How I navigated the minefield of online dating in later life and how you can too

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D**k pics, scammers and GHOSTERS… would you brave online dating?

It’s the most popular way to find love in 2022 – but as these three women discovered, online dating in later life is a minefield! 

‘I had to Google what ghosting is’

Donna Easton, 46, is a mindset coach and hypnotherapist

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Donna Easton, 46, is a mindset coach and hypnotherapist
She’s a single mum to Primrose, six, and lives in London

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She’s a single mum to Primrose, six, and lives in London

Donna Easton, 46, is a mindset coach and hypnotherapist. She’s a single mum to Primrose, six, and lives in London.

“Picking up my phone, I gasped as an explicit photo of a penis appeared on the screen along with the message: ‘Thinking of you.’ I’d ‘met’ the sender of said message on a dating app a few days before, and we’d been chatting back and forth.

I thought it was going well and we had plenty in common — until that image arrived. I felt like I’d been flashed at and was repulsed. I couldn’t believe this sort of thing was now considered part and parcel of trying to meet someone.

In 2019, a year after a five-year relationship had ended, I started dating again. My ex-partner and I still have a good relationship, we just weren’t right for one another romantically, but we co-parent our daughter Primrose, and I count him as a friend.

After a few months of being single, I began hankering for some adult company, and online dating felt like the easiest way to meet somebody. I’d met my ex at work and I had a little experience of it from years ago, but the idea of speed dating or singles’ clubs didn’t appeal, and no one seemed to go out ‘on the pull’ any more.

I downloaded Bumble, Hinge and Tinder, but soon deleted the latter, as it seemed to be full of men looking for something casual, while I wanted a relationship.

At the age of 43, I had a real sense of starting again, which was daunting, as was navigating the dating scene as a single mother. With a child to consider, I couldn’t just go out on a date at the drop of a hat, and I had no intention of bringing a string of men into Primrose’s life, only someone I felt I had a future with.

I could write a book about some of the men I’ve met since then. There was ‘Mr Married’, the guy who only wanted to chat via messages on a Tuesday evening between 8pm and 10pm, and wouldn’t give out his number or any details about who he was. He was so cagey, I didn’t trust him and we didn’t ever meet up. Sure enough, a friend tracked him down on Facebook and saw he was married.

Then there was ‘Mr D**k Pic’ — I sent him a polite message suggesting that perhaps I wasn’t the girl for him, before blocking him. And I can’t forget ‘Mr Copy And Paste’, the guy that my friend and I realised we were both chatting to on the same dating app and who had been sending identical messages and photographs to us.

I’ve had offers to join couples for a ‘fun’ threesome and, at the age of 45, I learned the hard way what ghosting is. ‘Mr Casper’ and I had been seeing each other for a couple of months in early 2020 and I had started thinking about introducing him to my family and Primrose, when suddenly all my messages to him went unanswered and he stopped returning my calls.

Worried that something awful had happened to him, I mentioned it to a friend. ‘It sounds like he’s ghosted you,’ she replied. I had no idea what she meant, and when I Googled the word — which means to suddenly end a relationship by stopping all communication — I couldn’t believe he’d done that. My self-esteem plummeted and it put me off dating for months.

Eventually, I realised that if I wanted to meet somebody, I was going to have to put myself back out there.

I’ve since worked out that the key to a healthy attitude around dating is working on how I feel about myself. Now I would love a partner, but one on an equal emotional footing. If the right guy is out there, amid the d**k pic senders and the ghosters, and it’s meant to be, I have to trust that we’ll find one another.”  

‘It’s a minefield, but I’m not giving up’

Celebrant Lynda Murphy, 63, is single and lives in Kent

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Celebrant Lynda Murphy, 63, is single and lives in Kent
It was 2017 when I joined the online dating scene

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It was 2017 when I joined the online dating scene

Celebrant Lynda Murphy, 63, is single and lives in Kent.

“Walking into my living room, I stopped, stunned, as my date for the evening stood in front of me completely naked, swinging his hips and waving his bits around. He’d only asked to come in to use the loo!

I immediately told him to leave and he sheepishly got dressed and scarpered. I chalked it up to experience — just one of many bizarre moments on my dating journey.

It was 2017 when I joined the online dating scene, around a year after the end of my six-year marriage. 

I was lonely, not for sex, but for male company. With most of my friends married, I didn’t really have anyone to join me at bars or social events, so I turned to online dating. Far from being daunted by it, I was looking forward to what it would bring and who I might meet.

In my Tinder profile I said I was looking for a mature man, between 45 and 60, with similar interests to me. I was hopeful that I’d find a good guy, and I was confident there was one out there for me, but in hindsight, I think I was overly optimistic. I didn’t realise what a minefield it is out there.

Once, a guy tried to scam me. We were messaging for a couple of weeks and then he announced his sister was ill and he needed money to pay her hospital bills. I played along with it, knowing full well what was happening. Eventually, he sent me a forged cheque with instructions to cash it and send him the money! At that point, I called him a few choice words and blocked him.

I’ve had younger men messaging me, who clearly just want to see what it’s like to sleep with an older woman. I can spot them a mile off with their gushing flattery. I’ve never decided to just have a fling, as tempting as it can sometimes be when a good-looking younger man contacts me. 

One guy, who I’d got on well with over messages and calls, ended up talking incessantly about UFOs and aliens when we met for a drink. It freaked me out slightly and I began to wonder if he was in some sort of cult. Needless to say, there was no second date.

Another time, I went for a meal with a Tinder date, but he barely said a word all evening. He just stared at me as I tried to fill the silence with conversation.

I’ve also had some lovely dates with lovely guys. A few have even become friends, despite the dates not working out, and I did have a two-year relationship, until we parted ways not long before Covid hit.

I wish I could meet men the ‘old-fashioned’ way, in real life. It was so much more natural then. You’d strike up conversation in a bar, decide if there was chemistry and go from there. Maybe I’ll still be dating at 75, looking for the right person. I’m more cautious now, but I still believe there is someone out there for me.”

‘I had to tell my date I was a widow’

Jess Shirley, 35, is an occupational therapist and lives in Rhyl, North Wales

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Jess Shirley, 35, is an occupational therapist and lives in Rhyl, North Wales
I miss Mike and the life we shared, but I know he’ll remain a part of me forever

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I miss Mike and the life we shared, but I know he’ll remain a part of me forever

Jess Shirley, 35, is an occupational therapist and lives in Rhyl, North Wales.

“Sitting opposite my date in a local coffee shop, I anxiously rubbed my finger where my wedding ring used to be. It was the first time I’d been out with a man since my husband Mike had died six months before. It felt surreal, as if I was living a double life.

I met Mike in July 2007, when I was 21 and we were working at a cafe. He was very charismatic with a really silly sense of humour. Within a few months, we were a couple and we married eight years later in June 2015.

Tragically, just over a year later, in September 2016, Mike was killed in a road traffic accident, four days before his 34th birthday. My world fell apart. 

After he died, I kept busy by walking and doing home renovations, but as the months passed I craved companionship and affection. At first, I couldn’t entertain the idea of being with anyone else. It wasn’t about what others would think of me ‘moving on’ — I’ve always done what I feel is right for me in life — I simply couldn’t imagine someone else making me happy. But losing Mike had also made me realise how precious life is, and that we shouldn’t put anything off. 

Sitting opposite my date in a local coffee shop, I anxiously rubbed my finger where my wedding ring used to be. It was the first time I’d been out with a man since my husband Mike had…

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