Suzanne Harrington doles out some practical advice on meeting new people in the digital age
I started dating aged 38, a year after my husband and I separated. I’m 52 now, and can say with conviction that it has been some of the best free fun I have ever had.
Not free fun as in blagging drinks or dinners from unsuspecting blokes – this is not the 1950s, and I have my own cash, thank you all the same – but free fun in the sense of meeting so many interesting people, forming some fantastic relationships, and making some lifelong friends.
And obviously a few duds, a few hilarious horrors, and one case of medical grade heart break, but these are the rules of engagement.
Dating in your fifties is the same as dating in your twenties, except with more confidence, clearer boundaries and a greater sense of freedom. You know quite well what you want.
The only downside is dating algorithms pairing you with old gits in golfing jumpers, which is why there are so many ‘49’-year-olds online – men do this too, a lot – but if you are going to get hung up because your date is two or three years older than advertised, then go home.
In your fifties, you’re not looking to make babies and mortgages with anyone but are seeking a connection that has no other purpose other than to enhance your life and theirs.
And to have a laugh with interesting people. Or a serious conversation that makes you think.
Or a shared enthusiasm for something you both enjoy – golf (because apparently some people do), politics, books, cooking, football, bog snorkelling, whatever.
This stuff-in-common thing is not essential however – I’m a yoga enthusiast, but have yet to be a relationship with someone who likes 7am sun salutations.
Shared values are more important – as a UK resident, my dating profiles always prominently state No Tories.
It separates the wheat from the chaff, because those with whom I am politically incompatible are repelled (job done) and it cuts through tedious first date pussyfooting. (Oh, you voted for Brexit? Waiter, bill please.)
But differences are great too, so long as they are stimulating, rather than horrifying, and underlaid by shared values – my last relationship was with someone whose way of thinking was radically different from mine, which made it really interesting, although ultimately untenable.
We still have dinner together regularly to catch up with each other’s lives. We are close, just not romantically.
Even now, online dating – because frankly, outside of a Richard Curtis film, is there any other kind? – can generate unease in those who have never tried it, because they have been married since before the internet or whatever.
Given how we do everything else online – banking, shopping, socialising, working, studying, sharing our every move – it seems a bit odd to suddenly worry about online security when Amazon, Google and Facebook know about every time you make a cup of tea. Relax.
You’re as likely to meet a psycho down the pub as you are on Tinder. (And yes, there are fiftysomethings on Tinder, because Millennials don’t own the internet.)
Swipe apps may not be your bag, however. I find them annoying, because they encourage impolite interactions, and the world is already discourteous enough.
Having said that, I had a fantastic trip to Istanbul with a lovely man from Tinder, and although the relationship didn’t last, we remain firm friends.
This is the thing with romantic relationships – we pile a ton of expectations on them, and use words like ‘fail’ when they end. This is insanity.
Unless you’ve had time to genuinely fall in love with someone – and this will not have happened after three coffee dates and a pizza, no matter what your head tells you – just leave your expectations at home.
That way you can enjoy the conversation – unless of course it’s not enjoyable, in which case employ the two-drinks rule of good manners before politely scarpering.
(If your date is objectionable, just go – sometimes, no matter how good your instincts, or your online vetting, a dud one slips through.)
As for all the endless advice and rules and do’s and don’ts of dating – for heaven’s sake just enjoy yourself. All you need is to be interested in other humans, and have good boundaries.
It’s not rocket science. Get out there.