Some people try online dating because they’re looking for companionship, some for love, and some are tentatively dipping in a toe to see who’s out there. I did it because I wanted to have fun, flirt and meet men outside my social group.
I’m 50 and have been single for two years, since my husband died, and have a daughter of 21 and twin boys of 19. I felt some trepidation about putting myself out there. Shameless self-promotion! Especially for someone who barely has an online presence.
But 15 million people in the UK are registered for online dating and one in five relationships now start online. It’s the third most popular way to meet (after pubs and through friends). And I could always go incognito when I’ve had enough – it’s the internet, after all!
There are an overwhelming 1,400 dating sites, though, so where to start? I decide to try those recommended by friends and that advertise the best success rates: match.com, as it’s the UK’s largest, Guardian Soulmates, because it may have like-minded souls on it, and DatingOver50s because I’m 50.
How it works
It’s simple to set up your profile and upload a photo. I go for the least level of exposure, with a black and white pic of me wearing sunglasses. The site asks questions about my looks, level of education, lifestyle and beliefs, and then the difficult bit: my ideal match.
I say I am looking for a slim, six-foot Caucasian man, easygoing, energetic, enthusiastic, generous, confident and funny. I realise I am describing my husband. Maybe I should be more experimental. I describe myself as slim, blonde, widowed, easygoing and ready for a new relationship (all true) and give myself the name Life Enhancer.
Before you can contact the men they suggest, you must subscribe. It’s £29.99 a month (but there are various subscription options, and it’s cheaper per month if you sign up for longer). Before you email the men, you ‘wink’ at them and they ‘wink’ back (you hope), so you know you’re chatting to a willing contender.
The men I find
First up is Nottinghillbilly, pictured with messy hair, a beard and in a leather jacket. He likes my tagline, Life Enhancer, and asks for photo of me without my sunglasses (he’d been on a date with someone who wore sunglasses in her photo and it turned out she had a glass eye). But he wants me to email him direct, which is not encouraged by the site and makes me suspicious. I don’t contact him again.
I then peruse Oddball, Goopile and Naked Plumber. A guy called Wayne winks, but on his profile I discover he is recovering from having his brain tinkered with on the NHS, and much as he sounds lovely, I need someone straightforward at this stage in my life.
LondonArty looks younger than some so I try him. He responds by asking me to come up and see his Samurai Swords. Er, no thanks. But I agree to meet Unicorn, a 66-year-old retired construction engineer, for a coffee in the West End, where we both work.
Pros There is a lot of choice of men and every day I get winks and emails, which makes me feel popular.
Cons They’re keen to interact but not to meet up. It’s hard to find even a vaguely good-looking one, at least in the age-range I specified.
How it works
Being a Guardian reader, I assume this will be dominated by intelligent, solvent and liberal Guardian readers. I upload the same photo and answer the same questions and details as I did on Match.com. I’m still Life Enhancer but add that I have just finished an MA in English Literature. It is the Guardian after all.
A feature called Your Matches creates a list of compatible, potential dates. It’s more niche than Match.com so there is less traffic which means less potential dates. Subscription, to connect with dates, costs £32 for a month, £64 for three months or £96 for six months.
The men I find
On day one, I get six matches who are all in their fifties, rated an overall 75 per cent match with me. That means we have interests in common and fit into the right age bracket. Only Corona emails, saying he is solvent, a widower, and likes Daft Punk and Bowie. Not bad, I think. But he only wants to chat and I don’t clinch a date.
Ellyleadguitarist sends a good email: “Hey you! Like the sunglasses! In fact, we have completely matching sunglasses so obviously we’ll be married in no time at all. Oh, wait…” Sounds amusing but his photo puts me off. How quickly I’ve got used to making snap judgements!
Pros The site is easy to negotiate and the men are more forthcoming in their descriptions of themselves.
Cons I don’t get many matches so feel a bit disheartened. Even my MA isn’t doing it.
How it works
I face up to my fifties, take the bull by the horns and sign on to DatingOver50s. As suitable traffic has not been forthcoming on the other sites, and now feeling more confident, I upload a different photo, this time wearing a hat. I also change my profile to “I like to banter and flirt and have fun”.
This is obviously the equivalent to saying “I’m available for sex right now” as I receive 83 messages, 140 winks and am 32 people’s favourite. I’m deluged with compliments (I’m “stunning” and a “honey”) and requests for dates. Think I’ll stay on this website forever; my ego is growing exponentially.
Perhaps it’s the age-group, perhaps it’s my new tagline, but these men are more comfortable with the idea of a face-to-face connection than endless digital interactions.
The men I find
I have lots of banter and flirting with men, then a long interaction with Peter from Royston. He implies he has enough money not to work but is bored being single and would like a companion to share his holidays and life with. We have similar taste in music and talk about the joys of travelling around the States. It’s enough for me to agree to a date. King’s Cross champagne bar, here we come..
Pros The men are confident, strike up conversations more quickly, and ask more interesting questions than on the other sites. I feel more comfortable on this website than any of the others.
Cons Everybody is over 50!
How it works
Although the over-50s are fun, I want to see how I fare on a younger site so I download the Tinder app. Photos of men and boys in my area ping on to my screen and I can press a green heart if I fancy him or a red cross if I don’t. This is fun! And completely superficial.
You sign on via Facebook so Tinder receives your public profile, friend list, email address, relationship interest, birthday, status updates and everything else. I find this disconcerting and rather too revealing, but soon get over it. And unless you are matched (i.e. you both fancy each other) guys can’t see your profile.
The men I find
My first message is from someone I recognise and share Facebook friends with. He’s wishing he could fly away to sunshine and golden beaches with me and moves quite quickly on to what oil I’d like for our candlelit bath… No, I’m not ready for this. I prefer Rajiv, who likes my “elegant and sophisticated look” and is looking for stimulating conversation. OK, sure! He works close by and we arrange to meet.
Pros Fast, fun and amusing.
Cons Time wasting and addictive.
PARSHIP and eHarmony offer long and detailed psychometric tests that, boringly, take hours to fill in. Doing Something is a good idea: people say what they’d most like to do on a date, and have lots of fun ideas. But there are too many choices and all in their twenties and thirties.
Niche sites out there include Muddy Matches for rural dating, My Lovely Parent, where the children of single parents in their 50s recommend their parents for dates, and the well-known My Single Friend, where a close friend writes your profile and introduces you to potential dates.
For a laugh I had a look at Toyboy Warehouse. The profiling asks no questions, just your email address and the age-range you’re interested in. Several men are seeking women anywhere between 25 and 79. As its name implies, it’s just about the sex. I’m not ready for this site and probably never will be!