Sunday, 22 April 2012

When Swamp Donkeys Attack

The remainder of my weekend with Jenny could not end quickly enough. Once I'd given up trying to seduce her, and settled on the frankly more appealing target of sleep, Saturday night had passed in deep unconsciousness. I was vaguely aware of Jenny leaving early on Sunday morning, to give Pugsly his morning walk, but did not emerge myself until she had returned, and was preparing for a much longer walk with both the hideous little dogs.

I went with her. What the hell else I going to do? Not sit around and talk to Sarah, that was for sure, and my train home wasn't until the Sunday afternoon. So, I suffered my way through an extended trek around the park, followed by lunch in The George, before I was finally able to make my escape. Jenny and I told each other what a lovely weekend we'd had, hugged briefly, kissed on the cheek, and then I was off. No mention was made of my having my hand down her pants the preceding night.

Coming home was a blessed relief. Jenny and I exchanged a couple of texts, but I think we both knew what had happened. For me, I suppose the overwhelming feeling was one of closure. To be sure, I had been hoping for something more - a spot of old-times-sakes, uncomplicated, sex would have been just dandy for me. But life moves on. And onwards may not necessarily be upwards, but it is onwards.

So, once home, it wasn't long before I got back online and starting checking out my options. And, hey, there was interest! Messages from women! Let's check them out!

It's a common feature of all these dating sites that they'll email you when someone sends you a message. It's also a common feature that they won't include a photo or any details of your match in the email – you have to log into the site to find out anything. That's fair enough, I suppose – it makes it that bit more secure for people, and also forces you to be exposed to the site's advertisers. But, it does tend to generate a degree of excitement that is usually unwarranted.

This occasion was no different. My first message was from “Sparklingeyes73” - a good choice of user name, if I am honest. Because, trying to focus attention on her eyes was a good move, given what the rest of her looked like. The profile photo was simply horrific – an immense, shapeless blob of a woman, who could have been any age from twenty to sixty, with her features set in a grim-faced expression and more chins than the Chinese phone-book. A true swamp donkey, unredeemed by any sign of definable curves, or even an welcoming smile.

What truly amazed me was the extent of her opening message (“Hi! Howya doin'?” - that was it) and the equal brevity of her profile description. I mean, I know I am particularly shallow when it comes to appearance, but surely no one could ever think that that photo looked good? So, given that you have to play the hand you're dealt, did it not occur to Sparklingeyes to try demonstrating a few positive features, that would indicate intelligence, empathy, or just someone who is fun to be around? Nope, that's your lot: a big fat ugly munter says hello. Over to you, pal, now do all the chasing.

Sorry, love, but I think I'll pass. Next up, “Carlathemermaid” (where do they get these user names?). Now, Carla certainly had a bit more going for her in the messaging department. Here I feel I have to quote:

wow- can't believe your single- loved your photos
sorry i haven't got one on here, i could do with some one taking one LOL!
so if you fancy a trip to my town any time- let me know

good luck Carla x x

Now, that is how to get a guy's attention. Ok, the grammar may not be up to much, and the content is of course as cheesy as a ripe Stilton, but we don't need subtlety. Compliments are rare enough in an average man's life. And, the rest of Carla's profile description wasn't bad, except …

No photo is never a good sign. In the modern age, I find it very difficult to believe that anyone doesn't possess a selection of electronic self-portraits, taken on phones or posted on Facebook or similar. No, anyone on a dating site with no photo has something to hide.

And, at age fifty-one, it was quite that likely Carla had plenty to hide. Still, let's keep an open mind, and wasn't Nigella Lawson fifty-two? And, I absolutely worshipped Nigella Lawson. So, I sent her a slightly cagey reply:

Hi Carla,

Thanks for your mail. I like to think it's because I'm choosey!
Your profile seems really nice. You must have a recent snap somewhere you could send me?

Xxx Ben

Succinct and to the point – clearly indicating that I had no interest in getting into any more email ping-pong until I knew what she looked like. Sorry, sweetheart, but I'm not on here to make friends.

With those two out of the way (and, let's face it, I never expected many women to make the first move, online any more than in real life), it was time to run a search. I set my criteria fairly broad, with the exception of distance – I'm not really interested in trekking more than a dozen miles away for a first date that, odds-on, will be a complete waste of time. And I firmly believe that you know nothing about someone until you actually meet them in person – the online stuff just establishes whether the most basic of criteria are met. Charlotte was the classic example of that – the image I had of her when we were messaging was absolutely nothing like the real girl when we finally met. Based only on our online exchanges, I was fairly indifferent, but I fell for her quite hopelessly in the course of date one, and thought her the love of my life a few dates later.

But, onwards and … er … onwards! Sorting the results by the newest members (let's try and get in there before they become totally disillusioned by all the sub-human male trolls messaging them fifty times a day, looking for web-can fun), I had a long list of prospects. And, now it was time to start winnowing them down.

Those with no photo, or a photo which clearly resembled a stegosaurus, were rejected at once. I try to remain open-minded with regard to pictures, given that few people look really good in an average phone-camera snap, but it has to be said that some of these women were irredeemably unattractive. Their images really should be sketched into the unexplored areas of old seafarers' maps, to warn captains to steer well away.

And, then there were the frustrating photos. The ones which show no one at all, but a picture of a sunset or a landscape. With most sites, these are technically forbidden, but some munters post them anyway, hoping to lure someone in with their personality and artistic appreciation. I am not fooled – someone else with something to hide (most probably a face like a dog's bum).

And then there are the photo's taken too far away, often on holiday with the subject disguised by a pair of dark glasses and a floppy hat. Yes, it's nice to know you've been to the Pyramids and that you're a keen skier, but I'd like to see your face, please! In fact, I'm only really interested in one of your holiday snaps if it shows you in your bikini.

Similar to these are the fancy dress photo's. It's great to know what a fun person you are and what wacky times we might one day share, but can I please see what you look like without the clown make-up, orange wig and comedy glasses? Unless that's really what you look like when you're ready for the office?

The group photo's. A whole gang of girls enjoying a fab night out on the cocktails, dressed to the nines and looking hot. Except … which one are you? There's usually no indication, but if you look closely, you'll be able to tell. Yes, that's right – she's the ugly one.

Photo's of their pets. Christ, like we care … well, actually, pet photo's are a good disqualifier. A single dog can often be fine, but anyone with a photo of three vicious-looking Staffordshire Bull Terriers labelled “My gorgeous boys” is to be avoided. Even worse are multiple cats, or those who have a whole menagerie of horses, dogs, cats, rabbits, etc. You'll always be well-down the priority list with these women.

I find it very strange indeed that some women post photo's of their children. Frankly, the sites should ban such photo's – who knows what manner of sick pervert may be searching for their next victim? I wouldn't even post an unobscured photo of another adult – I think that is a violation of others' privacy.

I can't say as I can come up with any objection to the odd lingerie shot some women post on their profiles. I wouldn't exactly recommend it, unless a girl really is just looking for meaningless sex, but they will always get a message from me in any case. And I'm quite prepared to make it meaningful.

Photo's aside, what of the profiles themselves? Do men care?

There are of course plenty of women who write as little as possible. Unlike poor deluded Sparklingeyes above, yes, some of them can get away with it, simply because their photo is hot. And, in that respect, I'm no deeper than the next man – I'll drop them a brief, standard line. But no more than that – partly because I don't think they deserve it (how arrogant is that attitude?), but also because I simply find it difficult to come up with much to say. If they don't reveal any facet of their personality, how can I come up with a message that will be in any way meaningful or interesting? So, I don't bother – just a quick “like your photo; doing anything interesting this weekend?” one-liner. The chances of them writing back are tiny, in any case.

So, yes, I at least do care what women have to say. And, some of it is awful.

There was this one. “Up for a challenge?” was her opening line. The rest of her profile described how “fiesty, firey, strong-willed and high-maintenance” she was, and how she wanted a man who was “strong enough” to put up with all this bullshit. Feeble-minded enough, would be more like it. Why on earth anyone would think those to be attractive qualities I cannot imagine. I've had enough challenges in my life, love – I'd like someone to actually be nice to me for a change.

Then there are the supposed extreme sports/activity fanatics. The ones who are into hiking, mountain-biking, climbing, bungee-jumping, sky-diving, white water rafting, surfing, etc., all while managing to hold down a full-time job and be a single mother of three. Yeah, right …

The entitlement princesses. The ones who want to be flown to the Paris for a first date, taken on holiday to the Seychelles, showered with gifts of flowers and jewellery, and spoiled, spoiled, spoiled, by a “real gentleman” who is stupid enough to fork out for it all. One of them even blatantly described her preferred first date: “You choose, because you'll be paying”. Or, you could just visit an honest prostitute instead.

The functional illiterates. These women do have something to say, but what it is is generally unintelligible. It's either hideously abbreviated text-speak, or (what I would hope) is deliberately misspelled English in an attempt to look cool. The worst of the latter, is, undoubtedly the term “gawjus”, usually applied to their Ritalin-addicted toddlers or vicious-faced little dogs. One on my list did not want to say much about herself, but encouraged men to message her and then “all will be reviled”. Yes, I'm sure it will, love …

Then there was one who sounded ok, until she got to the point where she revealed “I have eleven tattoos – does that put you off?”. Yes, it does - if I want to date a stoker in the merchant navy I'll start hanging around the docks.

But the most common unappealing female profile is one that says nothing about them whatsoever, but simply consists of a long list of qualities which you, the poor aspiring male, must measure up to. These are, usually, resolutely conventional: tall (you can have a face like a baboon's arse but still be a big hit with the ladies, provided you are 6'2”), preferably dark, athletic, confident, successful, professional, affluent, handsome, etc. One girl had list exactly like every dopey tart's dream guy, but also added the qualifiers “not big-headed or arrogant, and not a cheater or a player”. Yeah, good luck finding that combination, baby.

You get the odd variation on what they are looking for – some of them openly look for “bad boys, tattoos, motorbikes, muscles, attitude”, and maybe bald instead of dark (but always TALL, even when they are 5'1”). What these women should simply put is “I want to be treated like dirt, battered senseless and cheated on at every available opportunity”. I'm sure they are generally successful in their quest.

So, it wasn't hard to whittle down my list to more manageable proportions. But, in truth, there were still plenty of attractive, independent, normal-sounding women who could at least string a sentence together. By the time I had messaged them all, I had received a reply back from the mysterious Carla, who enclosed the requested photo.

Which appeared to be of Yoda's sister, and not the Nigella look-alike I was hoping for. Oh, well, surely one of the ones I've messaged has to go somewhere!