My friends are a supportive lot, never more so than when relationships come to an end. But I did notice a recurring theme in their brand of comfort.
“How awful. Have a hug,” is the general response, followed by the eager words: “So you’ll be internet dating again soon?” And after that would come a lot of cackling.
“We can’t help it,” one admitted. “It was no fun at all when you had an ongoing relationship. We like the stories of your terrible dates so much better.”
It’s true. Forget those demented TV ads for dating sites, where toothy zealots espouse the buzz of it all. Anyone who has tried it knows it can be a unique form of un-fun. You start with a shiny optimism which you later recall with hollow mirth, as you become hardened to the God-awful chore of yet another “date” of jaw-dropping hideousness, later to provide grist to the entertainment mill for convulsed friends.
“Can’t you meet anyone In Real Life?” some query, in mid-guffaw. But how? Chance encounters with witty hunks are movie-only occurrences.
In olden days we all used to meet partners through work but if you work from home the opportunities for striking up amusing banter are reduced.
Here’s the formula: select some improbably flattering photographs of yourself, compose an over-bright bio and post it on your site of choice (generally I go for Guardian Soulmates). The high barf-value of the word soulmate is outweighed by the persuasive fact that, in general, people on there can read (by no means a given on dating sites).
The downside is that Guardian people can be a tad… earnest. Viz the approach from one potential suitor who messaged me: “I am passionate about Egyptian architecture. I am passionate about indigenous peoples. I am passionate about justice for children in care.”
Aside from what a stonking evening of fun that promised, I was strongly tempted to reply: “I am opposed to justice for children in care.”
Other bizarre approaches came along in no time. I fondly recall the one who was newly arrived in Britain, and spoke little English (“I am mostly improvings my dwelling unit”) but was unusually keen to marry soon.
There was another who had narrowed down his specified age preference to “between 18 and 80”. And the guy who expressed a preference for “women in sensible shoes”. Where I come from, women in sensible shoes aren’t all that interested in men generally.
And the man who wooed me with a description of his full-time caring duties for his elderly mother, adding “I go out occasionally for mid-price dining”. What a tempter.
Or the approach from the man whose chosen username was Travis Bickle, the Robert De Niro character in Taxi Driver. He believed the name would appeal to movie buffs “because it says misunderstood anti-hero”. To me it says psychopath assassin who fixates on 12-year-old prostitutes, but I’m picky like that.
Eventually, however, I reached the bridgehead of exchanging emails, and even agreeing to meet someone.
What this actually constitutes most often is a laugh-free hour or so of Making Conversation. That, or listening to the man deliver a 60-minute speech about – ooh, can you guess? Yes. Him.
I have lost count of the ‘dates’ where the man has asked no questions at all, certainly none about the person sitting opposite.
My first date was with a guy who had fantastically clammy palms, and whose hands shook so much that it was a miracle his sweat-coated fingers could get any purchase on his glass. The next was with a chap who talked at length about his bitter relationship with his ex-wife, at greater length about his depressed son, and yet further about his own membership of the masons.
“They’re a really great bunch,” he enthused, adding: “Absolutely anyone can join.”
No doubt I should have nodded in smiling admiration. Instead I pointed out that, even if I wanted to – which I don’t – I couldn’t join. He looked blank, and prattled some more about the masons’ terrifically modern outlook.
Later he emailed suggesting another fabulous encounter. Unfortunately I had an appointment in a pit of tarantulas on the evening he suggested, so I was forced to decline.
Soon after that came the internet dating cliché – the guy who described himself as 48, 5ft 10in and divorced, and turned out to be none of the above.
Point by point, then… Marital status: he was newly separated, but “didn’t see the difference”.
The height: a girlfriend of mine describes 5ft 10in as “the lying height – no man is actually 5ft 10in”. In any case, I’m 5ft 7in. If they claim 5ft 10in, I wear flat shoes for the date, yet am accustomed to finding myself at best still eye-to-eye. In this instance, I was definitely peering down as I queried his age (according to LinkedIn, he must have gone to university at age nine).
“I didn’t expect an investigative journalist,” he huffed, and stomped off.
Eventually in the desert of dross, some dates were actually OK. After three dates one guy accepted an invitation to dinner at mine, then five minutes after arrival said: “I can’t do this. I’m leaving.” And he did.
Hung up on his ex, it turned out. My friends refer to him as Usain Bolt, thanks to his speed out of the door.
Another guy seemed really quite humanoid, and after several dates we spent an agreeable afternoon in the time-honoured manner. He emailed afterwards to say he couldn’t see me again because “you don’t listen to Radio 3”.
No one dumps anyone because they don’t listen to Radio 3, for God’s sake. Obviously I’m either hideous naked or rubbish at sex.
So it was all his fault that, in the gloomy belief that I must accept all date invitations, I met the worst of all: squat, coated in sweat, with no discernible neck, and two warts in perfect profile on the end of his nose. He shrieked loudly with laughter at his own jokes. That made one of us.
Unable to endure the statutory hour of Making Conversation, I set a new record by leaving after 22 minutes, so desperate to get away that I couldn’t even make up a transparent excuse.
“I’m terribly sorry,” I said to his warts, “but I’m leaving.”
After a lot of false starts, I met the person mentioned at the start of this article, and had a good year with him. Six months down the line, my workplace is yielding as few new romantic prospects as always. The internet dating nettle must be grasped once more.
You’ll understand that I can contain my excitement quite easily. But my friends? They can hardly wait.