HELP! I'm being followed around by badly drawn hearts...
I'm not a fan of online dating. It's important to say this right off the bat, because... Well, it's a simple fact.
When you've been single for as long as I have (over three years and counting), well-meaning people start giving you advice. Which is great, except for the fact that often, it's stuff you're already doing ("go places" - do you think I live in a cave?!) or it's advice that you've tried previously, only for it to fail harder than Katie Price's ill-advised music career.
One piece of advice I get a lot is "try online dating!" It's a perfectly harmless suggestion and one with a proven success rate; I know couples who met online who are blissfully happy, after all, so I'm not anti the existence of websites designed to bring people together. The trouble is that dating sites, much like Katie Price's entire career, aren't to everybody's taste.
I'd apologise, but... SHE'S DRESSED AS A MOUTH.
Still, I'm at a point in my life where I'd like to be in a relationship and I spend a fair bit of time thinking about settling down and having a family. It's something I always thought would have happened by now and yes, it's a source of frustration that it hasn't. So, in spite of the fact that I'd previously been a member of two different dating sites and hated the experience (let's just say I went on a date with one guy in particular whose behaviour following said date has become a "horror story" I tell at parties...), I decided to give it another try and, in a moment of supreme nerdiness, I joined a dating site specifically for fans of Doctor Who.
ARE YOU MY BOYFRIEND?!
Whovian reference for the win.
And in doing so, I discovered a few things. Yes, there are some lovely guys out there. Yes, dating sites can be a good place to meet like minded people and get to know them. But I also discovered that there are 5 types of people you will find on every dating site imaginable (or at least I've bumped into them on all 3 sites I've been on). And maybe "meeting" these types of people explains why dating sites are still not really my cup of tea.
I say there are five types of people, rather than five types of men, because I'm relatively sure that there must be guys out there, looking for a girl, who've stumbled across the female incarnations of the dating site users I'm about to describe...
So, before I jump into the list, let me just say: If you're in a relationship with someone you met on a dating site, I am thrilled for you. Genuinely, I think it's great when it works. If you've never tried online dating, give it a go if you want to, because you never know what might happen. But be forewarned that you may encounter one - or all - of these types...
1. The One Who's A Bit Too Keen...
If you're not sure how dating sites work, let me give a simple explanation: You look at people's profiles, you choose someone you like and you send them a message. They might message back, they might not. If they do, you message back and forth and see where it goes. All very harmless...
But then there's that one user you message, who decides that they're basically in love with you two messages later. "I think you could be the one," they pine over cyberspace. "I haven't stopped thinking about you since you first messaged me. Are you thinking of me? Can you picture us together? Because you are everything I've ever dreamt about. I can barely concentrate at work, because all I have on my mind is you..."
This person doesn't know you. Unless you've sent them your entire life story in your initial message (or your initial reply, if they messaged you first), then they probably don't even know your surname at this point. But here they are, telling you that they want to commit to a serious relationship with you, because you're the only thing that's on their mind. AFTER A COUPLE OF VERY SHORT MESSAGES.
This person might be harmless. But then again, if they're declaring their love for you this early on and with no personal information to base it on, they might also be planning to kill you and wear your skin. Is that a risk you want to take?!
Creepy singletons of the Internet: STOP IT.
2. The One Who Can't Stop Agreeing With You...
I'll be honest with you, dear reader. I like being right. Who doesn't?! But a pivotal part of being a functioning grown up in society, is being able to admit when you're wrong, or being able to offer a differing opinion and having the balls (proverbial or otherwise) to stand by it.
Every dating site I have ever been on has featured a worrying number of "yes-men." It's as though some people are so concerned about scaring off a potential partner, they are willing to agree to literally everything you say. I've known some people to totally go back on their own words - from literally one message ago - when I've offered a differing opinion. You'll spot these "yes-(wo)men" very easily, because the conversation will go something like this (note: this conversation is made up, but you get the gist):
You: So, I really like music. Do you?
Them: Yeah, especially rock.
You: I prefer pop. :)
Them: Oh, me too. It's actually my favourite genre. Pop is great! I secretly love One Direction.
You: I'm not a fan of them, but I do like Take That.
Them: Oh, that's who I meant. I don't like One Direction, either. Take That are amazing. Their ballads are fantastic.
You: Their ballads are great, although I prefer their upbeat songs!
Them: Same. Their upbeat ones are better than their ballads, for sure. Any other hobbies?
You: I like painting.
Them: That's great! Watercolours are fantastic, aren't they?
You: I do like them, yeah. I usually work with oil paints, myself.
Them: Well, they're the best kind of paints. I like those better than all the others.
You: I've just finished a landscape...
Them: The best paintings are landscapes! I love landscapes!
You: They can be really lovely! I usually do portraits, so this has been a change for me.
Them: Oh, portraits are my favourite kind of paintings, actually.
You: I thought you preferred landscapes?
Them: Only when I thought you did.
It's a shame, because I think a lot of the "yes-(wo)men" are probably lovely people, just trying to get you to like them and scared that if you disagree on something early on, it'll put a stop to whatever might be developing between you. But you know what? As much as I like being right, I much prefer having a genuine conversation with a person sharing their actual opinions. Honesty is better from the start, guys and girls! It's by being a "yes-(wo)man" that you find yourself eating a spicy meal that you just know will blow your entire arse off the next day, all because you didn't have the heart to say that you prefer your food a little milder. In the words of the Genie from Aladdin: "BEEEEEEE YOURSELF."
Copyright: Disney. Please don't sue me, I'm poor.
3. The One Who Hasn't Read Your Profile...
One of the best things about online dating - in my view, at least - is that you can find out about a person before you decide whether to strike up a conversation. If you're after someone with a similar interest or outlook, you can find out whether they're on your wavelength before you've even said "hello." You can't do that in a bar, unless you have some sort of Spidey senses.
So, when I've been on a dating site, I've always made a point of filling in my profile with as much detail as possible (without giving out my entire life history or pin number). I might mention bands I like, or a hobby I enjoy. I'll say something about what I'm looking for (most sites offer the chance to say whether you want a proper relationship or something more casual, which is really helpful). To me, the whole point of online dating is that it's supposed to be easier than approaching a stranger who you may or may not have anything in common with. And the use of profile information means you should be judging potential mates on more than just their physical appearance (let's face it, very few of us go to a bar and mutter to our mates: "Look at the sense of humour on HIM!").
All of which means it's kind of irritating when someone makes it really obvious that they've not read your profile. At all. It's one thing to skim read and then ask what a person's hobbies are, because you've forgotten what they wrote on their personal info page. It's another to have to ask where they're from and how old they are, because you've literally just looked at their face and gone "they'll do," without so much as glancing at the information they've put in their profile.
For example, my basic initial profile page looks like this:
Don't judge my answers - it's a specific site with limited choice options...
And yet, since I've been on that site, I've had at least three messages that contain the words "how old are you?", "where are you from?" or "are you single?"
INFORMATION THAT IS LITERALLY RIGHT THERE IN MY PROFILE.
Don't get me wrong, it's flattering to receive messages from someone saying they think I look good - especially as I spent my entire school life being bullied for my apparent hideousness. But when that information is so readily available, it is pretty annoying for it to go unread. Whilst I've had some very nice chats with guys who've asked questions they could have answered for themselves, it's always a much bigger tick in the metaphorical box when someone messages you and makes it obvious they have read your profile information before getting in touch.
"What's your name?" IT'S ON THE SCREEN!!!
4. The One Who Has NO Idea How To Talk To Other Humans...
There used to be a belief that anyone who used dating sites had to be some kind of socially awkward virgin. Thankfully, thanks to the sheer number of couples meeting online, that outdated stereotype is finally being kicked into touch. But that's not to say that there aren't a few people online who genuinely don't seem to know how to interact with other humans.
For example, earlier this week, I had a message from a man that said: "You are quite attractive. Keep it up."
Sadly, that's just the tip of the "I HAVE NO CLUE HOW TO SPEAK TO MY FELLOW HUMANS" iceberg. Back in late 2011, when I was on my first dating site, opening gambits from potential suitors included:
"Hi, you're cute. Would you fuck my wife and let me watch?"
"Hello. Here's a picture of my penis...(and yes, he actually did send one) Can I see your tits?"
and my personal favourite...
"Even though you're not very pretty, I would still consider going out with you. Want me to send you my mobile number?"
Reader, I married him.
Seriously though, there are people out there, letting the side down. It's 2015. Internet dating is one of the major ways of meeting someone, these days. And yet sometimes, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the Internet is solely the domain of the socially-crippled sex fiend.
It's dizzying, it really is. And yes, I have just discovered fun things to do with my webcam.
Not that. Get out, you perv.
5. The One Who Would Be Great, BUT...
I've said it before and I'll say it again: perfection doesn't exist. If you're turning down potential dates because you're waiting for someone perfect to come along, then I hope you're also remembering to feed your unicorn and take your dragon for its MOT, because you're living in a fantasy world.
That said, there are legitimate reasons why we sometimes have to turn down someone who might have been a match in other areas. And it is massively frustrating.
It could be cultural or religious differences, opposing moral beliefs, wanting different things or distance (I once chatted to a guy who lived in Northern Scotland and thought "he'd be great, if only we didn't live A BILLION MILES APART"). For the record, my distance limit is now London (it was Bristol, but damnit, the South West just isn't coming up trumps for me). I think long distance can work, if you're both willing to try, but you do have to be sensible about it. Anyway, there could be any number of reasons why someone who seems nice might not ever become your romantic partner.
Now, I don't want to sound overly picky by saying that. I'm genuinely not dismissive without reason - I've been single too long to do that, after all. It's not as though I'm casually going "oh, his eyes are brown and I prefer blue - DELETE!" like some kind of dating site Cyberman. Relationships are obviously about compromise and it's vital to be able to try to make it work with someone you like, but some things are insurmountable. For me at the moment, it's age. I'm 32 (33 in September, although I'm in denial, so shhh) and whilst I've always tended to go for younger men, I do have to draw the line somewhere, or I'll turn into Joan Collins. Twenty five is probably the youngest I would date, based partly on my feeling slightly uncomfortable at the thought of being with someone more than 7 years younger than I am and partly on the fact that I've met very few men aged 24 or under who are 100% ready to settle down and think about having kids. It's just a question of being in different places in your lives sometimes and the last thing I want is to fall for someone who's not ready for the kind of relationship I'm ready (and want) to have. It wouldn't be fair on either of us.
Admittedly, there are men out there who are young, but want to settle down. And I know a couple of women in relationships with much younger men (10 years younger or more), but I suppose it's down to preference, at the end of the day. For want of a better word, being with a guy ten or more years younger than me would probably make me feel a bit squicky. Like I was some kind of female version of The Child Catcher from Chitty, Chitty Bang, Bang.
Try not to envy my mad MS Paint Skillz.
What I'm saying is, sometimes you meet someone online and get on really well with them, but there might be something that stops you from taking the leap into an actual relationship. And that's okay. With any kind of dating - Internet or otherwise - it's always best to go in knowing what you want. It's only when you rigidly stick to an ideal and refuse to compromise that the problems start...
Having tried three different dating sites on and off over a period of three and a half years, I think I've reached the view that it's not really for me. But that's not to say that it won't be for you. After all, you can't say you don't like something until you've tried it. I just hope that the above descriptions give any potential dating site users a handy checklist of what to look out for. And if you're someone like me, who's tried online dating, well, I hope reading this has raised a smile, even if it's a wry one.
As for me... Well, I haven't deleted my latest dating site profile, but if I'm honest, it's looking increasingly likely that I'll have to go back to my tried and tested real-life routine of forming a crush on someone and being too terrified to do anything about it.
It's working well for me so far...
Or maybe I'll force myself to admit that it's time I strapped on a pair of metaphorical balls and actually did something about a crush, for once. Watch this space...*
*...Not literally, you'll get really bored.