“I want to live again. I want to laugh again. And yes, perhaps one day, I might even want to fall in love again.”
Shalini Bhalla-Lucas – Always With You
Online dating is a fraught business at the best of times and dating at 40 when you expect to already be in a steady and committed relationship is… well let’s just say it can be interesting!
I met my husband Jeremy when I was 21 and he was 40. He had gone through an acrimonious divorce the year before and was only just beginning to enjoy bachelor life. I was a young Kenyan Indian girl, fresh off the Boeing, studying at the University of Surrey.
I was lucky. Meeting Jeremy when I was so young meant that I did not have to go through all the angst of dating that often happens in one’s early 20s. We fell in love almost immediately after meeting and settled into a loving, caring relationship and comfortable domestic life for the next 19 years. I was happy…until the day in 2016 when my life was blown apart by Jeremy’s death from cancer.
You can read our story in my Amazon No 1. bestselling book Always With You – A true story of love, loss…and hope.
So the upshot is that at 42 years of age, after having completely withdrawn from the world and having locked myself away for nearly 18 months to grieve and write my book, I began to emerge and was ready to face the world again.
In April 2018 I decided that I needed to start getting some of my life back following Jeremy’s death. I needed to live again, I needed to laugh again and yes, maybe one day, I would want to love again. So, after much soul-searching, numerous discussions with friends, my sister and my dance students (Jhoomers), and with reassurances that I wasn’t betraying Jeremy or the life we had had together, I decided to embark on the interesting, complicated and sometimes murky world of online dating.
People who know me know that once I decide to do something I just go for it! I become a person on a mission. And dating became that mission for me. It became a project that I had to be successful at.
Over the course of seven months I would go on to six different sites – eharmony, Elite Singles, Times Encounters, Guardian Soulmates, OKCupid and Bumble.
My most successful site in terms of quantity of dates was OKCupid. On one occasion in one week I had five dates – and I even had two dates on the same day (lunch and evening) on two occasions. I was averaging about two to three dates a week. I chatted with at least 50 men and met 21 of them for dates. Eight men didn’t get past the first date, seven men got a second date but no more, three men got a third date before I stopped seeing them, and only three men went past the fourth date.
I allocated money aside to make sure I could afford the expenses that dating entails. And believe me, dating is expensive. The subscriptions for each of the sites soon add up. Then there is the paying for lunches and dinners. Yes, I’ve had meals bought for me and I’ve gone Dutch with my dates. But, I’ve also paid for a lot of meals. And I mean A LOT. I bought new clothes and shoes. I had my hair cut, manicures, pedicures, threading, waxing – legs, arms, underarms, bits – ouch – Bikini/Brazilian/Hollywood!
But perhaps the most important investment for me in the spring was to start personal training sessions, initially because I wanted to feel healthier and look good for myself, but also there was no harm looking good for the opposite sex either. After all, a girl has needs and I knew that there was a chance I was going to be getting naked in front of a man sooner or later and there was no way he was going to see all my wobbly bits.
For those of you who have never had to do online dating – well firstly – lucky you! Secondly, here is how it works. If you are a pro at online dating then you may want to skip this section – or read along to see if your experiences match mine.
The first two sites I signed up to were eharmony and Elite Singles. There is the usual rigmarole of answering the numerous personality questions, writing a short summary about yourself that you feel reflects you or rather shows that you are an interesting, well-travelled, well-rounded individual with many varied interests – even if you aren’t – and of course the filtering of those people you do or don’t want to meet – age, distance, profession – effectively discriminating against people that you know nothing about. And the profile photo – well that’s the most important factor! The person might be clever, kind, funny, interesting – but if their profile picture is rubbish then they have no chance. The different sites have different ways of showing interest or disinterest. You swipe right or send a heart or a smile – or for the brave ones send a message – if you are interested. Or, just delete or swipe left if the person is of no interest. Much of this is a gut reaction based on the profile picture. On average I would give a picture all of five seconds before I decided whether I wanted to look at the profile itself. Too fat, too bald, too short, too tall, bad teeth, bad shirt, kids in the photo, women in the photo…the smallest thing could trigger a rejection. It really is that shallow. And of course, as I was swiping right or left based on these superficial criteria – no doubt countless men were doing the same to me.
Also, the dating world has its own language. And, a lot of deception! Old photos making the person look younger than they are; lying about their age – 39 when actually they are 44; saying they are a surveyor when actually they are a surveying assistant or calling themselves a lawyer when they are just part of a legal team in local government; saying they are single when they are married. Yes – I’ve had it all.
And, if statistics are to be believed, there are five women to every man on these sites. So, ladies we are on a losing streak from the offset. Men will always get more attention then we do because there are just more women out there to give them the attention.
Also, the older you are as a woman the more difficult it is. I read somewhere that a woman’s desirability on these sites peaks at 21. Yes 21! And here I was twice that age looking for a man. At 42 I was considered old for the online dating game and yet men of the same age would be twice as lucky as me when looking for partners. Being in your 40s means that you are too old for all those 30 or 40-somethings many of whom want to settle down and may be looking for baby-making-machines. And you may also be too old for 40 or 50-somethings who want to date much younger women. But also, the men I was meeting in their 40s and 50s were just too boring and staid for me. Some were ready for their slippers and pipe. And the men in their 30s – the millennials – well they seemed to live by different rules to what I had been used to with Jeremy. Many were super focused on their careers (which actually I had no problem with as I had once been like that and understood that), but they also seemed really selfish, focused on their own needs and they did not all know how to treat women.
Perhaps it is an old-fashioned and outdated concept, and sometimes the feminist in me fights with the woman in me about these things – but I really want a man to pay for coffee/lunch/dinner on our first date. And I want a man who was coming home to spend the night with me to bring a bunch of flowers or a bottle of wine or even just a box of chocolates – just something to say that he had thought about me before turning up on my doorstep for dinner and sex. I want a man to plan an evening and book the tickets for a show or film or reserve a table at a restaurant. I want a man to drive over and pick me up for a date. I want a man to open the car door for me and hold the restaurant door open for me.
Even if you are just in a casual relationship, old fashioned etiquette and chivalry is something that most women value and when we are on the receiving end of it, it turns us weak at the knees.
But hey, maybe I’m showing my age here.
It’s just that’s what I was used to.