What is it about this column, about a divorced woman in her 50s exploring online dating, that I find so addictive? There but for the grace of God . . ? Actually, I do know someone in exactly this position; 50 +, separated, single, female; bright, very fit, a well-off, professional, working mother; now online dating with diminishing hope and enthusiasm.
The blatant misogyny, the old-fashioned double-standard of it all is fascinatingly awful; that women this age will struggle to raise the interest of a man under 80, while a man of similar age, similarly professional and solvent, will have, or imagine he has, the pick of the nubile under 30s at his disposal. Plus, it’s so strange and new to my generation, this manner of finding a mate, which the young apparently take for granted. She’s trying hard, this Stella Grey (not her real name) and clinging doggedly to her sense of humour all the way. But I can’t help feeling she’s missing some essential point.
Online dating, by its very nature, will exacerbate the first-impressions impact, which is brutal enough at the best of times. When your face, if it ever was, is absolutely no longer your fortune, this can only count massively against you. However hard we try, the profiles of ladies of 50+ are unlikely to seem a good prospect to a halfway desirable man under 80, unless the age is doctored. Online daters go online shopping, obviously, for someone already half-formed in their imagination, and sift all comers ruthlessly.
Yet how many great romances you’ve heard of were originally sparked by mutual dislike? As an online dater, Lizzie Bennett would have written off Mr Darcy, Jane Eyre swiped Mr Rochester, even Romeo (“Good-looking young Montague seeks similar, Capulets need not apply . . .”) rejected Juliet before the story even got started! None of these iconic passions would have flared if the lovers had had to rely on online profiles to get them going. OK, so they’re old-fashioned fictions, and may be inadequate contemporary models. But love at first impression is not the most auspicious prognosis. Coming to love someone, even falling in love, especially with someone not “your type” at the outset, generally takes a while.
And then the attraction is all the stronger for the journey. For that journey to stand a chance, people must come together for reasons other than the upfront (we older people might have said desperate) search for a mate. A mutual interest (in sex a la Fifty Shades for all I know), or shared work experience; or a social circle in common; somewhere where ongoing meetings will happen as a matter of course, not linked to success or failure, to the passing or failing some brutal audition . . . I don’t know, call me old-fashioned, but particularly for mature, clearly very personable ladies like Stella Grey, taking a few steps back seems to me to be the only realistic way forward. An attractive man her own age, who fantasising, as they all do, apparently, about a younger, prettier girl, would have “swiped” her instantly online, may, over time, realise what a treasure, and indeed, how sexy she is, after working or playing alongside her for months or maybe years. It happens. And for some of us, the less obviously nubile ones, it may be the only way it happens any more.