It’s been over four months now since I moved out of my beautiful fairytale home and what a roller coaster ride that has been. It almost seems a distant memory now, although really it’s a very short space of time? I thought I had prepared mentally, having known it was happening for almost two years and doing lots of journaling and talking about it. But when it actually happened I think I went into a kind of shock. It was so frenetic that I had to go on auto-pilot, it was the only way to cope. I was totally on my own, as my ex-husband had by this point taken his things and left for South Africa, although my boys did their best to be as supportive as possible. It took the movers 4 days to pack and empty the house, most of which is in storage now. I wasn’t as prepared as I could have been and it was totally frantic in the final stages. Once the house was empty and cleaned I tried to say goodbye the best I could and went back to my small rented cottage and collapsed in a heap.
I walked around in a bit of a daze for a couple of weeks, I felt so tired and was at a bit of a loss as to what I should be doing. I had agreed to help my brother out by looking after his cats while he relocated from Switzerland, and my Mum was also staying with me in order to help out. But it was all a bit too much in a small space while trying to settle my own 3 pets into their new temporary home too. After a month of cohabiting in confined quarters with all the stresses and no real outlet, tension was building and I was feeling sad, miserable and lonely. I decided if nothing else I needed a reason to wash my hair, put some make-up on and get out of the house. It was now the summer holidays and my mostly married friends were busy with family and holidays so I made the brave and scary decision to put myself online.
During the breakdown of my marriage I thought I wouldn’t care if I was by myself going forward, so long as I was free from the constant tension and discomfort I was experiencing daily. But once it was gone I realised that it might be nice to date again, have a special someone in my life once more, and so I knew I needed to learn how to interact with men again in a way I hadn’t done for 23 years! I decided to approach the whole thing with a sense of light-hearted curiosity and see if I could reawaken my fun and flirtatious side which had long since abandoned ship.
I decided to use two free apps, Bumble and Tinder, that were quick and easy to set up and get going. The initial process wasn’t dissimilar to using eBay or marketplace really…take a couple of nice photos of what’s on offer, say something about it, and set some parameters, in this case, age range and distance. Shouldn’t be that hard? But oh boy, that was just the first hurdle! There were so many out of focus or just unappealing profile photos to sift through! Why go to all the trouble of putting yourself out there and have a profile photo that is out of focus…there is really no excuse in the smartphone age? And if you are trying to attract a female then why put a photo of yourself holding a beer, in your bathroom, or lying on your bed? Pictures of participating in triathlon or at the gym are fine I guess to show you are sporty and fit, but also indicate you are busy in your free time and weekends doing stuff I’m not interested in? All I really wanted was a clear headshot to see their face (and eyes), a full length shot for physique and maybe one smiling to see if they looked after their teeth? I had some flashbacks to when I read ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ – I was visiting a new planet and had to quickly make some adjustments to survive in this space!
Another bug bear was the actual profile. There is space to write a few sentences about yourself to give a sense of you as a person, but it amazed me how few men took the opportunity to do so. Ok, it’s not easy to sell yourself, but just a few lines about what kind of person you are and what interests you is not really difficult? Unless someone really appealed visually and I was prepared to give them a chance I mostly swiped left if there was no profile. It just showed lack of effort and serious intention. Oh yes…and spelling! If you’ve gone to the effort of writing a profile, at least make sure the spelling is correct!
Once you have navigated the initial search phase you are then waiting for to match with someone and it’s out of your hands. But now your mind takes over with all kinds of doubts about your desirability and self-worth. What if I get no matches? Am I no longer attractive? Should I change my profile pictures or re-write my profile? I soon realised I would need to put on a tough skin to survive here, but decided to stay true to myself and be authentic, and remember that I could be happy by myself anyway and if this didn’t work out then it wasn’t where I should be right now.
Next stage…you’ve matched – yikes! It amazed me how much adrenaline this produced, reducing a sensible grown up woman to a pubescent teenager 😬. On Bumble it’s the woman who has to make the first move, which felt safe initially but now puts the ball in my court and a fresh opportunity for rejection if your attempt to reach out is ignored? I researched the best opening lines, but after finding they didn’t really fit with me (too young and flirtatious) just went with polite, friendly and hopefully being able to ask about something from their profile, if there was one. Most of the time I was successful, but I think if a man has put himself on Bumble he is serious and ready to make an effort?
With Tinder you can receive messages as soon you’ve matched, but as the average opener is ‘Hi, how you doing?’ or ‘How’s your day going?’ I realised it would be down to me to make the initial effort to see if there was any possibility of meaningful conversation, which I accepted and went into creative mode. Making conversation by chat was harder than I’d anticipated. Being a creative type, and with an enjoyment of the written word, I was surprised by the lack of effort and imagination in the opening conversations. Isn’t it obvious that if you want to get a conversation going you need to ask questions, show interest in the person and not just answer with short replies that lead nowhere? Evidently not!
The process was also very disjointed, replying to someone only to get a response several hours later or even the next day made it difficult to get any flow going, as well as playing havoc again with ones self esteem. So I gently let go of those heading nowhere fast and focused on guys who were at least showing some genuine interest and making a good effort. I tried to remember that there was always another human being at the other end of the chat, probably just a bit lost and lonely like myself and always signed off courteously and with good wishes where possible. I did engage in a couple of playful dalliances with cheeky chaps that resulted in a conversation about French kissing and receiving a photo of a rather impressive penis! But it was good humoured and as they had nothing to go on except a first name and a photo I wasn’t unduly worried. I soon said thanks for the fun and goodbye.
After about a week of sustained effort I had four decent conversations ongoing, three of which had moved onto WhatsApp. I must admit the one was quite hard work to keep going but the guy was cute so I stuck with it, and another one was slightly over intense, sending me small essays to read and expecting equally voluminous responses, but I was enjoying the challenge. It was all very time consuming though and I was getting impatient to end uncertainty so decided to be brave and offer to meet up. After all, the only way you could really know if you wanted to date this person was to be in a physical space with them? So first I offered to meet the man who was in the same town as me because that was easy to arrange and convenient. I was soooo nervous, I haven’t experienced butterflies like that since I sat exams at school! I suggested a local coffee shop on a Sunday morning and we both had things to do later so it put a nice time constraint on the meet up. We text each other on the day to make sure we were still on, and I asked what he would be wearing as in his profile picture he was wearing sunglasses so I really wasn’t sure what he looked like! Come to think of it he was lucky he had put some effort into his profile and his conversation or I probably wouldn’t have bothered 😃. I chose an outfit I felt comfortable in which expressed my personality and set off with a positive attitude…at least I would get to practice making small talk with a man I didn’t know.
As it was relatively early on a Sunday morning he was the only person there when I arrived. He was shorter than I was expecting, and looked older than his profile photo without his sunglasses on, but he wasn’t unattractive and was dressed nicely. He seemed as nervous as I was which was kind of cute and we sat and made small talk for an hour. We parted to get on with our days and I undertook to give him some feedback later I think? I can’t say I fancied him straight away but I was pleased it hadn’t been a disaster and couldn’t really think of a reason not to meet him a second time and see if he was someone I could spend some more time with. I let him know at would be happy to meet again and he said he would like to see me again too.
In the meantime I was still conversing with the other three matches and was now keen to have something to compare my first experience with. So I offered to meet up with all of them, two of which agreed and one explained he wasn’t actually available to meet at the moment!! After making the arrangements the one guy cancelled due to a family emergency (he later tried to reschedule but I had moved on by then) and the other changed the date twice after which I withdrew my offer. I had already had a second and third date with number one by then and had started to think about him quite a bit.
I have to say that I felt I was the one driving the process, suggesting the dates and deciding what we should do. It was taking energy and effort but in a way it felt safe for me to be controlling the arrangements. I always took my own car and insisted on splitting expenses so there was no sense of feeling indebted in any way. It also meant I could choose things I would enjoy and would take the pressure off being sat opposite each other making more small talk over a meal. For my second date I suggested ten pin bowling which put less pressure on conversation and gave me some insight into my dates’ competitive nature.
I guess we women often still harbour that fantasy of being romanced by our Prince Charming, but this is an unrealistic expectation in an age where we want equality in all other things. If you are lucky enough to find a chivalrous guy and you like that, then enjoy it, otherwise be prepared to be specific about what you’d enjoy and be clear about your deal breakers? Having good healthy boundaries is essential to navigating the online dating world safely and hugely reduces the chance of hurt and disappointment.
Fast forward 12 weeks and I am very happy in my new relationship. It’s been thrilling and scary at the same time but at least I feel alive again. I’m loving getting dressed up and feeling good about myself as a partner and a lover. We are quite different and I am having to find new ways of being me with this man but it’s good for me and I am learning new things about myself. As is my nature I threw myself headfirst into this relationship once I had made up my mind to give it a go, and as a result I have felt vulnerable at times having put my heart on the line again. But as anyone in investments knows, the greater the risk, the greater the potential rewards! Having said that, if you’re not sure how strong you are yet then by all means take things slower and with a little more caution until you feel certain of your resilience.
I did worry at first that I should have tried a few more dates just to make sure I was making a good choice. But I’m the kind of shopper that feels perfectly happy when the first dress I try on fits well and I like it a lot. I don’t go home and wish I spent hours trying on other dresses only to go back and get the one I liked at first…so I decided it was probably fine to have this philosophy with online dating too 🤔. What I had found was good enough to start with and is actually turning out to be a great fit!
What will happen only time will tell, but right now I enjoying the companionship and affection and the feeling that I am no longer alone on my journey. But at least I know that if I find I am by myself again in the future I will survive, and I will always be in control of the choices ahead of me. I am the curator of my own life. X