“Bloody boring” is the way Carole Lethbridge describes the man who seemed perfect for her. He was caring, decent, and interested in a relationship. “But too ordinary,” she says. This is the trouble when you’re a dynamic, financially independent woman in your 60s trawling the online dating sites for love. Just about every man out there seems to be a creep, a scammer, a liar or dull. Well, not every man. Matthew, the smoothie she fell for, was a two-timing cad who broke her heart.
Who would have thought in our 20s or 30s – when some of us were desperate and dateless – that the same feelings could return to plague us in our 50s, 60s and 70s? The search for love and meaningful sex, for a partner with zing, can be more fraught the second or third time around. In Carole’s case, it was the fifth time around. She’d been a sucker for bad marriages and had four divorces behind her by the time she launched herself into online dating at the age of 65.
Carole is not the first Australian to chronicle her experiences with online dating. But her hilarious book Online Dating After 60 explodes a few myths about older women: that they’re sexless, for one. If anything, you can’t help feeling sorry for some of the men.
The days of stigma and secrecy about online dating are long gone. Fifty-one per cent of adults have used an online dating service or would consider using one, a new Nielsen survey of 3,500 Australians for the dating site RSVP.com reveals. And 35 per cent of people aged 61 and over were similarly well-disposed towards online dating. “It gave me more options than just sitting knitting in my mountain village,” said Carole, who’d moved to the Blue Mountains and knew hardly anyone.
But it’s a dispiriting journey she takes us on. Smooth Matthew, the cad, is her first online date, and she can’t believe her luck. After the heartbreaking bust-up with him, no-one can match up – not the pensioner who couldn’t afford a $2.30 biscuit but grabbed her hand under the table and put it on his penis on their first date; nor the bankrupted property developer who lived with his sister and was looking for a woman with a house and a car; nor Barry who didn’t resemble his photograph in any way…….Not many mature-age men, it turns out, look like George Clooney.
And then there are the men who came to look at her online profile and went by such names as: Strong Boy – 71-year-old; Come Ride Me – 57-year-old; Big Rod – 70-year-old; Jack Hammer – 56-year-old. A man she met, another whose online picture bore no resemblance to reality, said when she pointed this out: “Most women don’t mind what I look like because I’m so good in bed. Are you going to come home with me?” She loved sex, but not boors or bores and she wanted a relationship not a fling.
At the other end of the machismo spectrum were the clearly unsuitable matches for a woman with a background in business, a big personality and a penchant for stilettos: the self-described “quiet, reserved person” who eschewed the “flash life” and was keen on doing “a bit of caravanning,” for example.
People do meet the love of their life online. I know of three. In the US a new study from the University of Chicago shows one in three Americans who married between 2005 and 2012 had met online – including through social media, chat rooms, and email – and half of these had met through an internet dating service. Surprisingly these online marriages were proving to be happier than marriages that had their genesis in more traditional milieus like bars or parties perhaps because of motivation or screening, or the sheer volume of opportunities.
Even so, I had to wonder at some point why Carole persevered in her online search for love, especially as the years rolled on. She puts it down to a longing for the caring she never got as a child. As well, here is a woman who is “rage, raging” against the loss of youth. She refuses to conform to stereotypes and expectations of a single woman heading to 70. Not for her the obligatory short hair, the immersion in the life of grandchildren and gardening, and contentment with a circle of women friends. She loathes talk of the “$2.50 club” whose members use their cut-price rail tickets for special outings. And she despises talk about ailments. Retirement has never suited her.
You want to cheer, “Go girl!” And at the same time you want to caution: “There’s more to life than a spouse – there’s a lot to be said for gardening, grandchildren, friends and work,” though that’s easy for me to say from the haven of a relationship.
But are too many older women hanging out for a George Clooney? Is all this online dating with endless availability making people too picky, too harsh on each other, to quick to find one another “ordinary”, too ready to think the next person will be better? Or at any age, as I’ve written before in relation to octogenarian lovers, is chemistry still the vital ingredient, and without it, there’s just no point?
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