Well, I've had one fairly successful internet date and obviously this makes me the world-renowned guru on the subject (it doesn't). More to the point, I have had more unsuccessful, dismal, disappointing, crushing dates than you can shake a stick at - so I thought I'd draw some positivity from this ultimately extremely depressing experience to bring you 10 alternative tips on internet dating.
If you've signed up to a dating website, sure as eggs is eggs you'll have googled 'tips on internet dating', 'safe dating' or 'find me an arsing boyfriend and be bloody quick about it'. Everybody's jumped on the bandwagon, offering nuggets of wisdom - even the broadsheets (see this article from The Guardian back in March). The same spiel will appear and re-appear: 1. be safe, 2. have a strategy, 3. market yourself ... etc etc, bla bla bla.
If you're teetering on the edge of internet dating, you need advice from someone on the ground. That's me. And here it is.
1. Choose your website carefully
Oh my effinglordy-ness. There are literally hundreds of dating websites out there. My view: paid ones are best. The very fact that you have to pay (sometimes quite a lot) sorts the wheat from the chaff. There are far fewer people on them, but the quality is higher. And the website that you choose will reflect the 'type' of potential partner on there; for example, Guardian Soulmates is (generally) littered with left wing, cycling musicians who are great at writing. Muddy Matches is its antichrist, a sort of right wing dating site for young farmers, which rates you in terms of 'muddiness'. Best not to ask.
But the point is, choose the site that floats your boat. If you're looking for an arty, introverted, vaguely depressed hippy - Soulmates is for you. If you prefer the Hunter-wellied, Hooray Henry with beagles, pop along to Muddy Matches. And there are shedloads of sites for anything in between. (Uniform Dating, anyone?)
2. Don't spread yourself too thinly
After much angst, you've put up your profile. You've 'Liked' or 'Winked' or 'Hoofed' (I just made that one up) some people, and they've reciprocated. You're in touch with one, two, three people. Now five. Now seven. And the feeling of being wanted, of being liked, is immense.
BUT. Don't let everyone have a piece of you. Think of yourself like a big round cheese, segmented up into 'time and energy'. Now, I'm a working single mum so, already, 40% of my cheese is devoted to work, and 50% to my children. That leaves a measly 10% for everything else, including meeting new people.
Be picky. Don't just keep seeing someone because they like you. If you feel the spark, keep going. If they score anything below a '9', make your excuses and head onto the next.
3. If they're new to the website, jump on them
It's a cattle market, no doubt about it. There is old beef that's been hanging around for months (sometimes years - I kid you not), so when fresh meat appears, it's a feeding frenzy. I'm exaggerating a bit, but if someone's profile appears and you like the look of them - get your oar in, get in touch and meet. ASAP.
4. Be brave and meet face-to-face, soon as.
I'm scared of meeting people. If I could, I'd live in a virtual world where I'd fall in love with someone via email. Words are powerful to me, but a meeting has the potential for disaster; I could get lost, I could trip over, I could have cabbage in my teeth, I could spill my wine down my front, he might think I'm ugly, he might notice the width of my thighs.... see? It's a wonder I get dressed every day. (I don't.)
The point is, this guy might be the best wordsmith in the whole of christendom, and yet face-to-face, he might do nothing for you. So. Words are lovely, important, they set the scene - but they are not real. Wrong foot him by suggesting a date early on. He'll be impressed.
5. Stay local and split the bill
I'm going to say something a tiny bit controversial, and make huge, overwhelming generalisations. Here goes.
People dating at our age, more often than not, have children. Generally, the children spend more time at their mother's houses, than their fathers. Therefore it is potentially more difficult for women to physically get out of the house and date; the children effectively create a barrier to meeting new people.
I am finding it hard. I have spent 18 months not going out, but now I find that I need a raft of babysitters on hand. I can't afford it (number 1), and number 2, my kids aren't happy with the sudden change. And neither, if I'm honest, am I.
But I can't stay trapped in the house until my kids are 18, can I?
So some sort of compromise has to be negotiated. If the guy lives in another town, ask him to come to your town to meet. This will save on valuable time away from your kids. If and when the relationship gets going, you can talk about how to work it out to make sure everyone is happy (and not left with an empty wallet).
But when you're on the date, split the costs. Please don't expect him to pay for everything; you are not Lady Mary and he is probably paying his ex wife an arm and a leg and is living in a bedsit. So offer to buy him a drink, and watch his face light up.
6. If you're nervous - tell him
I've learnt that nerves are ok - as long as you admit to them. If you don't say anything, your date might assume that dribbling/stammering/falling over/spilling your drink/uncontrollably winking are just parts of your multicoloured personality.
Saying that you're nervous is cute. And articulating it immediately makes you feel more relaxed.
7. Have a drink - but only one
I need a drink when I'm on a date. I just do. I have a glass of red wine - I don't care what sort - and it helps. It's not just the warm, comforting feeling that the alcohol gives me; it's the glass itself. The stem gives me something to fiddle with (probably in some sort of semi-erotic way, now I come to think about it), in a way that a normal bog standard tumbler of Diet Coke just couldn't.
If you're not driving, have another drink. But stop there. Do not get legless; terrible things will happen. You will reveal too much, physically and verbally; you will fall over on your way to the toilets; you will spit; there will be mum-dancing. There will possibly be flirting with the waiters, and a revealing of the long, sorry story of your divorce.
Two drinks is your absolute limit.
8. Check your teeth
Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman was right. Dental hygiene is key to a successful date. Look at your teeth before you get to the date, and during when he's not looking. Take floss, or those teepee sticks, with you. Bits in teeth are just..horrible. It's making me have a tiny wretch even now. *shudder*
9. Have a deadline on the first date
Set yourself a two hour limit on the first date, and come up with a great excuse why. Mine is concrete; my kids are just old enough to be left on their own, but only for two hours. And then I have to be back. This has the double-win of:
- if the date is awful, you've got an escape route,
- if the date is wonderful, you leave him gasping for more. Sort of.
Caveat: If you're going to be the first one leaving the bar, make sure that your skirt isn't tucked into your knickers. He will watch you leaving. Showing your arse at this stage is probably not a great idea.
10. If it goes well, resist the temptation to get in touch too soon
This, for me, has been the hardest lesson to learn. If I like someone, I am all over them like a rash. If I haven't heard from them within ten minutes, I text them, showering them with compliments, sending them links to jewellers shops, asking them about baby names.
Unsurprisingly, they get a tiny bit put off by this, and quite often have disappeared into the ether.
So I have learnt to sit on my hands. Literally - sit on my hands. My thinking now is: if they like me, they'll get in touch. If they can't really be arsed, nothing I can say will change that. So I do nothing (except for daydream of our wedding day - there will be red roses and confetti in the shape of hearts) and wait.
Good luck with your dates - I'd love to hear about them.