Solely Mates (2008–)

Illustration bad date
© Rebecca Hendin 2014. www.rebeccahendin.com

Online dating sites (and London Underground) are awash with gushing testimonials from people who claim to have found the love of their life at the click of a mouse. In the interests of balance, I thought I’d offer some testimonials of my own.

A new chapter
I’d been on Solely Mates for about three months when Moira’s profile caught my eye. She was 35, down to earth, trim, unfussily attractive, and was pursuing what she described as an enjoyable and successful career in journalism. So I fired off a message, crossed my fingers … and to my astonishment, received an encouraging reply.

We arranged to meet at a central London cafe on a Sunday afternoon. Having never tried internet dating before, I was a mess of nerves – but excited too. This woman really seemed as if she might be my type. And sure enough, the fireworks began the moment we met!

We’d barely said our hellos when Moira noticed the book I’d taken with me – Simon Baron Cohen’s The Essential Difference: Male and Female Brains and the Truth About Autism – and launched into a diatribe against anyone who dared suggest that men and women were not identical in every respect. For all my protests that I was reading it with an open mind, Moira would not abandon the notion that I was Sid James, Benny Hill and Jim Davidson all rolled into one simply for having opened it.

We’ve now been apart for six years!
- Andy, 2008

Fairyfail
It’s usually guys who make the first approach, so I was pleasantly surprised to receive a friendly note from Just_Jo. There was only one blurry picture on her profile, but her vital statistics – age, height, build, location – were all within acceptable tolerances, and more promisingly, her profile was completely free of cliches! (Most female members of dating sites will use some variation on at least one of the following: “comfortable in his own skin”, “someone who can laugh at himself and me”, “confident without being arrogant”, “bonus points if you know how to cook/play the guitar”, “I like a man to be a man”, “a best friend who I fancy”, “ultimately it’s all about chemistry” and “is that too much to ask?”) Jo, though, was an original.

And she sustained that originality throughout the correspondence that we kept for the next two weeks. She was playful, cheeky, flirty, and full of obscure but fascinating titbits. Every time I replied, I found myself obsessively checking my inbox for her next message!

So by the time we met up at Borough Market, my expectations were sky-high. And Jo exceeded them! She was as energetic in person as she was in prose; street, petite, and endlessly upbeat, and the light danced in her eyes when she laughed.

I knew from that moment that I’d found the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with! Unfortunately, she only wanted to be friends.
- Andy, 2008

Too much information
The first few dates I arranged through Solely Mates were interesting, but never quite progressed to the next level. Then I met Ines!

We met at a trendy pub in central London. Ines was a 41-year-old architect from Spain, and in way better shape than I was! She kicked the evening off by asking me how it was that a reasonably good-looking man was still single at the age of 38. So over the course of about 10 minutes, with another three for questions, I gave her a potted history of my romantic misadventures.

Then I asked her what her story was. At which point Ines proceeded to regale me with every tiny detail of every relationship she’d ever had – and a couple that she hadn’t – including what she was wearing, what he was wearing, every nuance of what she was thinking, what her friends said, what her family said, and what the various ex-partners were up to now. I barely got a word in edgeways, and when I did, she ignored it. By the time she’d finished, the bar staff were standing menacingly over our table.

The remarkable thing was, judging by the texts I received from Ines the next day – and continued to receive for six months after I’d told her I didn’t think we should see each other again – she seemed to be of the opinion that our date had been the most fantastic date in the history of dates!
- Andy, 2008

Sense of humour failure
Scouring through my thousands of online matches, I was drawn to LizzyBennet74′s profile immediately – and not just because of the alluring portrait picture. Her profile was positively pulsating with zingy one-liners!

Alas, on our first date, she revealed that the zingy one-liners had all been written by a friend, and for sheer, spleen-rotting dullness, the evening was surpassed only by the time I missed the ferry at Dover and had to spend the night alone in the terminal with only the instructions to my CD Walkman to read!
- Andy, 2009

When Andy met Sammy
I had low expectations when I started online dating, but they rose a little when I stumbled across Shyster’s profile! Her bio was brief and to the point, and she looked like my ideal woman: a dirty Meg Ryan.

On our first date, at a restaurant in west London, Sammy confessed that she was an old-fashioned sort of girl, and believed that the man should pay for everything on the first date. Since I’ve always been taught to respect other people’s beliefs, I duly coughed up!

On our second date, at a bar in Soho, she revealed that her old-fashionedness extended to believing that the man should pay for everything on the second date. I briefly wondered whether this was in fact a legitimate belief system, then coughed up. Anyhow, all was forgiven when it turned out, at the end of the date, that she was a dirty Meg Ryan!

Sammy was less old-fashioned in one respect, however. The following morning, she told me she was still meeting other people from the site, and one of them had his own jet.

They’re now celebrating six years together and are expecting their first child!
- Andy, 2009

Everything Everything but the girl
I was exhausted after a marathon shift at the office when I got home and logged on to Solely Mates to check my inbox. None of the women I’d contacted had replied, but there was a new message from a name I didn’t recognise – ManicPixieDreamGirl. There was no picture, but she was roughly the right age and her bio was largely free of spelling mistakes.

“What music do you like? I can’t get enough of Everything Everything! I just want to stay at home all day and listen to them. Do you think I should tell my boss? How are you?”

It was slightly odd, as first approaches go, but I sent a friendly reply, and went to bed.

But when I slept on it, realisation dawned. The breathless, hyperbolic style; the complete lack of any information about her beyond her musical preference, or of any questions for me … it stank of press release. Now that I thought of it, I’d heard about PR agencies setting up false internet dating accounts as a marketing wheeze. I threw back my covers and furiously typed out the following reply:

“Please disregard my previous message – I was too tired to think straight. Here’s a new one.

“So, the vile PR scum have invaded internet dating sites now, have they? How low will you stoop to peddle your wares, exactly? Killing babies and tattooing your brand on their faces?”

I was more than a little surprised to receive a reply within the hour:

“I was only telling you who my favourite band was.”

I was blocked the very next minute!
- Andy, 2009

Change of heart
I’d almost given up hope of finding true love when I rejoined Solely Mates in late 2013. The real world hadn’t delivered anyone I fancied who fancied me back, and my previous foray into the virtual world had, with one notable exception, come up empty.

And to begin with, it looked as though this stint on a dating site was going to whiff too. I favourited some people, and put out feelers to the dozen or so most promising candidates, but not one replied. Even the one or two brave souls who favourited me failed to respond to my missives. When my membership expired after three months, I hadn’t had a single message or been on a single date.

Then, the very next morning, an email arrived. “You have a message on Solely Mates!”

I logged on and read it. It was from NotBridgetJones. “Hey, AndyB! Your profile made me laugh. Do you fancy meeting up some time?”

Now, when your membership on this site runs out, your profile remains live, and you can still receive messages. You cannot, however, send any. But NotBridgetJones seemed friendly and cute, so with a mixture of reluctance and excitement, I shelled out £70 for another three-month membership, and fired off a reply.

Two hours later, she got back to me. “Sorry, I changed my mind.”

Now I’ve completely given up hope of finding true love!
- Andy, 2014

There’s an unfathomably large set of data out there pertaining to online dating. The vast majority of it, though, comes from dating websites themselves, and should thus be taken with a Dead Sea-sized pinch of salt. Here, anyway, are a few choice nuggets.

• A 2010 survey by MSNBC found that around one-third of the users of internet dating sites were married.

• In 2011, US users of dating sites lost $50m to romance scammers.

• According to research by a company called SNAP Interactive in 2013, the average straight man on a dating website will have to send 25 messages to women his own age in order to procure a single response. The average straight woman, meanwhile, will only have to send five.

• In 2012, a study led by Harry Reis, a professor of psychology at Rochester University, concluded that more couples were getting together online than by any other method, save meeting through friends. (He also warned, however, that the medium has its dangers; that skimming over hundreds of potential mates can promote a ‘shopping’ mentality, resulting in single people becoming excessively picky. Told you so!)

• A study in 2013 found that people who met online were (marginally) more likely to be happy and to stay together than those who met through more traditional channels. The research was funded by eHarmony.

• Oh, and then there’s this 2005 press release by match.com, containing two facts that sound quite impressive separately, but together, don’t quite have the same effect:

“Last year alone, more than 500,000 singles found meaningful relationships through Match.com’s online personals and singles ads. Match.com … today serves more than 15 million singles in 240 countries!”

In other words, if you use an online dating service, the time it will take you, on average, to find the person of your dreams is just … 30 years. (A separate anaylsis of match.com’s figures by the people at PlentyOfFish concluded that one in every 1,369 dates with the company led to marriage. Assuming one date per week, that’s 26.3 years.)

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We need to shut up about Elliot (2014)

Rodger victim flowers
This is who we should be talking about.

Some people might have expected me to weigh in on the debate about Elliot Rodger’s killing spree in Santa Barbara, California, on May 23. After all, this is one subject I might seem vaguely qualified to talk about.

I too was serially rejected as a teenager, and was terrified that I would never lose my virginity, to the point where I tried to kill myself three times (although in my case, the desperation stemmed more from the fear that I would never experience love than the fear that I would never get my end away). I too have spent a lot of time reading about and engaging with the Men’s Rights Movement – albeit as an observer rather than a member. Until about a month ago I was following and followed by PUAHate, one of the forums Rodger visited, on Twitter. And since starting the blog, I’ve had quite a few messages from young men with similar experiences: 21-year-old virgins asking for advice, sexually frustrated young men wanting to know if it was all right to pay for sex.

But I’m not going to talk about Elliot Rodger. And nor should anyone else. Not yet.

I’m not going to start pointing fingers when there are still six families grieving. I’m not going to call for stricter gun control laws (although I do like living in a country where those laws are already strict). I’m not going to call for reforms to the United States’ mental healthcare system. I’m not going to propose the banning of all violent films or computer games. I’m not going to pin the blame on society’s culture of misogyny. (I’m no advocate of woman-hating. But if institutionalised misogyny was really the sole cause of this incident, why weren’t there more mass shootings like this when society was even more misogynistic than it is today?) I’m not going to try to hang it all on Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow, however tempting that might be. And I’m certainly not going to write a horribly misguided “open letter to Elliot Rodger” practically empathising with the guy for being a virgin at 22.

I might just as well demand the sterilisation of all Hollywood executives – that would certainly have prevented this tragedy – or the banning of all BMWs.

You get the impression that some of these people had template articles pushing their own agenda ready to go, and as soon as news of the attack broke, they simply filled in all the blanks with the name “Elliot Rodger” and fired them off.

There’s a simple reason why I’m not doing any of these things; why I’m not hitching this gruesome wagon to my own political train. Because we know practically nothing.

The vast majority of the information we currently have about Elliot Rodger comes from Elliot Rodger himself: his videos and his 141-page “manifesto”. This is a man who couldn’t be trusted to observe the most fundamental tenet of human society: don’t kill people. How the hell can we trust him to tell the truth? Judging by the videos, it seems quite likely that Rodger was a psychopath (although again, we mustn’t presume), and one of the defining characteristics of psychopaths is their tendency to manipulate and deceive.

For starters, I see no compelling reason why we should accept Elliot Rodger’s word that we was a virgin. Sure, he might not have had sex with the women he wanted to have sex with; but does anyone really believe that a 22-year-old man, with his own BMW, his own gun, a high sex drive and a colossal sense of entitlement, had never paid for sex at least once?

Even if the likes of Rodger, and Anders Breivik, and Seung-Hui Cho, are saying what they believe to be the truth, why should we accept their version? How can you trust someone who is out of his mind to know his own mind?

After events such as these, newspaper editors, legislators and the public clamour for facts, opinions, and action. But the responses should come in that order. Opinions and legislation should never be formulated without facts. Hysterical knee-jerk responses turn the debate into a series of petty rows and risk sidelining the critical issues. Look at what happened with MMR: when Andrew Wakefield published his 1998 paper suggesting a link between the vaccine and autism, newspapers disseminated it uncritically and people stopped vaccinating their children in droves. Wakefield’s methodology and results have since been systematically discredited time and time again, but no matter how often or how comprehensively the link is disproven, many people still doggedly refuse to vaccinate their children. As a result, the United States is on the cusp of its worst measles outbreak in 20 years.

And if I was to ask you what the motives of the Columbine killers were, how would you reply? Probably something about video games, or bullying, or the “Trenchcoat Mafia”, because those were the memes circulating in the immediate aftermath of the massacre. The truth, in the end, was rather different.

Any or all of the issues raised by the commentators above may have been a factor in this tragedy. It might be something else entirely. We don’t know. We may never know.

But until all the evidence is in, and all expert testimonies have been heard, I’m going to resist the urge to speculate, and to campaign for changes to laws that may have had nothing to do with the deaths.

I’m going to show some fucking respect, and I’m going to show some fucking patience.

 

Dear me (2014)

Me and my cat Lee-Lee
Ah, the days when cats met all my affection needs …

“Thus, statesmanlike, I’ll saucily impose,
And safe from action, valiantly advise;
Sheltered in impotence, urge you to blows,
And being good for nothing else, be wise.”
John Wilmot, The Disabled Debauchee

Andy Bodle
London
2014
Andrew Bodle
Swindon
1983

Dear me, 

Me here. As in, you. From the future. Yes, the future. Don’t get too excited. It’s just a narrative device. 

I’m writing because … because things didn’t quite work out as you planned. It hasn’t been an unmitigated disaster: I’m still here, I still have my health, I have friends, fun, and a reasonable job. But there are a few things which, with the benefit of hindsight, I wish I’d done differently. 

(Hm. I can’t decide whether to write this from my perspective, or yours. Past tense, or future? Future, I think. Makes me feel like less of a dick.) 

Everyone makes mistakes, of course. Mistakes are how we learn, and become stronger and wiser. You, however, are going to make a series of spectacularly awful decisions, all in the same sphere, and I thought it might spare you a bit of heartache if you were forewarned about one or two of them. 

Look at you. So pure and unsuspecting; so full of joy and wonder. And what a charmed life. You have friends, a loving family, a nice home. You’re carefree, top of every class in school, and you still wake up with a visceral thrill on Christmas morning. I look back at you now and I don’t just envy you; I admire you. I think you’re a genuinely nice kid. 

All that’s about to change. In the next few months, something’s going to come along and turn your cosy, orderly world upside down and inside out; stretch it and squeeze it and whirl it around, then fashion it into a crude balloon animal – a one-eared, three-legged giraffe – which will then sit at the back of a musty cupboard, quietly deflating. 

Girls. 

Oh, they won’t mean to. At least, most of them won’t. It’s just the effect they have on you. Think back. Remember how fanatical you were, until embarrassingly recently, about collecting Corgi cars (which, by the way, was your first terrible decision. If you ever get round to writing a letter to your five-year-old self, tell him to go for Dinky instead. They’re worth a bomb now). And about Star Wars figures, and Hardy Boys books, and Doctor Who. Well, it’s going to be like that with girls. Times a bajillion. 

Oddly, they won’t affect your schoolwork much – not until the sixth form, anyway – but thereafter, the female sex will be the principal driving force behind everything you do for the rest of your life. They’ll monopolise your eyes whenever they’re near, and your thoughts whenever they’re not. 

But unlike Corgi cars, and Star Wars toys, and Hardy Boys books, and Doctor Who, girls cannot be purchased at branches of Smiths, or summoned through your TV set. They cannot be bargained with, they cannot be reasoned with, and they absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead. OK, that last bit’s an exaggeration, but they will cause you more pain than you ever thought you could bear.

You’ll have a few girlfriends – one or two of them will even be quite nice – but you’ll also be rejected and rebuffed in a bewildering variety of ways, and you’ll spend the vast majority of your life alone. 

(You’ll be pleased to hear that you end up having sex with quite a lot of different people. Now wipe that smile off your face. With most of them, it’ll just be the once, and it’ll generally be fairly pedestrian. Although it will always be substantially better than doing your ding-ding.) 

And when you get to the age of 38, after one particularly galling break-up, you’ll have a sudden urge to figure out how it all went wrong. And you’ll spend five years piecing together your every romantic disaster, and scrutinising feminist literature, chick lit and academic journals for clues. 

But even after all that, you won’t have solved women. 

You’ll find evolutionary psychology fascinating. You’ll find that it offers some illuminating insights. You’ll also find that, like all social sciences, it’s not exact, or reliable, or foolproof. While it makes some plausible and elegant generalisations, it can’t predict how any one individual is going to react in any one situation, because no two people are the same, and some girls aren’t even the same from one day to the next. 

You can’t get a master’s degree in womanology. Even if you could, there’s no graduation ceremony involving the handing-over of a laminated certificate and a sweet, funny, left-leaning, bi-curious girl next door. This is one subject in which you’ll never be top of the class. 

But you will learn something from picking through the wreckage. From considering all your romantic misadventures together, and seeing vague patterns emerge from the chaos. From understanding, at last, what your failures, and your limited successes, had in common. 

Then you’ll come up with few small pointers, which, while too late for you at 43, might be of use to someone with more time, energy and ability to change. Like you at 13. 

So, Andy – can I call you Andy, or are you still Andrew? – I’m going to write you two more letters (or “blog posts”, as we call them in the 21st century). They will contain the sum total of my wisdom on dating. The first will concern itself with the things you shouldn’t do; the things I did and regretted, either immediately, or later. The second will list some of the positive steps you can take. Get your Silvine exercise book ready. 

And give Lee-Lee an extra-big hug from me. He … never mind. 

Yours, 

You. 

The science of dating