Mr Right is not online
With her friends all paired up, internet dating seemed the perfect way to find love. But Pippa Wright soon learned ticking all the boxes is the worst possible way to choose a partner.
I started internet dating a few years ago. I found that I rarely met single men in my day-to-day life. I work in book publishing, which is made up of about 80 per cent women, and most of my friends are married so my social life consists of going out to dinner with other couples. Internet dating seemed like a good idea; there's a huge cross- section of people out there and I had at least three friends who have married men they found on the internet, which was all quite encouraging.
I was absolutely petrified going on my first date. To be fair, it wasn't under the best circumstances. I was doing it because I thought I ought to get over somebody. Unfortunately the person I met was obviously in the exact same boat and I think neither of us was up for it. He'd just got divorced and I ended up counselling him and by the end of the date I was telling him that he wasn't really ready to meet someone new and that he should probably stay in for a while. He mainly talked about how much he missed his daughter. It was far more tragic than romantic. He was really nice but he was obviously there just because someone had told him to get back on the horse. I discovered that a lot of people throw themselves into it before they're ready.
I didn't give up, though, and looked for more dates. It takes up a lot of time and it can be quite soul-destroying so I tended to do it in bursts. I'd go on about 15 dates over the space of three months and then I'd take some time out and not do it for a while.
When you start, you think it's going to be such fun putting yourself out there, but every single person I know who has done internet dating has had the same experience: out of all the people you contact, not one of them will get back to you. Instead you will get invited out by 65-year-olds from Lincoln with whom you have nothing in common. You get a bit disheartened after you realise it's not quite what you were expecting. Although it seems like a massive pool to choose from, when it gets down to what kind of person you want to meet and who wants to meet you, there's never actually a vast amount of choice. Or at least there wasn't for me. Soon after starting, I was thinking that maybe I was being too picky, maybe the 65-year-old from Lincoln was the one I should be going for. It does have a way of making you doubt yourself.
The problem, I soon discovered, is that there's something inherently peculiar about picking the characteristics of the person you want to date, because in real life the people you end up with almost never tick all those boxes. With internet dating, you're encouraged to be very specific about what you want, but that means you're ignoring tons of people who might actually be perfect for you. Once, I met a random man in a bar who proceeded to chat me up. I thought he seemed familiar but I couldn't quite place him. It then dawned on me that he had rejected me on the dating site about two weeks previously. So on the internet he wasn't interested in me, but in real life, he was flirting with me. It's because the internet is actually a very strange way to decide what you think about a person.
Then there's all the dishonesty. Lots of people lie about their age, which is annoying but I suppose you can understand. But bizarrely, lots of men lie about their height as well, which makes no sense because as soon as you meet them they've been busted. It makes you wonder what else they're lying about. Using a very old photograph is another common thing, so when you meet them they look nothing like their picture. From my experience, if a man is wearing a hat in all his pictures, it usually means he's bald. It's not that I have a problem with how someone looks, but it suggests that they might.
I've got plenty of horror stories. I met somebody who, after exchanging a few emails, texted me just before we met up to say, "By the way, I'm only looking for casual sex so if you're not up for that let's not bother meeting", which was nice from a complete stranger. We never did meet up. Another man looked me in the eye on our first date and told me that he didn't really like internet dating because he found that he was much, much better looking than the women he encountered. Charming. I met up with a guy in a café in Primrose Hill (at his suggestion – I live in south London), and he went on and on about how much he hated social injustice and that being in a place like that made him want to take out a gun and shoot everyone. I guzzled my coffee and left as quickly as I could.
It wasn't all bad. I did have a couple of second dates and I've met plenty of nice people, but there was never anyone I had chemistry with. I can't honestly say that in all those years I met anyone who made my heart beat faster. I've given up now and instead ask my friends to set me up with their friends. That has been a much better experience because there's human involvement in pairing you off together as opposed to it being done by technology, which is flawed. In my new book, Unsuitable Men, the heroine has been with who she thought was the perfect man but he turned out to be all wrong. She realises what she thought was perfect actually isn't, so she starts to date people who are completely off-the-wall to see if she can learn something from that instead. Someone who may seem all wrong for you may actually be right. But the flaw in internet dating is that it doesn't allow you that.
I wouldn't tell someone never to try it, but I would warn people to approach it with caution. Treat it as a bit of fun and keep your expectations very low. Going on dates and sitting with strangers with whom you have absolutely nothing in common will make you realise how misleading the internet is in making you think you might have something in common with someone. Now I prefer to suss people out in person. It becomes a lot less strange to just speak to a complete stranger in a café or strike up a conversation with whoever in a bar after you've been on a date with someone who thought the Jews made too much of a fuss over the Holocaust.
Interview by Gillian Orr. Pippa Wright's novel, 'Unsuitable Men', is published by Pan Macmillan, £6.99