Lie about your age, never use your real name – and pretend to be a widow! That’s the advice JANE GORDON was given for finding love online in her 60s after ten years as a singleton. So was it the magic formula for all the men she dated?
- Jane Gordon describes how she went on her first online date at the age of 66
- Back in the 20th century you were considered on the shelf at 30 and by 40
- UK-based journalist shares the advice her friend gave for her online profile and reveals if it actually worked
My heart pounds as I stand in the snug of a popular country pub. I feel as nervous as the girl I was more than four decades ago, on my very first date with the boy I would go on to marry.
Am I wearing too much make-up, does my hair look too ‘done’ and is my smart casual outfit too try-hard for a Saturday lunchtime meeting?
As tragic as it sounds, aged 66, I am on my first ever online date.
Back in the 20th century you were considered on the shelf at 30 and by 40, so the saying went, you were more likely to be killed by a terrorist than to meet and marry a man.
Jane Gordon (pictured) describes how she went on her first online date at the age of 66. UK-based journalist shares the advice her friend gave for her online profile and reveals if it actually worked
But in 2022, according to a new survey carried out by Ourtime — one of a clutch of older dating sites — it is perfectly possible for a woman in her 50s, 60s and even 70s to meet Mr Right.
Apparently, if you are in reasonable shape, can pay your own way, have your own teeth and, most importantly, possess a GSOH (good sense of humour), romance is just a click away.
Twenty years after my divorce from my husband and ten years after the break-up of my last relationship — with all three of my adult children living busy lives in London — I must admit I am beginning to feel a little isolated in my country cottage.
Life as a single woman of a certain age was fine pre-pandemic. I was still working; I had built up a wonderfully supportive group of female friends and I was actively involved in the life of my adored only grandchild.
I enjoyed pleasing and putting myself first — and although when I first moved into my cottage several friends attempted to match me up with the odd spare man (an alcoholic drummer from a 1970s glam rock band and a one-legged pig farmer, for example), I didn’t feel the need for romance. Then came lockdown and, suddenly, I became envious of even my least happily married friends who had someone to share not only supper with but the sofa, chores, bills . . . not to mention the 2am worries about the state of the nation.
Besides, having a plus-one would grant me entry to the ‘marrieds-only’ social life in my snobbish country town. Dinners and parties are strictly conducted, rather like Noah’s Ark, on a two-by-two basis, making life as a single woman socially limited.
It was my 60-something friend Lesley, happily married for two years to a man she met online, who signed me up to one of the most popular older dating sites for a three month rate of £29.99 (the free ones offer limited access and get the thumbs down from Lesley). ‘The first thing you need to know is that everyone online lies,’ said Lesley.
‘Men lie about their height and their marital status and women lie about their age and their weight.’
Lesley has a virtual PhD in the do’s and don’ts of internet dating, having spent several years scouring dating sites for her own husband.
She guided me through the process of creating the ‘perfect profile’, selecting three smiley recent photos and writing my profile statement, emphasising my GSOH.
She then persuaded me (against my better instincts) to put ‘widow’ in the marital status box ‘because nothing sounds more desperate than the word divorcee’, apparently, and to tick the ‘college education’ box to ‘ward off’ men who ‘can’t spell or punctuate’.
Finally, she suggested I pick a pseudonym to act as ‘added protection against toyboys and tricksters’. Which is how I came to be, online if not IRL (In Real Life), Hattie from Henley, who’s interested in meeting a man with a GSOH who likes art, family, movies, animals and current affairs.
I did feel a bit uncomfortable adopting this untruthful alter ego — honesty in relationships has always been important to me — but Lesley assured me that very few people use their real names online.
Jane started off under a pseudonym to protect herself. Within a couple of hours she was flooded with men asking her out on dates, but she didn’t like what was on offer
And within a couple of hours, my email was flooded with suggested ‘dates’ that I might like… the trouble was, I didn’t.
I am sure there is nothing wrong with Gary from Ipswich, 70, who is pictured wearing a vest and an expression that screams ‘serial killer!’ or Andy from Surbiton, 69, who has put up three pictures of himself wearing a motorcycle helmet. But I realise it’s much easier for older women to look decent in their photos — with the aid of make-up and flatteringly styled hair (eight out of ten men on the site haven’t got any hair to style at all) — and I am genuinely more interested in a GSOH than I am a six-pack.
Plus, as Lesley has rather depressingly told me, the more attractive men in their late 60s will be looking for love with an age limit of 49.
As enraging as this is, I focus on the fact that so many men of a similar age do seem to like me (or at least widowed Hattie), even if some of them look more like Vlad the Impaler than Brad Pitt.
It takes a day or so for me to master the tech know-how to access the complete profiles (rather than just the mug shots) of the chaps who have ‘liked’ me. What makes 67-year-old Roy from Ruislip — my first date — stand out isn’t so much what he says as what he doesn’t say.
He doesn’t claim to be ‘a complete romantic’ or (worse) ‘a real man’ for whom ‘everything still works perfectly’ and he isn’t looking for ‘a special lady’ (how I hate that word lady). Nor does he use that other awful word ‘tactile’ in his description of his ideal woman like so many of the men I encounter.
Even better, Roy doesn’t list bowls, golf, gardening, DIY or ballroom dancing as his ‘interests’. (OK, I know I am picky.)
More importantly, Roy and Hattie are ‘a match’ because, we are informed before we meet, we have ‘six things in common’. Roy is in my preferred age group (65-74), lives within a 50-mile radius, still works, loves movies and animals and is a doting grandparent.
Roy is the reason I am waiting, jittery with nerves, in the crowded pub. (With hindsight, it was a mistake to meet somewhere so busy because although he does look very similar to his youthful online profile picture — a hazy shot of him at the helm of a boat — he does seem to have a slight problem with his hearing.) My nervousness is chiefly caused by my limited relationship history. I have actually only dated two men: the first of whom I married when I was 21, had three fabulous children with and then divorced after 25 years and the second I lived with for the following decade.
Ten years of being single have since passed without so much as a flicker of romance. So perhaps that’s why I feel awkward, self-conscious and just a little ridiculous (I am a sexagenarian not a teenager) on my first date with Roy.
It isn’t until our second date (at least there is one) in a small restaurant with good enough acoustics for Roy to be able to hear me that I realise that he is a bit of a player — regaling me over lunch with wonderfully indiscreet stories about his many online encounters.
The woman, for instance, he had arranged to meet in the bar of a glossy London hotel who turned out to be ‘a professional’ (apparently men occasionally encounter escorts who expect payment when they date a more than usually attractive over50 female).
Or the woman who didn’t look anything like her glamorous profile picture (he tells me that it’s common for women to use photos that are a decade out of date) because, in fact, she wasn’t actually the woman in the picture. It was her leaner, lovelier friend.
There are so many stories about so many women that I suspect Roy is probably double or maybe triple dating me, so, as entertaining as he is, he is not for me.
But every day in my three-month mission, there is a new crop of profiles and a few repeats (Gary the serial killer is a constant) filling up my inbox.
On the surface this seems flattering (99-plus likes) but so many of them are: a) over 80 and clearly looking for a carer, b) 60-70 maybe still married and just looking for sex or c) under 60 and looking for a ‘sugar granny’.
My problem online, and probably IRL too, is that I am not naturally attracted to men who are kind and sensitive, as so many of my matches claim to be, and tend to be drawn in by the profiles that are more alpha than beta man (both my exes are attractive, overly confident, furiously funny risk-takers). So that even though I am sure that Bikerboy from Bristol, 70, is probably going to be trouble, I find myself (late at night) liking him.
There ensues a bit of, initially harmless, flirting that I regret the next morning when I open a message he has sent: ‘Don’t be nervous about meeting up, Hattie, I don’t bite. Unless of course you want me to?’
This sends me into a ‘what am I doing? What will my children think? Granny does dating?’ frenzy that almost makes me want to pull Hattie offline.
But Lesley is wonderfully reassuring, pointing out that my children would probably be only too pleased to be able to offload the burden of my old age on to a nice, solvent man.
And if I didn’t hurry up and go on a few more dates before my three months is up, I could find myself ending up ‘squeezed into a granny flat or shoved into sheltered housing’ by my children.
Suitably chastened, I arrange to meet up with Tony from Wargrave, Berkshire, aged 68, who has been politely messaging me for a while and seems to be a good balance between the boring and the bad boys in my inbox.
Since we live quite close to each other, we decide to get together for coffee and a dog walk (we both have dogs).
The picture on Tony’s profile is quite interesting — he describes himself as a ‘superannuated Bill Nighy type with a beard’ and admits that his friends all say that he looks ‘really good for my age’.
This statement is repeated endlessly online but then what friend is going to say you look terrible for your age?
IRL Tony is unrecognisable. I look blankly round the cafe until I notice an elderly man, who closely resembles Father Christmas, waving at me. Still Tony has a really GSOH (two months into this dating lark I am beginning to realise why a GSOH is essential) and later, during our walk through the woods, our dogs don’t just get on they, er, get it on. (But we don’t.)
Which brings me to Charles from London, 72, who is — on his profile and later IRL — clever, funny and as attractive as is possible for anyone to be in their eighth decade.
His first message is charming: ‘I am interested in all the things that interest you, should we talk?’ And when we do, his voice is lovely and his manners utterly gentlemanly. This date might not be quite so scary.
In fact, it is pitch perfect, in a delightful cafe in Kensington, West London that he chooses.
We talk for hours, discovering so many things in common (an initial prejudice about meeting someone online for starters) and at last it looks like I have really found a ‘match’.
Everything is looking very positive until our third date. We have progressed from coffee through lunch to romantic dinner —when, after a glass of fizz, I mention my exhusband. ‘But I thought you were a widow?’ he responded in suddenly icy tones.
In one really important area of life we are not a match. Charles, widowed five years ago, is a stickler for the truth and I — like almost everyone else who signs up to a dating site — am a terrible liar.
I haven’t heard from him since and I doubt that I will.
There has been no intimacy with any of my dates and I’m still single — much to Lesley’s irritation.
But, curiously, the whole experience has made me more hopeful about the likelihood of finding love online.
I have edited my profile, changing ‘widow’ to ‘divorcee’, and extended my mission to six months. Who knows what the future holds?
- Names have been changed.
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