaper industry!'
But to my disappointment he never replied. How rude, I thought. After all, I'd only suggested a drink. I didn't say I wanted to move in and have his grandchildren. I pondered this and decided that he must have balked at my age. His profile stated that he was looking for a woman aged between 45 and 58. I wasn't too far out. But maybe he quietly preferred someone at the younger end of the scale. Nothing surprising about that.
Then I contacted another man who caught my eye, DaveTH3. He was 60, quite attractive, a company director. Not wanting to sound in any way suggestive, I simply wrote: âHello, I like your profile. Would you care to get together sometime for a chat over a glass of wine?' What could be more innocent? But he never sent so much as a âno thanks'.
Meanwhile I began to receive messages from ProntoXS, 64, working in âfinancial services' in Essex. Not one to hang about, from the off he announced that he would like to buy me dinner. A discerning man, clearly! But his oily-looking hair, smarmy grin and spivvy outfit gave me the creeps, so at first I ignored him. I felt a bit bad about it. Was I being unkind? He was probably a decent enough bloke. At last I sent him a polite âthank you but I think not'. I regretted it, though, as it only encouraged him to up his game with more emphatic messages (âTry me! I'm a lot of laughs!') which was when I resorted to the ultimate sanction and blocked him from making further contact.
This was not going well.
In common with other dating sites, mine organised regular events â generally a party in some trendy bar, or a speed dating evening â at which its members could get together in the âreal world'. They could actually see and speak to each other, maybe shake hands, like people did in the old days. An appealing thought after my frustrations online. So I decided to book a place at one of their forthcoming events.
But I soon discovered that I was completely disenfranchised from them, despite being a member. They were organised along age-group lines, but the older groups into which I would naturally fit had an upper age limit for women of about 55 or 57, while men in their sixties were eligible to attend. So I was barred from making a booking. Never mind that I'm a fun gal to have around, might well have been the life and soul of the party and am reliably informed that I could pass for a much younger woman. Not one of their events was open to a woman of my age, despite the fact that my subscription fee cost just as much as that of my juniors. When I emailed the site administrators to complain, I didn't even get a reply.
I had been on the site for three weeks, hadn't been on a single date, hadn't even cyber-met anyone remotely promising and was barred from their âfabulous' events. At this rate I was going nowhere.
It seemed to me that it was fine to be a woman in her fifties but that the dreaded number sixty put you beyond the pale. Sixty and above? Game over, lady! It was so unfair. I knew I was no different to the person I had been in my fifties. In fact I was in better shape now than earlier, whilst living with my partner, as I was consuming less and exercising more. And â despite my dislike of clothes shopping â I had invested in a fetching new wardrobe. As a journalist I was used to taking on projects, but in my new incarnation as a born-again single woman of mature years,
became my most important project. I would make myself as desirable as possible. I had a few good years left in me and this was my last throw of the dice in the high-stakes game of love and lust. I had forged a new âimproved formula' version of me and would not yet be put out to grass.
So I thought, right, I've had enough of this. I'll just shave a few years off my age. Big deal. Women
d'un certain Ã¢ge
do that all the time. But when I tried to edit my profile details, I found I could change everything except my date of birth. I had crossed the Rubicon and there was no going back. At that point I dumped the site altogether and signed up on another.
This second site was much bigger and better known. I wrote a similar profile narrative but added the line: âAfter a lot of disappointments in love, I now realise that all men are rascals [a challenging statement, if ever there was one] so I'm just looking to have a nice time with people I like' and made myself five years younger. As for my user-name, each one I came up with was already taken by someone. In the end, having grown up in New York, I called myself New Yorker (followed by the customary string of letters).
The winks were not long in arriving. The first was from a 46-year-old man who described himself as a âcheerful cockney guy', then explained that he was born and bred in north London. I messaged him, thanking him for the wink, and joked that he couldn't be a real Cockney as he wasn't âborn within the sound of Bow bells'. At that he gruffly suggested I didn't know what I was talking about and should âstick to New York'. So, neither Cockney nor cheerful, then. I tried replying to the touchy fellow but as he had already blacklisted me, my message didn't get through.
After this I got a lot of attention from NorseMan, a 40-year-old Norwegian whose profile pictures showed a brawny, shaven-headed giant worthy of his pillaging ancestors. His messages to me were suggestive but just short of lewd and I was intrigued by the prospect of meeting someone so outside my normal social experience, never mind my amorous exploits. We arranged to meet for an after-work drink a few days later at a bustling bar near Oxford Circus.
I wondered what to wear and decided I needed a new summer dress, something elegant and feminine and becoming. I found just the thing at John Lewis, and to go with it I bought a pair of wedge sandals which made me two inches taller, rather a necessity when dating a Viking.
As our assignation approached I messaged him to confirm but didn't get a reply. We hadn't exchanged mobile numbers so my only means of contacting him was through the dating site. I had misgivings, but â what did I know of Norse dating protocol? â I got ready nevertheless and took the tube into town.
I arrived at the noisy bar, on the dot, in my new outfit, perfumed and freshly coiffed. I looked around for a looming bald presence. But the Norwegian wasn't there and he didn't show up, as in my heart of hearts I had known he wouldn't.
Stood up on my very first internet date. Surely this was âvirtual' dating in its most elemental form.
I hung about for a while near the doorway, like the wallflower at the dance. Then I recalled my adolescence in suburban New York and a date I had arranged, aged 16, with a boy from another town. I had a big crush on him. He was good-looking and rich and went to a posh private school along the Hudson. A different world to mine. We were going to meet at a particular street corner where he would pick me up in his car. He didn't turn up. I was gutted and never saw him again.
But I wasn't gutted this time. From the pavement outside the bar I called a close friend who lived a few minutes' walk away, in Soho. Happily he was free that evening and we went out for a pizza, joking about the âScandinavian slaphead' as we got stuck into a bottle of red.
In some ways being sixty is so much better than being 16.
So far this digital dating business was a disaster. But that was to change in the blink of an eyeâ¦or more precisely, a splash in a pool.
I go to aqua-aerobics classes at my local health club several times a week. I hate using a gym but love swimming and simply being in the water, and it's a surprisingly good workout if you put some wellie in it and don't just ponce about like some of the more limp-wristed ladies in the class. If I still have a youthful figure, with flat stomach and toned limbs and sans unsightly love handles, it's largely thanks to my assiduous aqua regime. Add to that a great hairdresser and hey presto, you're away.
I had been attending the classes for a good year or so before getting cautiously friendly with some of the other women (there is a small sprinkling of men, but aqua-aerobics is primarily a female endeavour). There was one woman in particular it was impossible to miss, who stood out in every way and appeared to be on close terms with everyone. Abundantly full-bodied, with a mass of white-blonde hair and impressively sumptuous breasts, the only one to wear lipstick for aqua, Vanessa would jump gleefully into the water with an almighty splash at the start of class and her throaty laughter could be heard right across the pool. I guessed she was in her mid-fifties.
I would catch snippets of her conversations with her pals as we all leapt and lunged and twisted and twirled in the water, and they often revolved around her doings with the opposite sex. Great bosoms bouncing, her long hair in a careless wet tangle, Vanessa was full of racy tales. The epitome of the fun-loving, single older woman gallivanting about town and firing on all cylinders.
One morning after class I joined her as she relaxed in the jacuzzi and told her about my dating disappointments. âYou're just on the wrong site, darling,' she said. (Vanessa called everyone darling.) She advised me to join the one that she had been using, on and off, for the past two years. It was more sophisticated, more London-based, and had men of a higher calibre. âThat is the place for you,' she said as she lay back smiling, blanketed in bubbles.
That afternoon I signed up on Vanessa's site for an initial three months. For good measure I took a further year off my age, making me 54. For my main profile photo I chose a black-and-white one which showed my eyes at their dark smouldering best and in which I wore an enigmatic smile. I thought carefully about my choice of user-name. What's in a name? A lot. It not only had to be to catchy, but somehow complement both the photos and the story in my narrative. I mused on this for some time before I hit on it.
The previous week I had written an article about my favourite poet, Edgar Allan Poe, for a literary magazine. Much of the piece had centred on his most famous poem, The Raven. It had meant a great deal to me in my youth, when, as a member of my high school drama group, I memorised the whole of that long, mystical and melodic poem and performed it at our end-of-year stage production. It won me the school's annual drama award. In a way, perhaps, it defined me. And so it was that I adopted the user-name Raven (which you must admit is rather sexy), explaining in my narrative its personally significant literary connotation.
Some people compose heartfelt, needy narratives on their profiles, explaining that they yearn to find their soul-mate, their âtrue one', the person with whom they can share the rest of their lives, spending those special moments together curled up in front of the hearth with their cups of cocoa, chuckling at their favourite seventies sitcoms on the telly.
But that âperfect harmony' stuff is strictly for cheesy Coca-Cola commercials. Not for me this fantasy of happy-ever-after. I reused most of New Yorker's short, snappy narrative. Nothing soppy, nothing heavy. I added the tantalising line: âI used to be a biker chick' and uploaded a couple of supplementary photos showing me in my biking leathers. (Hey, I'm not stupid.)
Then I sat back to see how Raven got on.