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'You could hit the jackpot or walk away a sore loser'

By Frances Burscough

As a one-time dating aficionado, I can relate exactly to what Patsy Kensit is doing at the moment — dipping her toe in the water to find those ‘plenty of fish’ that people talk about.

Personally, I gave up when I reached 50. I’d met a great man, my partner Mark, in the ‘real world’ who shared many of my favourite activities, aspirations, views and tastes — and he loved my dogs too — so I closed my online accounts and got on with life.

Nevertheless, my decade on the dating scene was a real eye-opener. I went on numerous dates and romantic forays with men from various walks of life and with different degrees of success. I was courted with compliments, showered with gifts and whisked away on romantic trips around the world. But I also had more than my fair share of disasters... some laughable, some infuriating and some downright horrific.

Modern courtship is just like a game — a mixed-up, messed-up game — combining assorted aspects of lotto jackpot, charades and solitaire, all rolled into one but without any common rules.

There’s an element of chance; the odds are stacked against you and the risks are high so you never know whether you are going to get lucky and strike the jackpot or walk away a sore loser.

But, like any good game, you keep on trying because half the fun is in the playing.

When I split up from my ex — two weeks before my 40th — I wasn’t quite sure how to go about finding a date. Heck, I’d been married for 15 years.

So, rather than waste a lot of time, effort, money and pride ‘on the pull’, I decided to consult the newspaper classified, just like you would if you wanted a second-hand sofa. In those days — 2003 — online dating was only just starting and was still considered a very risky business.

My first stop was a lonely hearts column. This phase lasted for about a year with very little success. After numerous blind dates with men who looked and acted nothing like they had described, I knew this approach wasn’t for me.

So from there I decided to risk it and go global, joining the world’s biggest dating agency, Match.com. I filled in a profile, added some pictures and literally within minutes the results came flooding in.

And so, the dating game began. In earnest, this time. Which, coincidentally, was the name of my first date from Match.com. Ah, Ernest. A lovely bloke in many ways... very friendly, very affable, very affluent. But also, sadly, very dull too.

He was a chartered accountant... need I say more? I sat through a four- course dinner at one of Belfast’s poshest restaurants but after struggling to keep the conversation going throughout it, I called it a day.

There were a few non-starters just like that until I finally met someone I liked and dated him for a few weeks. At first we got on like a house on fire. I spent time with him while the boys were with their dad and that was great.

But after a while he wanted me to make a full-time commitment and I just couldn’t. The boys were always going to be my top priority and so that soon came to an end.

This was always going to prove a stumbling block for me while my sons were still at home.

I was cautionary about introducing them to anyone I was dating and that proved to be a huge problem that I never overcame.

So all things considered, you could say I’d become something of an expert, albeit in the art of doomed relationships and how to spot them early on.

However, for all you women out there in the same boat, it’s only right to pass on my findings. I’ve made the mistakes so you don’t have to.

First and foremost; never forget, the world of online agencies isn’t reality, it is virtual reality, seen through a rose-tinted computer screen.

At the end of the day you just have to persevere and stick to your guns. If someone you meet makes you feel uneasy at any time just walk away.

 If someone you meet makes you feel good, find out what they ultimately want early on; it will save a lot of heartache.

Since my days on the dating roundabout a new site called Tinder has appeared which is Patsy’s first stop on the merry-go-round of romance.

Fortunately, I feel settled now so I have no desire or need to check this one out and, frankly, I hope I never do.

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