by Juno Roche
Several women have contacted me to say they liked my dating piece (middle-aged Tinder explorations resulting in absolutely no dates, romance or fuckery) but it also struck a blue note as it allowed them to reflect on their own sadness at being single and over a certain age. I felt a pang of guilt that in exposing my own ruthlessly single Saturday nights – endless episodes of House and Hugh Laurie-dreaming washed down with the odd vodka cocktail (vodka and ice) – I had opened up welts within the dating lives of others.
If anyone or anything needs exposing, I always try and expose me first, be that when talking about past drug habits or the problems of my vagina. I always use me as my own subject, never anyone else but I think we can safely say that there are great many common threads running through the human experience: rainy days and Mondays, first day at school, wanting to succeed, wanting to be loved, falling in love and being terrified that if you find yourself single at 45 it may become a concrete fact of your life. Being left on the shelf is a saying that spans many decades, perhaps even centuries. So in writing about my own fear of isolation, I connected with others.
I became single eight years ago after a hapless marriage-made-in-Balham came to a crunching end with black bags full of clothes piled up on my doorstep and his shadow – tall and slight – struggling away down the road, never to be seen again except as a signature on our divorce papers.
It wasn’t a messy ending and I think possibly it was my fault on many levels as he, at least on the surface, appeared to like or love me, warts and all. I think the period we could refer to as the ‘Age of GMTV Blonde’ had already set in for me and I think (being honest) that I married him because I was terrified of being alone. I come from a line of women over 40 growing older alone; my grandmother lost two husbands before she was 45 and my mother divorced at 48. Neither reconnected beyond the cursory.
39, SINGLE AND SEEING MY FUTURE IN TERMS OF ONE IKEA PLATE AND BOWL
The fear of something often makes it rise up in your life as a quest, so 39, single and seeing my future in terms of one Ikea plate and bowl, ending up in one very tiny single bed (why bother with a double when a single is far easier to make), I am ashamed to say that I saw him and fell in love with the idea of not being alone. The rest is history; a very short history. We bought a big house with enough rooms to ensure that we hardly ever saw each other and rarely had sex before the decree nisi. His stuff ended up in bin bags and now, eight years on, I’m really single and wondering if Tinder or the escalators on the underground are ever going to produce anything more than a glance right or left. Is it just me that plays ‘Kiss, Hug, Marry’ on the way up and down? On more than one occasion my eyes have met with a stranger across the middle lane, the run-up-and-down divide that I never use.
We live in a world that we define as being ever more connected and we relentlessly share photographs, experiences, feelings, events, births, deaths; the sharing never stops and now the government is exploring loneliness as a cultural reality. Even the new (but entirely the same) GMTV is campaigning for people to donate minutes to those people who are alone and terribly lonely. There is a difference between being alone and being lonely; I’m hardly ever lonely but I do fear growing old alone, which is a very strange waste of time and energy that leaves me waking up at four in the morning wondering, ‘If I die now, who will look after my two rather lovely dogs’. I don’t fear growing old or looking old but I do fear the silence of being alone – it’s crushing because so much of living is having experiences that make sense when shared with another.
We are reflective beings, we so often become more real in the gaze of another.
In this incredibly connected world of ours, people are starting to feel more and more alone, isolated as they swipe left, left, left, left, right (by accident, it was the picture before I wanted to swipe right on) in all the wrong places. Tinder, with all its immediacy and apparent ease, leaves me feeling alone, perhaps more alone than if I didn’t swipe at all.
To start with, I think that swiping on a photo is perhaps the least age-friendly dating method. There are very few words on most dating apps and they are hidden down there, deep down there under the photographs. But when people (me for example) are shown photographs, the response is purely physical. I look at photographs through an aspirational lens, so the impossibly handsome man draws me in and the balding man in action pose with spaniel leaves me… well, a little cold. But if I were to meet that balding man in the park walking his spaniel as I’m being dragged by my unruly dogs this way and that, possibly, quite possibly, he’d be adorable, full of wit and charm. But in a still image, a selfie, I swipe past man with spaniel to men with dashing looks and piercing eyes, like outdated covers of romantic novels. Somehow – and I know it’s wrong – the man with a paunch doesn’t pull me in. And I’m sure that my vague attempt to look blond, wavy and primetime isn’t fooling anyone. I’m just as ‘swipe left’ as the next person over 40. My caveat here is the men who send me endless messages about my being a ‘MILF’ (I had to look it up and, as I don’t have kids, I have replaced ‘mum’ with ‘mature’) or ‘their ideal older woman’. In one sentence, younger men calling me ‘sexy & older’ doesn’t get my HRT juices flowing.
WE’VE ONLY EXCHANGED A COUPLE OF QUESTIONS AND ALREADY YOU’RE ASKING ME FOR AUTHENTICITY, I CAN’T SEE US BONDING TO BE HONEST.
I’m beginning to think that apps or sites like Tinder are about something entirely different from dating or sex, I think they just allow us to feel that we are still connected to the luxuriant process of rubbing alongside others. They allow us to almost believe that we are still out there dating when, in truth, we are at home in loungewear (tracksuit bottoms, vest from M&S and slippers that once seemed pretty) with a stir fry and the remote control. I wonder how many people actually meet up from Tinder. It seems to me that almost the second or third question after “What do you do?” and “What room are you in?” (the bedroom, of course, in my flirtatious underwear, just waiting for a man like you with a spaniel and mountain-climbing gear) is: “Are you for real, I’m not looking for cyber.”
To which I reply, “We’ve only exchanged a couple of questions and already you’re asking me for authenticity, I can’t see us bonding to be honest.” Swipe left.
So possibly my only piece of dating advice is this: Tinder and other equally time-wasting apps are not great for finding love, romance or even a little sliver of ‘sexy-soulmatery’. I suspect that the escalators up and down in Piccadilly Circus are far better for glancing left or right and maybe connecting – really connecting – with a living, breathing, moving, possibly smiling and laughing person whom you can really talk to. We need to get better at real life again before we all end up in pods sponsored by all-powerful dating apps. Maybe that’s it: Could we all be so scared of rejection that we accept living in the safety of a filtered paradigm? Or maybe, just maybe, there is a world of people connecting on Tinder and it’s just me that’s terrible at it…
Pretty please, say it isn’t so.
As a footnote, I did try to get a good picture for press etc earlier this year. It takes me a year and a day to try and selfie-produce a decent one; I know something about holding the phone above and looking up with a pout but honestly, words fail me in trying to describe the outcomes. So I did a shoot with a photographer/filmmaker who told me throughout how lovely I looked, how foxy for a woman of my age I was. I told him (giggling uncomfortably and turning a redder shade of red) that I wasn’t sure that ‘foxiness’ comes across in stills of me, he laughed and threw back his ridiculously attractive, very cool head and told me to relax and trust him. He clicked maybe a few hundred times and a day later emailed two feeble snaps of me looking tense and intense at the same time… not a winning look, unless you’re Cara or Kate. A look I perfected in the 1970s when a camera meant film and a bad photograph was almost forever.