“No one wears their kinks on their sleeve, so you don’t see them when you’re meeting people in a bar,” says Sam, 53. “But you quickly find out what they are with internet dating, because you get the information.” He met his present partner online a couple of years ago.
I know several couples in solid relationships who met on the internet, who a short while previously had been on their own and looking for love. I know others who dip in and out, just having fun as and when they want. And people increasingly use the internet as a tool to set up new links when they’re going abroad or moving to a new area.
You can, after all, get anything online: a friend of mine bagged a nice bloke with a manor house in Sussex. A doctor pal, busy in his career and leaving love too late, clicked online with a high-achieving woman and merged their empires of power to live in one house and rent out the other, and are now at the centre of an elite social network. Others have grown-up kids and keep their own places, but have found a companion to enjoy time with.
One of the nicest things is that you can choose people who your friends might not have thought were your cup of tea
Some just play the field. Simon, 49, says: “My first internet date was with a French woman who was here on business. She wanted to shag an Englishman before she went home. And she found me. I had no time to prepare but within three hours of meeting, we were in the sack!”
There is nothing mysterious or special about online dating. The reason it has taken off is because of the opportunities it opens up.
“It’s just like any other dating: online simply gives you the chance to meet loads more people,” says Steve, 54. “But rule number one is to lose any idea that they’re desperate if they’re on there. Once you’ve made contact, you’re on your own and you can blow it or win, up to you, just as it always has been.”
The access to romance is independent of whether life brings us into contact with others, and without having to rely on friends or family to fix us up.
“I can edit it – I’m in control,” says Dave, 50. “So if I can’t make it to a party because I’m working or with the kids, it doesn’t matter; my romantic life isn’t contingent now. I still have a chance to meet really nice women, any time.
“Internet dating has given me access to different women who I wouldn’t have thought were my type. They approach you too: great! One of the nicest things is that you can choose people who your friends might not have thought were your cup of tea.”
Or, as Sam puts it: “You can specify what you’re looking for – and what you’re not.”
Keep it real
As for age, get real. Just because you can say online that you only want women 20 years younger, that doesn’t mean they’ll want you.
And be careful what you wish for: the best relationships are ones where you can be truly yourself, which is what intimacy is. You can hardly be that if you’re pretending you’re still up for doing what you were doing in your thirties over the longer term. The relationships I know of that started online and have lasted are all roughly age matched.
Nor is internet dating just a question of posting a profile, uploading a few pictures, then sitting back and waiting for the rush to the inbox. “You have to work it,” says Sam. “You have to be seen to be an online presence if you want people to respond.”
You also have to present yourself at your best: a good start is a profile that doesn’t make you sound bitter to be on your own and simply amazed to find you (of all people!) on such a website. Have the confidence to own your presence there.
Pictures showing why a girl should be interested are vital. That means not you with the ex (with her face obliterated) but you in an action shot at your sporting best, or looking happy and like the sort of chap others might enjoy meeting.
Show that you’re funny, rather than saying you have a GSOH.
Be open about your appearance, saying there’s more to you than looks. Be confident about them rather than the coy, “My friends tell me I’m good looking” (like you’ve never looked in the mirror).
Meet sooner rather than later
“You have to give them something they want to follow up,” says Sam. “Don’t spend forever messaging, so that by the time you meet there’s so little they don’t know about you that there’s nothing left to find out. And arrange to meet sooner rather than later or it can be a huge waste of time.”
As Tom, 51, found out: “This woman and I really hit it off in the ether but, when we finally met, she skipped out the back door of the pub after one drink. Said she was going to the loo, but did a runner.
“Like her, I could tell immediately I didn’t need to make any preparations for coital liaisons, but I’d at least have had the dinner!”
Yet maybe that was Tom’s mistake: you can tell in a tick if there’s no chemistry. If there isn’t, most girls don’t want more than a coffee: they’re busy, have enough friends, and they’re happier cooking for themselves than splitting with a stranger a meal tab to digest along with a helping of disappointment on the side. A friend of mine (now happily hitched) had a ‘one drink and make it local’ rule for the first meet, to avoid having to endure a whole meal, day trip, drive and drink, or whatever.
A few more ‘rules’. Avoid the preliminary ‘interview’ phone call. I have resented being grilled down the line when one look in the flesh would have told me I needn’t bother. Dodge pitfalls such as running down your ex, or criticising other people you have met online. Don’t play the ‘old hand’; no one wants what no one else did, or someone too picky. And finally, remember it’s just a date, not a judgement of your worth and desirability. Just click and have fun.