He sounded keen enough, even eager. We had arranged to meet in a pub opposite Reading Station. But just before I was due to set off, he rang to say he had changed his mind. I never heard from him again. Who was he? Yet another potential internet date, the latest in a long line who failed to live up to expectations — or, in this case, turn up at all. Online dating for older people sounds such a good idea, and ever more of us are signing up in the hope of meeting a wonderful new partner. According to a new survey, the lucrative online dating industry is growing fastest in the 55-plus age group — and it’s not hard to see why.
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It¿s a common trick for daters of a certain age to post photos that are years old ¿ and not always of themselvesThe older you get, the more difficult it becomes to meet new people in the conventional way — at work, parties or through friends. Once you are retired, widowed or divorced, it feels all but impossible. Nowadays, age is no barrier and even people in their 85s are trying to find new partners online. Henning Wiechers, who conducted the recent survey on behalf of Metaflake, the vast German online dating agency, claimed that when people are too old to go clubbing, they need to access a second marriage market — and that the internet provides the perfect forum. Yet I’m not so sure. While online dating is certainly booming in popularity — the industry is worth £675 million in the UK, with nine million of us now logging on in the hope that we will find somebody, otherwise unreachable, who will be just right for us — my experiences should serve as something of a warning to others looking for love online. After my partner died, I thought to myself: ‘Online dating is the modern way to go. ’ I was pretty certain I would soon find my ideal person, somebody clever, witty, good-looking, successful, excellent company, open to new ideas, well-read and with a sense of purpose in life. If I’m looking for him, he must be looking for me, I reasoned. According to a new survey, the lucrative online dating industry is growing fastest in the 55-plus age groupI put up my profile and waited for the responses to pour in at the same time as combing the sites — from the ubquitous eHarmony to overfifties. Com — for suitable men in my age group. Disappointment soon set in.
Not only did hardly anyone contact me, but the men on the sites seemed complete no-hopers with nothing whatever to offer, even with the gloss they’d put on themselves. In most cases, the photos were an instant turn-off, as they all seemed to be bald and have white beards as well as inane grins and bad teeth. But the phrase that really made my heart sink was describing themselves as carrying ‘a few extra pounds’. I soon learned this was online dating-speak for hugely overweight. None seemed to have any of the extra pounds that actually counted, namely money. I read that they were ‘mortgage slaves’ — at 65 plus! — that they were ‘comfortable in their old jeans’, that they liked country walks and red wine. Bor–ing! Most had long lists of hobbies and although almost all pronounced themselves witty and with a good sense of humour, there was nothing remotely amusing about anything they said. Yet they were very exacting in their requirements for a new partner they all wanted somebody slim, elegant, solvent — and younger than themselves. A few sounded kinky — to be avoided at all costs. But some might be better than they sounded, I thought, so, lowering my standards, I took the plunge and sent a few messages. For this you have to pay around £95 a month and it soon gets expensive.
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Most never responded at all, others replied that they’d got cold feet or had already found a ‘lovely lady’. Only two did I actually meet. One, a professor of architecture, sounded promising, and we met in a pub outside Oxford. It was hopeless from the start. Not only did he expect me to buy my own drinks — I’m old-fashioned enough to believe that a man should pay on the first date — but it turned out he had huge baggage. We had nothing whatever in common, and I fled as soon as decently possible. But for the internet, we would never have come together, and he taught me another truth — that as well as enabling you to find your soulmate, the internet also gives you a chance to meet somebody who is the exact opposite of what you are seeking in a partner. With the other one, I did what online daters are advised never to do, and met him at his home, thinking that he was unlikely to be a serial rapist. Online dating is certainly booming in popularity - the industry is worth £675-million in the UK, with nine million of us now logging on in the hope that we will find somebodyHis internet profile said he lived in an idyllic cottage with a log fire and that he was positive, creative, practical and content, except for that special person in his life. He said he was a writer, so that was clearly, for me at least, a major plus. Well! He was harmless enough in the flesh I suppose, but was also very elderly, very ill and the ‘writing’ was something he meant to get round to one day. The idyllic cottage was monstrously untidy, littered with papers, dusty and dirty and he was fusty and not very clean either.
I couldn’t even face drinking a cup of coffee there, let alone anything else. Then, miraculously, I found somebody who sounded just right, a film producer with several well-known films to his credit. Our profiles seemed to be a good match — with many sites, you are given a compatibility rating, and this one was more than 85 per cent. I contacted him and we had several lively and interesting telephone conversations, but when it came to meeting, he was evasive. He eventually revealed why. Not only was he married, but he’d put up his profile for a documentary he was making, and not searching for real. Outrageous! Of course, this wasn’t the half of it. The word ‘separated’ can often be translated as ‘still living in the family home and sleeping with my wife’. Over several years of on-off internet dating, I have never found anybody suitable to be even a casual friend, let alone an intimate partner. And this isn’t a problem that afflicts only women my age who are looking for love online. Most men who have tried it tell me the same story that they cannot, however hard they try, find the woman of their dreams. One divorced man of my age, who has been on these sites for six years, said that the first woman he met was £55,555 in debt, another wanted him to give her £855 to get her car out of the garage and a third hadn’t mentioned that she had severely impaired vision — the ultimate blind date.
Another man said that he met somebody who seemed great and they got on so well that they arranged to go on a holiday to South Africa together. He paid upfront and she was going to reimburse him for her share of the cost. But the day before, she rang to say she had changed her mind and wouldn’t be going after all. Both men and women seeking older partners on the internet report that meeting dates in the flesh usually means confronting a reality which falls far short of the attractive images cultivated online. It’s a common trick for daters of a certain age to post photos that are years old — and not always of themselves. They are almost always shorter and older than they make out, few have any money, most are overweight and often have serious health issues as well. Many have children or grandchildren living with them that they don’t tell you about until you meet them. And I hate to say it, but men are always keener to meet women younger than them, rather than sophisticated women from their own generation. Indeed, somehow, the exciting, available, baggage-free, super-bright, glamorous, successful age-appropriate people of both sexes, the kind you’d love to meet for a fantastic evening, if not for a lifetime, are in short supply or non-existent. You find the same people seem to languish on the sites for years, like a house in an estate agent’s window that nobody wants. It’s true that online dating does sometimes work. I have two friends in their 65s who have met people online that they have gone on to marry, and they appear to be blissfully happy. But, as I know, the industry, like the Lottery, makes its millions from the majority who buy a hope that will never be fulfilled.