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""Get with the programme Granddad," the other cranial segment is urging. Then, the following morning, I wake up…to a text message. You are a lovely guy, but I don’t think we are compatible."Simply everyone is doing it." According to figures released by You Gov, 50 per cent of the UK’s single classes have now tried out internet dating via one of Britain’s 1,500 websites (there are an estimated 5,000 sites in Europe alone) while 20 per cent of relationships in the UK now begins online, with meeting on the internet now third in popularity only to meeting through mutual friends, or barflying it around in pubs and discos. On paper - or on an i Pad tablet screen, if you will - I appear to be a perfect candidate. In my mid-forties, suddenly single, heart-broken, emotionally wrecked, world weary, cynical, profoundly discombobulated and reduced of esteem and circumstance, maybe incapable of ever loving again. I begin an exchange with an Australian girl, living in North London. We meet in a louche, Soho dive bar and are at each other’s tongues by the second cocktail. Goodbye."Mildly devastated – I thought we’d seemed rather compatible when her tongue was down my throat - I bravely steel myself for this kind of cold and callously abrupt rejection. Doug’s school is in the social calibration business dealing with a typical male customer; very shy, awkward males, fluent in logistics and technicalities – the IT sector is a major target market - but lacking in social skills.
I’ve tomcatted around but encountered no one with any lasting potential. And I have a revelation - it also isn’t for losers. (High on the heady octane of the chase, this is what I tell my self). Well…As a young man I always valued charm over intelligence, good humour over achievement and ambition. the guy at the newsagent, the office receptionist, even their male workmates etc.
I’ve been successfully fixed up by a friend (nice for a while, but she’s now stopped returning my calls), secretly dated one of my ex wife’s friends (awkward), and, oddly, all but ostracised by my former martial group’s circle of friends - male and female alike. So, one day, I chance on an old flame via Linked In, the CV-driven, job application site, of all places. I read all the flowery guff and macho flannel penned by the losers in my demographic and decide to go minimal and mysterious. No dubious boasts about Iron Man challenges and sponsored walks. The happily married, steady relationship might think there is a stigma attached to this sort of thing. Men who go looking for company on the web tend to be busy, time-poor careerists - proactive, sensible and pragmatic realists who haven’t the time or inclination to wander aimlessly up and down the aisles of the love supermarket, searching for Mr or Mrs Right. But older, and somewhat preposterously single, I now know charm to be something of a controversial issue - a gender issue even. The success rate, based on customer feedback, is 70 per cent.
Up against it, I’m searching for the impossible; companionship, intelligence, hotness, beauty, wit and style, love even. Emboldened by Christmas holiday alcohol (there is said to be a 350 per cent spike in online dating traffic during the post-Christmas period) I send a frankly flirtatious email and a cheeky proposal of a spontaneous meeting. We are in bed and banging like teenagers that same evening. A week or so later, encouraged by a friend who had recently met and married a lovely girl he’d met online, I pop my cyber-dating cherry, signing up for a popular, directly-debited service that promises all sorts of well-educated middle-class divorcees and pretty, mature-man-hungry 34 year olds… I fine-tune my resume down to a pithy list of likes; food, drink, the outdoors, contemporary art, high-minded literature, dogs, rock n roll. People who internet date are super modern, order online / home delivery types and cyber dating is, in effect, their Relationship Ocado. There are sites for single Jews, Christians, gays, farmers, poshies, sugar daddies, old people, vegetarians, men in uniform, people with allergies and Sea Captains. Oscar Wilde once said that it was absurd to divide people into good and bad. or tedious."(Of course, I know he did, because the occasional channelling of some Wildean wit and wisdom is the kind of smart-arsed badinage to which seasoned "charmers" such as your reporter are prone to concerning themselves). A man who is described as "a charmer" maybe be bursting with pride at such an accolade but he also has to take on board the pejorative nature of the tribute, the term "charmer" being replete with supernatural nuances and dodgy tendencies, and only a few removes from "bounder." Maybe that’s what’s meant by a charm offensive. When you get a date, keep the exchange flowing and alive (and not bodily fluid-driven either) avoiding questions that sound like a job interview-style grilling. The school’s curriculum is based on the simple premise that the first few moments of any male / female meeting are crucial. "It’s all about being honest, about being you," says Doug.
uk is "a free, upscale, private, online dating site where eligible royals, peers, and aristocrats may be matched with eligible Commoners." While the is a dating site for, wait for it, fans of the Fountainhead author Ayn Rand. But "charmer" is also a loaded compliment bestowed often on men but rarely assigned to women. "Women respond to that." "If she’s interested, there will be eye contact and occasional physical contact."Doug tells me, by way of a compliment that I am what his profession likes to term "socially adequate".
Fancy meeting someone who shares the same quasi-Fascistic ideas about architecture and society? Wary that internet dating is a comparatively recent phenomenon, still marking out its political parameters, laying down an etiquette blueprint and making its own rules, I go and see Doug Haines, an ex-city banker who is a co-founder of The London School of Attraction, a Hatton Garden-based outfit that "helps men and women develop the confidence to meet the opposite sex." Do I really need his help? When online, he advises me to act quickly, not fanny around with too much email chat, cut to the chase with the proposal of a face to face meeting.
And what sort of a girl would want a date with the kind of loser who would sign himself up to an internet dating service, anyway?
Do you really want to be signing up to a service that will facilitate dating the kind of girl who would sign up to this sort of thing? I knew that last night when I was busily, drunkenly clicking and typing and e-flirting. Then, two glasses of wine in, loneliness and devil-may-care, WTF arrogance to the fore, I had arranged a meeting for the following night. One side of your brain is asking; "Jeez, you pathetic, sad sack of middle age desperation has it come to this? Indulging in faux-cute email banter before arranging trysts at unfamiliar bars and pubs chosen with the specific criteria of being places where you will definitely know no one at all. She had "liked" me and despite her suburban clobber, brassy make up and bleached, brittle-looking hair, despite the dating service’s computer calculating us as only a 40 per cent match, I had "liked" her back. Well, you find Groucho’s wise words about not wanting to belong to any club that would accept you as a member jangling your subconscious incessantly when you enter the strange world of internet dating. Uploading ambitiously flattering, five-year-old photos, hero shots of triathlon achievements and writing a dishonestly smooth and multihued biog that references your non-existent love of theatre and success at macho? Dressed in tight jeans, sheepskin ugh (sic) boots and one of those sexlessly sleeveless Puffa things so popular with butch, Home Counties stable girls, she is even more ruddy and equine than her blurry photo had suggested. I should have made my excuses and done a runner after two minutes, but being well brought up, buttoned up and British, I stand her a couple of rounds. "I am very, very good at it, too," she says, lunging a clumsy, -ish squeeze of my inner thigh. I down my final drink quickly, feel around for jacket and bag, make verbal overtures towards my imminent departure. " she says.* * * , the neatly philosophical quippage that wrestles with the restlessly conflicting notions of convention, acceptance, self worth, shame, honesty, social success and personal failure? As soon as her horsiness walks in, I feel like bolting. She tells me rather proudly how she has decided to dedicate the rest of her life to perfecting the fine art of fellatio, practising intensively, locally, servicing all comers (pardon the pun) at her village pub. Spelled out in the wonky cipher of the prestige plates lexicon, where sevens can be Ls and eights can represent Bs, are - and I shit you not - the words "B7OW JO8"."Want to get in? Didn’t she start asking questions after six months? Growing more candid with each G&T, horsey lady shrugs and tells me she has now, in advanced mid-life, moved on and experienced a significant sexual awakening. As we get close, she clicks open the central locking and alerts me to the vehicle number plate.