‘You don’t need to take your top off unless you’re washing cars! I don’t know what goes through men’s minds sometimes. Awful.’ I am talking to dating expert Kate Taylor about the pictures men post on their dating profiles. Swiping and scrolling through dating apps to find a match, I’ve seen an abundance of topless torsos on beaches and in bathroom mirrors, via cameras set to selfie mode.
‘I think they need to take a step back and remember their market,’ says Taylor, whose advice is not to be sniffed at, as she’s the doyenne of the Debrett’s and OurTime guide to online dating for the over 50s. This guide, Taylor tells me, was born because post-divorce, a large chunk of over 50s are finding themselves single, but lacking the confidence to mingle.
‘The Debrett’s guide is your wing man, so you can be sure you’re not making any rookie errors,’ says Taylor, explaining, ‘It takes the nerves out of online dating if you haven’t done it before, or if you’re worried things have changed dramatically since you last dated.’ She adds, ‘It’ll get you through your first couple of dates, then you’ll realise that dating now is almost identical to how it was.’
Here are Taylor’s top tips for prospective daters…
It’s not the medium – it’s who you meet
For those of us who have dated in the last decade, meeting someone online is about as unusual as eating a slice of toast – but someone who’s emerging from a 20 year marriage may imagine there’s a stigma attached to it. I ask Taylor what she’d say to someone harbouring doubts about whether online dating is socially acceptable. ‘Ask your friends and your kids how they’re meeting people – then you’ll realise it can work,’ says Taylor. ‘When you see people who are happy, you’ll realise the medium they used to meet is the least important part of the whole experience.’ She adds, ‘If you do feel there’s a stigma, don’t mention that in your profile. Occasionally, I see people writing, “I can’t believe it’s come to this,” which is insulting to everyone reading it, because they’re online dating themselves.’
Three is the magic number
I’m always suspicious of men who only post one picture – I wonder if it’s the only instance in which they’ve looked half human. I seek certainty in the profiles of men who’ve posted as many pictures as possible. But Taylor is the expert, so how many does she suggest? ‘Three,’ she says, decisively. ‘In online dating, you’re only as good as your last picture, so if you post 10, someone could be scrolling through going, “Yes, yes, yes – no!” Then you’ve lost them.’ However, none of your snaps need go to waste, as Taylor recommends updating the pictures, ‘especially if they’re seasonal – then people will trust that your pictures are recent.’ She adds that updating your profile, ‘even if it’s just changing a bit of text,’ is beneficial because, ‘you’ll be seen as an active member, which will put you at the top of other people’s searches.’
No one wants a relationship with a screensaver
A blunder I’ve seen some men make is posting 16 pictures of a sunset. Flicking through their photos, I’ve seen more sky than an airline pilot on overtime – but it hasn’t brought me any closer to jetting off on honeymoon. Taylor agrees that scenic shots are a dud move. ‘It’s like, why am I looking at a field of poppies? Oh, now it’s a mountain. It’s like they’ve uploaded their screensavers,’ says Taylor. OK, so what pictures should we post? “The first has to be a smiling headshot. Then a full length, so people can see your figure – don’t panic, you will appeal to someone! Thirdly, a shot of you engaged in an interesting activity. So, playing an instrument, or riding a horse, or running the marathon. Those pictures make it easy for someone to write to you. They can say, “Oh wow, you did the marathon, I’d love to do that!”’
Hey is for horses
I despair of messages which just say, ‘Hey!’, but I can’t muster up the effort to respond to essays either. Am I impossible to please or is there a sweet spot? Taylor says long messages are off-putting as the other person feels pressured to write an equally long reply. “‘Short messages get the most responses,’ she says, ‘but you have to make it obvious you’ve read their profile.’ Taylor vetoes: ‘Hi, great pics’, ‘Hi, you look great’, and ‘Hi, how are you?’ She explains, ‘You could have cut and pasted that to 100 people – it’s impersonal and it feels strangely insulting.’ Instead, she recommends a message of 50 characters or less, that’s tailored to the person’s profile. For example, ‘I see you like Indian food, have you tried that new restaurant that’s opened?’
Crack on for chemistry
There are guys who suggest a date in the first message, and others who seem happy with having a pen pal. What’s the ideal number of messages to exchange before setting up a date? ‘I recommend five,’ says Taylor. ‘You want to meet in person to see if the physical chemistry’s there – you don’t want to invest too much time beforehand in case it’s not.’ She adds, ‘If you’ve just come out of a long relationship, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of day of texting several times a day – that can make any disappointment more powerful than it needs to be, because you’ve almost lived a mini-marriage before you’ve met them.’ For anyone reluctant to meet after five messages, Taylor suggests a chat on the phone. She says, ‘It’s a way of building trust between you and it’s nice to hear each other’s voices.’
When is the ‘right time’ for dating?
I’ve met more than one divorcee who seems a bit angry with his ex and I wonder if a person infused with hostility might be dating again a bit soon. So when is the right time to get back out there? ‘I think you will know,’ says Taylor. ‘It depends on the reasons for the break-up, and how much processing you did while you were still married.’ However, as a rule of thumb, Taylor says the time to start dating again is, ‘the minute you can go on a date and not actively compare the person to your old partner. That could be three months, six months, or a year.’
Show, don’t tell
I recently went on a date with a guy whose profile said he was 44, but over the course of the date, it emerged that he was 54. What’s Taylor’s advice for the over 50s who feel younger or want to attract a younger partner? ‘Don’t represent yourself as you feel – represent yourself as you are, but let your personality fill in the blanks. Trust is so important, especially with online dating – you have to be honest,’ she says, adding, ‘If you feel young at heart, write about your hobbies and the fun things you do, and show that in your pictures.’
I like a proper dinner date, but according to Taylor, online daters should save this for the second time they meet. She says, ‘An ideal first date is coffee, lunch or drinks. Keeping it to 90 minutes enables you to meet more people for first dates, and this is the most important thing you can do in online dating. You can be writing to someone thinking they’re The One, and writing to someone else, unsure if they tick your boxes, but until you meet in person, you don’t know.’
Later life’s delights include the menopause and erectile dysfunction. Is it worth outlining your sexpectations (or lack of) so you can find someone similar? ‘If you wouldn’t say it out loud in a crowded pub, don’t put it on your profile,’ says Taylor. ‘People open up about illnesses, sex drive, their terrible divorce and all those things are better talked about on the third, fourth, fifth date. Even if sex is very important to you, get to know your partner slowly, then enjoy that physical side. Sex is about the connection between two people who are nuts about each other – not a physical exercise of stamina and endurance. If you like someone, you’ll make it work. I’d be less concerned about sex drive and more concerned about whether he’s going to drag me round the garden centre every weekend!’