The world of online dating should be regarded as a vast pick-up joint. I know because I immersed myself in it for a year (in my late fifties), and believe me, whether I was encountering horny young men or equally horny (if less crude) older men, the ultimate aim was sex.
That doesn’t mean you can’t find a serious relationship, even real love, online. After all, a lot of today’s married couples met on a dating site. But if that is what you are after, you must be extra wary of (pardon the expression) who you ‘get into bed with’.
As a mature adult you’ll need to employ all the healthy scepticism you’ve built up over the decades, because it’s easy on the internet for a person to be economical with the truth, or to tell outright lies about who they are and what they’re after.
Even the essentially well-meaning can become so dazzled by the endless smorgasbord of dating options that nothing they tell you can be relied upon.
Plans, circumstances, desires, are all subject to change without notice.
Rule #1 of dating over 50: don’t believe anyone
So, lesson number one: believe in nothing until it happens, and no one until you know them.
Emotionally, you need to construct a wall around yourself which nobody can penetrate until you believe it to be safe. People will plunder your emotions without compunction if you let them. It is up to you keep them locked up, like jewels.
Some women, in particular, leave themselves emotionally vulnerable by investing too much hope in a particular potential mate, or after physical intimacy with someone.
A 63-year-old widow I know won’t have sex with anyone because she is afraid of falling in love with them as a result. Sadly, her solitary life is passing by.
If you meet someone you fancy, by all means enjoy good, fun sex. But – hard-nosed as it sounds, and I can’t pretend it’s always easy – take the emotion out of it or you will be hurt over and over again.
If and when a deeper relationship comes along, don’t worry, emotion will come flooding back.
Then there is the scamming side of online dating. Most people have heard the woeful tales of vulnerable, lonely women preyed on by men who promise them love before persuading them to stump up big bucks for a bogus medical bill or some other phony hard-luck scenario.
Only this month a British court has been hearing a case regarding middle-aged British women duped out of a total of £220,000 by a group of foreign fraudsters posing behind a false profile on Match.com.
But it works both ways. There are also the glamorous young foreign women (often revealed to be prostitutes) who expertly manipulate an older man’s vanity as an easy way into his wallet, or perhaps to gain British nationality.
Rule #2: don’t part with money
Lesson number two: if it all sounds too wonderful to be true, that’s because it’s a lie. Whatever you do, don’t open your wallet to a stranger, especially the ones whispering sweet nothings into your computer.
And those aren’t the only online dating scams.
One middle-aged Indian gent I dined with during my dating escapades told me about the “gorgeous young blonde” of vaguely Eastern European origin who seductively chatted him up online before conning him into returning her call on an expensive ‘sexual services’ number.
He was too embarrassed to hang up and by the time he ended it, half an hour later, he’d added £40 to his phone bill.
The poor mug had never asked himself why a sexy pouting 25-year-old would throw herself at a fifty-something Indian divorcee living in Pinner.
Rule #3: beware of profile photos
Mind you, he hadn’t been entirely honest himself. His online photo showed a younger, better looking man than the ropey, dentally challenged individual sitting opposite me in the restaurant. (Oh, and I’d taken a few years off my age in my own profile. Touché!).
It is common for dating site users to edit themselves in some way. Some purport to be single, while having a hapless spouse at home. These are usually the candidates without a profile photo. Never respond to contact from the ‘faceless’.
Rule #4: don’t use sites for older people
There are thousands of dating sites. It can be overwhelming, and tricky to choose the right one. My first few weeks online were spent in trial and error. To begin with I used a dating site designed for principally for oldies, but I would advise against this.
Think about it. It attracts the sort of people who only feel safe among their own age group. The sort who eventually retire to a little bungalow by the sea, where they congregate with other retirees living in similar bungalows. Don’t cut yourself off from the young and their culture, as they help to keep you young too.
Bigger, mainstream, all-generations sites tend to be less staid and a bit more funky. Match.com, eHarmony and Lovestruck are among the most popular, and allow you to cast a wide net.
You will meet both people who want a proper relationship and those merely in search of fun and games. Other users, irritatingly, don’t seem to know what they want; they just like being in the playground.
Remember that like any other business, dating sites want your money, and they have been known to employ tricks to encourage you to sign up, such as using fake profiles of potential partners who “want to contact you”.
But they’ve been rumbled. Just be sensible, keep your wits about you and realise that dating sites are microcosms of society, so you will encounter all sorts of people and situations. This is where being older and wiser comes in handy.
Rule #5: try dating apps
OK, it’s not really a rule, but another option is the dating app for your smartphone, which matches you with people in your geographical area, if you have both registered a mutual attraction. I spent a wild week or two on Tinder, meeting younger men. What good fun.
But Tinder isn’t for everybody. If you are over 50 and looking for something a bit more, um, traditional, there is a new app for you, called Stitch. It’s being trialled this summer in the US and Australia, and will be in the UK soon.
As with Tinder, only people who like the look and sound of each other will be able to make contact. But the site is meant to be as much about finding someone for friendship and companionship, as for romance and rumpy pumpy.
It aims to have safeguards in place to deter scammers and the disingenuous. Will the safeguards work? Time will tell.
Despite its frequent frustrations and disappointments, I loved my adventurous year of internet dating. I met a staggering array of people, had some good times, and learnt a lot – about myself and others.
My ‘dangerous dating’ was brought to an abrupt end due to an unexpected turn of events and in any case I was beginning to feel it had run its natural course. And since the book was published, I have been contacted by many men asking to meet me – so I don’t feel tempted to do any more internet dating.
However, online dating is a world of opportunity, courtesy of our wondrous modern technology. Delve in. And good luck.
Four more tips for online dating
• Try a few different sites, subscribing for the minimum period on each (usually a month) until you find the right one
• Don’t provide intimate details about yourself until you feel comfortable with the person you are dealing with
• Never give money to anyone for anything. If you are a woman, at most offer to split the cost of drinks or a meal
• Be friendly but on your guard. Enter a dating site as you would walk through a slightly dodgy part of town: looking over your shoulder and holding on to your valuables