“You must be Mandy,” he said, flashing a row of pristine dentures. “I’m Antonio.”
Antonio, it turned out, was from a local hick town, not Naples, as he had said in his internet profile. And when he had told me he drove a Ferrari, what he meant was that he once drove one for two hours, when a friend bought him a Red Letter Day for his 60th birthday.
“But you said you were 50 in your profile,” I ventured. Antonio’s maths was obviously as bad as his hold on the truth.
Dating as a social diversion
Needless to say our date was dreadful, but the sad thing is that I hadn’t expected it not to be. That’s the problem with dating: the longer you do it, the stronger your desire to meet The One but the lower your expectations that you’ll meet anyone you don’t want to kill before the end of the first date.
It’s what my friends and I call the Dating Law of Diminishing Returns. At its saddest, it signifies that all hope is dead; that we date with no expectations of meeting a man with whom we want to spend an hour, let alone the rest of our lives.
My friends, like me, are in their fifties now, and see dating largely as a social diversion rather than a serious romantic endeavour.
As my friend Louise, 51, puts it: “Dating is a chance to get dressed up and spend Saturday evening with a member of the opposite sex instead of watching Casualty at home alone. But I’ve been on enough dates over the past 30 years to know that the chances of happy-ever-after are virtually nil.”
Good dates I have known
I have probably been on more than 100 dates in my lifetime, some naturally-occurring, some set up through friends, more recent ones procured through online dating websites. And I have to agree with Louise.
But it wasn’t always that way. When my first big relationship ended at 27, I spent six years dating and many of those moments were magical: Vernon took me sailing through Australia’s Whitsunday Islands in a small sailboat, Mike made a roast lamb Sunday lunch, and Doug took me and his two Labradors walking in the hills.
When Doug and I broke up (he’d met someone else) I was 33, at which point I went into a tailspin about my biological clock and started dating like a dervish. Dating was a means to an end then, the end being a life partner then children.
At 38 I threw in my lot with a man I’d met many years earlier, agreeing to marry him then enduring two unexplained miscarriages before he and I agreed to part company when I was 41.
No hope of lasting romance
Feeling increasingly pessimistic about finding lasting love, I then spent several years single. I said a quiet goodbye to my hopes of becoming a mother, and to meeting a man with whom I wanted to share my life.
I started dating again when I was 45, but by then it was more of a recreational activity. I was working from home as a freelance writer, so dating offered a social outlet. Less hung up on the outcome, I enjoyed it enormously.
I accepted dates with the young plantsman at the garden centre, who asked me out as he was lifting a bag of compost to my car, the trainer at the gym, a friend of a friend and a pal’s brother. Occasionally I really liked someone, or they liked me, but never at the same time.
That’s why my friend Rosa, 53, decided last year that her dating days were over. “I just found the rejection so hard,” she says.
The past 12 months have been more contented for Rosa, who says she is happy to be on her own and at peace with that prospect. As she puts it: “I travel in hope and if I meet someone along the way, that will be great. If I don’t, I won’t feel sad about that.
“I like my life and I have great friends and family. A man would be a bonus, but he’s not the be-all and end-all.”
Finding unexpected love in my fifties
I felt much the same way as Rosa when, last year, everything suddenly changed for me. Quite unexpectedly, I started seeing Jon, someone I had known as a friend for more than 30 years.
We never had a ‘date’ as such. Jon had been suddenly widowed and we spent time together as friends, in the wake of his wife’s sudden death. He was grief-stricken and I wanted to help him through his misery.
As the months passed, and to our mutual surprise, a different relationship took shape between us. I put my cards on the table one day and told Jon, with terrible trepidation, that I had strong feelings for him.
Instead of recoiling in horror, he said he had the same feelings for me and so, slowly, tentatively, we went from friends to lovers.
He is the loveliest man I have ever known, and I have never been happier in a relationship. Who would have thought it?
I suppose, then, that my dating days are over. I’m happy if they are. I wouldn’t have missed them for the world and they were certainly entertaining, but I’m ready for a committed relationship now. Wish me luck.