From looking for casual nights out in your twenties to trying to find long-term love in your sixties — online daters confess
‘I was a kid loose in the sweetshop of romance’Cosmo Landesman, 62
Three years ago, when I first discovered internet dating, I was like a kid let loose in the sweetshop of romance. Thanks to a whole range of dating apps I could pick’n’mix from an infinite range of dating delights: Bubbly Blondes, Free Spirits, Lovers of Art; women looking for adventure, true love or just a nice man who could make them laugh.
And what was I looking for? Not much. Just the impossible girl of my dreams; she with the looks of Ava Gardner, the wit of Dorothy Parker and the mind of Simone de Beauvoir. Preferably very rich and sex-mad too. Was that too much to ask?
Of course it was. But then internet dating is based on the premise — or should that be the fantasy — that anyone can find that special someone. In others words: seek and ye shall find.
Cosmo Landesman: “What was I looking for? Not much. Just the impossible girl of my dreams”
Armed with a series of dating apps, I went on a dating binge of three or four dates a week. Within six months I was suffering from a bad case of date fatigue.
There are two highlights in every man’s sexual history: losing his virginity and finding his first dating app. Mine was Tinder. Back then, Tinder was the most talked about dating app on the planet. You might not have found true love on Tinder, but everyone was finding sex. Everyone, it turned out, but me.
I found photos of exotic-looking beauties whose brief descriptions of themselves suggested that here was a sophisticated woman of mystery. So I would arrange a preliminary phone call. But for some reason I always seemed to wind up talking to a woman called Maureen, who worked in corporate entertainment, lived somewhere like Milton Keynes and talked about her kids, her dog and her horrible ex-husband for hours on end.
I then tried other apps that were much more geared to finding a serious relationship than a one-night stand. At first it was fun filling out long questionnaires about myself, but after a while it’s worse than filing out your tax forms. You think you’re an original person — fill out a few dating profiles and you soon discover what a cliché you really are. Did I really write that “I’m a fun-loving, nice man who likes laughter, travel, children and longs for true love”?
Every veteran of the internet dating scene has their favourite tales of disaster and I have mine. There was the woman who turned up an hour late for our date and said she could only stay for one quick drink as she wanted to get back home to watch House of Cards.
I dated a much younger woman who kept talking on her phone to her dad during our date. “You remind me of him,” she said. “He’s 86. You two would really get along.”
“Great,” I said. “Maybe I can date your dad.”
I had some great dates too. What I loved was the element of surprise. There was X, a sweet suburban mum who was into S&M and invited me back to see her sex dungeon in Surrey. Another memorable date was spent on a warm spring evening walking across Waterloo Bridge and kissing all the way.
I’ve dated lost women, lonely women and lovely women — and I’m glad I have. But somehow I never found The One, my impossible dream girl.
Eventually, I went on one too many dates. I remember I was telling a woman my same set of funny anecdotes I had told the previous six dates — and I was boring myself silly. So I’ve decided that the best way to find love is to stop looking for it.
‘He spent most of the date talking about his ex at great length’ Lucy Cavendish, 50
About six years ago I found myself as a single woman going on online dating apps. I had been with my husband for more than a decade and we had two children together. But suddenly — and rather unexpectedly — I found that I was alone. After a period of time I signed up to many dating apps – Plenty of Fish, Guardian Soulmates, match.com and Tinder etc.
Over the next two years I went on about 50 dates and this is what I found out: most men (the charming ones who could actually get me to the state where I might take my clothes off) were usually married or otherwise committed and just out for a bit of “how’s yer father”, but masquerading as wanting a relationship.
I know this because I rumbled one once with the help of a friend. I’d met “Joe” for a couple of dates and he seemed really lovely. He was sexy and funny and attentive. After the second date, we communicated almost every day. Apart from weekends. I didn’t notice this at first, but when I mentioned this to my male friend, he said, “He’s obviously married.” It had never occurred to me, but it did explain his inability to make dates on weekends.
The next time I saw him we did lots of kissing and hand-holding and I suggested we have a weekend away. As I went on and on about how lovely it would be, he looked increasingly panicked. Eventually he said, “That won’t be possible,” and fled the restaurant. It was the last I heard from him.
The other type of man I met was the one who really just wanted to sound off about himself — interested only in a free bit of therapy. “Tim” was handsome, well-off, clever and well-read. But he spent most of the time talking about his ex at great length; he hated her (he loved her), she was taking him to the cleaners, he couldn’t get her out of his head . . . on and on he went and I just sat there and listened . . . He didn’t actually ask me a single thing about myself.
When he texted me asking asked me out for a sixth date, I told him I was busy. He replied that he had “deep feelings” for me. I nearly dropped my phone in surprise.
So I decided to call him. I said we were going to play a game in which I’d tell him five things I knew about him (how much the divorce settlement was, his ex-partner’s middle name etc, etc) and then he’d tell me five things about me.
I reeled off my facts and then, when the conversation turned to him . . . silence. I told him that he had to accept he knew very little about me because he had shown absolutely no interest in me at all. Then I put the phone down. It was the last I heard from him.
I met my husband a year later via Facebook. I always wonder if that counts as online dating, but we had mutual friends and checked each other out.
I don’t think I’d go back to a dating app after that — and hopefully I won’t need to.
‘I’d been single for ages. It was time for fun’
Emily Saunders, 43
I got into Tinder a couple of years ago after a friend regaled me with tales of the men she was hooking up with. Finally, after years of boring sex with her ex, she was living. I am single, and I decided it was time to have some fun too.
At first, linking up with men who I liked the look of was not as easy as my friend seemed to find it. Then I realised that I had put my radius at 130km.
So I reset my radius to 3km and it worked a treat. I immediately started to get some likes. It took me a while to work out that one had to filter the good ones from the dross. I went on a date with Paul, who came out with a poor joke or two, then made an excuse to leave. Then I was matched with Saul from Surrey. After the initial “Hi, you look nice” lines, he asked: “Have dinner with me tomorrow night?” I felt unexpectedly thrilled. I got to the restaurant half an hour late and at first I was unable to recognise him. I was nervous, but as soon as he handed me a mojito we were off. There was a spark, I was excited. The only problem was that I had to get the last train home. We had a snog at the table and he was getting very hot under the collar.
“Come back to my hotel with me,” he whispered urgently. “I’ve only got two hours until the last train,” I said sadly. Minutes later we were in a black cab and racing to the hotel. The passion was red hot. I’m not sure why; perhaps because I was living out a fantasy. Or maybe — just maybe — we knew we only had an hour. I had no problem leaving Saul, and was happy never to see him again.
The longer I have used Tinder, the more I have got to see the patterns. A lot of men want to spend the minimum money for the maximum action in return. A coffee followed by a quick cab back to their house is a preference. It also seems that a lot of men on Tinder are married or in relationships and what they are after is sexual gratification via some sort of “free sex chat”. Because of this I have never felt bad about cutting men off.
My last encounter was with Mark, a dentist from my part of town. When we met for a drink it turned out that he knew a lot of people I knew. That made me feel instantly safe enough to say yes when he suggested that we go for a drive. It was a late summer evening, we found a lane near his house, stopped and had passionate, straight to the point sex. He then dropped me home.
These days my Tinder dates are rather on the wane. Every now and then I “check in”, but I’m not giving it enough time to bear fruit. Much like a neglected houseplant, Tinder will just die on you. Already I feel as if I have better things to do.
Hannah Rogers: “The next fling is only a swipe away”
‘My generation appreciates the Queen’s English on dating apps’
Hannah Rogers, 23
The way to a twentysomething’s heart? Good grammar. You might think that all of the texting, Whats-Apping, Tindering and tweeting our generation has grown up with would have beaten out any appreciation of the Queen’s English. Actually, it’s more important than ever, with spelling and the correct use of an apostrophe as high on the list of qualities we look for as height and hair colour.
This is because we have reached peak-tech, even in our love lives. When you spend the majority of your time communicating online, how eloquently you communicate is extremely important. I can’t tell you the number of times I have terminated a conversation after the incorrect use of your/you’re. While our parents and older siblings still use circa 2001 long-established abbreviations in texts — or on Tinder, God forbid — the norm for most millennials is to type as we would speak. We take as much care with our cyber chat-up lines as we would a piece of prose.
Grammar is the easy part, though — how fluently do you speak emoji? Nearly every one has a second, less civilised translation. Aubergines, peaches, mouths with tongues . . . to name but a few. It’s impressive how creative some boys can get with them before sending an inevitable — and always ignored, I’ll point out — request to “send pics”. Remember though, that quality over quantity is key with emoji use. Someone who throws one into every text is someone who doesn’t know how to use their words. Someone who never uses them at all is likely to take themselves too seriously.
We even have our own set of language for dumping someone. “Ghosting” is the method of choice for indicating to someone that an affair is over. It involves completely ignoring them across text and social media, sometimes deleting them altogether. I will put my hands up and say I’ve been guilty of this, out of boredom with someone and once or twice when a boy wouldn’t take my polite decline to another date for an answer. “Breadcrumbing” is another popular behaviour, whereby you keep someone hanging by a thread of occasional texts or likes on Instagram. A friend of mine has been subjecting a boy to this for months, “just for the occasional bit of attention,” before ignoring him again for being “too needy”. “Haunting” is the latest bizarre dating craze, where an ex suddenly starts re-following you on social media. Cruel? Yes, but tech gives us the predisposition to behave badly with no consequence.
The millennial dater is also a multi-tasker. It’s likely they are on more than one dating app — Tinder and Bumble are the most popular with my friends — and will be talking to more than one person at once. After talking on an app, it is usual to exchange numbers and for the chat to move to WhatsApp to set up a date. No one wants Tinder notifications popping up in a meeting.
Actually getting that date can be tricky, though. Being so used to speaking online means that IRL (in real life) dating can be anxiety-inducing. Many daters will cancel on the day, stop speaking to their date before the fact or even not show up at all. Last week, one of my friends got stood up three times in a row, which is, while entirely unacceptable, again of no consequence behind the veil of dating apps. He wasn’t deterred, though. A thick skin is par for the course for millennials looking for love; and, really, despite the guise, that is what we are looking for. Thankfully, the next fling is only a swipe away.
‘I’ve lost my hair — so I got the feeling everyone was swiping left’
Jamie Wilde, 39
I work in internet marketing and although it works for clothes and holidays, which are two of my areas, I had my doubts about relationships. People just find it so hard to be themselves or to have realistic expectations of others on social media.
Before I began I’d heard so many horror stories. First, that once you get to my age (I am 39) women (and men) online are always a minimum of ten years older or ten stone heavier than their photos suggest. Either that, or you are flirting with an identity stolen by a scammer. While you’ve been bonding over a mutual love of Orange is the New Black, they’ve emptied your bank account.
I decided to play it straight. I didn’t lie about my age, my weight or how much Proust I have actually read. My message was: “This guy does exactly what he says on the tin.” It didn’t work.
I felt out of place on Tinder. I felt so old. It seemed to be for impatient fly-by-night types who treat potential lovers as if they’re shopping for new socks. I’ve lost my hair, so I got the feeling everyone in my town was swiping left.
I didn’t give up. I eventually met someone on a website which seemed more “me”. I messaged this girl I liked the look of and was delighted when she responded. We had a bit of a discussion about Brexit (unlike me, she was for Remain) and I felt that if any two people can navigate that issue without falling out we could probably manage a date.
We have now been together six months and I am very happy. There are a lot of genuine people out there. I think you have to stick to your guns and be genuine and patient. I think middle-aged men, particularly, believe that internet dating will be faster, sexier and more amazing, but, really, relationships are relationships, however you meet each other. They take emotional intelligence, commitment and patience, and no algorithm is going to change that.