AFTER 10 years of online dating, radio presenter Verity Geere, 40, swore off men.
Only then did she find the one she’d spent a decade swiping right for.
When the second-hand car dealer from Essex was shoving his tongue down my throat, I knew I’d had enough.
Not just of him – he’d already told me over dinner I needed to “lose a few pounds” – but of online dating, and men in general.
At the end of what had been yet another disastrous date in October 2018, I’d reached my tipping point.
It wasn’t just that I was sick of wasting my evenings with guys I knew within minutes of meeting I was never going to have a relationship with, I also didn’t like who I’d become.
I wanted marriage, kids and a happy-ever-after, and encouraged by friends finding love online, I believed this was how I’d do it.
I should have chucked drink over the Essex boy, not ignored his cruel comment and then let him snog me. But I’d lost my self-respect – and it was time to find it again.
An online dating junkie, I first signed up to sites such as My Single Friend and eHarmony in 2008.
Before then, my longest relationship had lasted five years and I’d met men the traditional ways: in bars, at work and through mates.
Hurtling towards 30, I wanted marriage, kids and a happy-ever-after, and encouraged by friends finding love online, I believed this was how I’d do it.
Looking back, I quickly fell into the trap of using it as a way to feel good about myself. How many guys were interested in me, how many was I chatting to at one time, how many “likes” did I have?
As more sites and apps launched, I added them to my phone. From Match and Tinder to Bumble and Happn, I was there with my carefully curated profile and filtered selfies.
My thumb ached from hours spent scrolling. I had online dating FOMO – a compulsion to be on as many sites as possible because what if I missed the chance to meet The One?
Before long, I realised I had to take profile photos with a massive pinch of salt – starting in 2012 with my first Tinder date, an American I’d been chatting to online for several months.
I sat down and we chatted, but he produced a clipboard with his checklist of what he was looking for in a woman, such as “outgoing”, “petite” and his hair colour preferences.
Walking into the bar we’d arranged to meet in, I glanced at a short, very overweight man in the corner then looked around for my date.
It was only when he yelled “Cherry!” across the bar (a reference to our running joke that he was going to pop my Tinder cherry) that I realised he was my date. It suddenly struck me that all his profile photos were headshots – and heavily filtered by the looks of things!
I didn’t want to be mean, so I sat down and we chatted, but he produced a clipboard with his checklist of what he was looking for in a woman, such as “outgoing”, “petite” and his hair colour preferences.
Worse than that, he then offered me keys to his apartment, suggesting I go there to “freshen up” and wait for him while he met some friends. I made my excuses and scarpered.
Some guys lasted a few dates, others were one-night stands. I lost count of the d**k pics and explicit messages I was sent. One bloke “unmatched” me when I refused to sleep with him, while another asked me to belch in his face because it turned him on.
So many guys wanted porno-style sex, without any romance or commitment, and many women – me included at times – go along with it because if you don’t, someone else will.
I met one date at his house before we went to a party, and he dropped his trousers and suggested a quickie the moment I walked in the door. I suggested he maybe put his trousers back on, at least until we’d been out for the evening. I did sleep with him that night, but let’s just say it wasn’t memorable.
Now, I look back and can’t believe the risks I took by going to a strange man’s house. I certainly wasn’t unique either.
I became a clown, a source of entertainment like a real-life Bridget Jones.
All around me, women were having similar experiences, which made it feel like the norm. To my married friends, I became a clown, a source of entertainment like a real-life Bridget Jones.
And of course, every time I’d hear about someone who had found a nice guy online, it was like a carrot being dangled in front of me.
In 2018, I felt sure I’d met the guy for me on Bumble. We dated for six weeks and I fell hard for him. Then he ghosted me, cutting me off with no explanation.
I was devastated, especially because I could see he’d read my WhatsApp messages, but didn’t think enough of me to even reply. As the years went by, online dating changed me as a person – and not for the better.
I’d be on a date, surreptitiously messaging someone else, because with so much choice, and competition, you feel you can’t risk focusing on just one person.
Over time I also became emotionally detached, which was probably a self-defence mechanism after years of the rollercoaster of pre-date anticipation, then post-date disappointment.
By the time I started my “man detox”, which I’d decided would last three months so I could go cold turkey, I felt broken.
But along with the relief of taking a break from dating, there were times I missed it, particularly around New Year, when I knew there’d be a fresh influx of guys signing up to apps.
Going on at least one date a week for 10 years is expensive, and I didn’t want to undo that.
It was an effort not to open my old accounts, but it was also a revelation to discover how much more time I had for myself. Instead of hours spent online and on dates that went nowhere, I saw friends more, went to spin classes and sorted out my wardrobe. It felt great to focus on me.
Then in 2018 at a Christmas work party, smack-bang in the middle of my detox, I got chatting to my colleague Dan, now 43. I’d always fancied him from afar, but he was married, so that was that.
However, he explained at the party he was recently divorced. I got the sense he was trying to flirt, but I was firmly in the man-free zone and not interested.
When my detox ended at the start of February 2019, I had no desire to return to online dating. I felt better emotionally, physically and financially, because going on at least one date a week for 10 years is expensive, and I didn’t want to undo that.
Most of all, I knew I deserved better than what I’d put up with for the past decade. A few weeks later, Dan asked me out for a drink and I accepted – it was time to leave online dating behind and meet men in the real world.
Our first date was at a local pub and I very quickly realised we had amazing chemistry. We laughed all night, and it felt so natural compared to the many awkward dates I’d put myself through.
There had been no filtered photos, embellished profiles or weeks of trying to impress one another with witty messages. He put me at ease and I didn’t feel any of the cynicism that had previously weighed me down.
We moved in together last July, after just six months of dating, but we both thought: “Why wait?” It feels amazing to be with someone I care for so much and who treats me well. I’d forgotten what that felt like.
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Despite my experiences, I’m not anti-online dating. It has its pros and cons, but the biggest lesson I learned is that you shouldn’t sacrifice your principles to do it.
I tolerated behaviour I shouldn’t have, I set aside my values, I wasn’t true to myself and that made me unhappy.
Dan got the best version of me. Taking that time out from dating has made me the happier, more relaxed woman I am today.
? The Man Detox by Verity Geere (£8.99, Ad Lib) is out now.