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www.theunbrokenrule.com

There’s no big talk in me saying this: one of the rules of engagement in my experiment I know I will never break. It’s Rule 7 – No internet dating.

I’ve done this quite a bit in the past, having started out with the interbobular hook-ups in spring 2007. I thought it was a good way of increasing my chances of meeting a good egg. Pretty understandable. Nothing unusual there. In the following two-and-a-half years, I made guest appearances on four different dating sites for a total of about 10 months, never staying all up in men’s e-faces for more than two months at a time.

I can’t remember exactly how many men I met. I did just try to scribble their names in a list but (shamefully?) can’t remember them all. (I can, however, remember the name of every guy who’s poked me. I think… Yes, yes, I can. I just checked.) Anyway, at a pretty reliable guess, I probably dated about 20 men.

All except two of the 20ish meet-ups were either one-date wonders or went no further than date three. One moderate stand-out made it to six dates, another to three months. Out of all of them, I think I called it a day on the majority, the minority on me, and there were only maybe three of those that I was sad about. One of them was the three-monther, which is the only one to remotely qualify for the title of relationship. Even Carol Vorderman could work out those are not exactly the greatest odds.


(Had to be done.)

But apart from the fact that, for me, internet dating has proved a spectacularly abortive method of finding a relationship, there are many, many, many other aspects which make the whole thing a bit of a fucking drag. Let me enlighten you – if you’re one of the 14 people left on the planet who haven’t tried it yet. (This does get a bit epic, so put the kettle on, yeah.)

The judgements
When I started internet dating, I came into it all shiny-happy-open-mindy, not wishing to rule anyone out for any overly-stringent reasons. But the whole set-up of internet dating forces you to make conscious judgements about people from the outset.

Anyone who knows me will know I am a pedant. A know-all and a pedant. Especially when it comes to spelling, punctuation and grammar. I’m not in the least ashamed of my status. In fact, I’m proud of it. For me, his ability to string a good sentence together was of paramount importance in my search for a nice young man. I’m also a tallist. I like tall men. I think it’s some Darwinian force preventing me from having midget offspring. So those were two definites going on my “I Want” list for internet dates.

But when faced with questions about the job, income, politics, religion, drinking levels, desire for children and number desired(?!) of my potential Eggbert, I was driven down a far rockier path of judgement. I suddenly had to answer questions about factors I’d never even considered before.

In merely putting up a profile, you have to express preferences for age, height, body type, location. Any of those is, in itself, a judgement. You could just leave all the criteria blank, but if you do that you may as well stand at Piccadilly Circus with a sign round your neck saying ‘Single. Wanna bit?’ and be prepared for all-comers. The thing is, when you get into the selection-criteria game, it’s very hard to stop. It’s like poker without the big cash prizes, although the untelling faces are definitely the same.

All sites then use the boxes you’ve ticked to generate some form of compatability score, so when you flick onto someone’s profile you’re immediately given a superficial reflection of how closely they meet your wants. It’s all too easy for your eyes to dart towards this, your brain to think “Hmph, 76%?” and your judgement to say, “Not worth your eye-time, girlfriend.” That’s if you even get to see someone, because the profiles returned in your searches also heavily reflect the box-ticking you’ve done.

Basically, internet dating makes you judge very fast whether to bother even reading five paragraphs about someone, let alone writing them an email or actually meeting them, based on a badly-calculated percentage derived from a badly-defined set of criteria clicked on by a badly-in-need-of-a-shag you. And, remember, for all the open-mindedness you employ – or want to employ – chances are those who are on your receiving end are probably judge-judge-judging away based on their own handful of shoddy tick boxes and a few well-angled snaps.

The Hobson’s choice
Internet dating is fun for a couple of weeks. Really fun. Scrolling through hundreds of eager faces, chortling at their jokes, reading their tales of derring do, learning of their unusual pastimes or left-field taste in music – it’s like you’re in a good bar that’s rammed with people and you’re absolutely guaranteed a comfy seat to look for the best. People will also look at you, maybe send you a few messages, you’ll send some yourself and await their replies. Will they, won’t they, do they, don’t they – it’s all tantalisingly exciting. At first.

But after the first couple of weeks, it feels more like you’ve wandered onto the set of Cheers, because in this bar everyone knows your name. And you know theirs. And their photos. And their unimaginative headline. And their dullard hobbies. And their same-as-everyone job. And their “I hate talking about my self”. And their “I never know what to say”. And their total inability to spell – OH MY GOD! THE SPELLING! And their complete ignorance of even half-decent grammatical constructs – JESUS! THE GRAMMAR!

Get your house in order, big man

I feel a smiting coming on, and it ain't from up above.


It’s like being stuck on the most uninspiring fairground ride that just keeps going round and round and round and round and round and… Within a couple of weeks you’ve seen (and maybe done if you’re a slag) it all, so all there’s left to do is sit and wait for the newbies to arrive which, given the trickly pace at which they do so, you may as well go and do in an actual pub.

The repetitiveness
So all this dodgy-dating, identikit-browsing and judgemental-searching has been going on for a few weeks. Every day you log on to your email. You might have a few alerts from your site telling you about new messages or indicating percentage ‘matches’. You click through. You log on to the site. You go to your inbox there. You read the few messages. One might be interesting. The rest will be dull. Or odd. Or ctrl-C/ctrl-V. Or dirty. Or from a septuagenarian with five kids. A dirty one.

The one that’s okish you’ll follow up on, click through to their profile, check out the compatability score, flick through the pics. If they’re moderately attractive you might read the blurb. You’ll see a glaring spelling mistake or a liking for Michael Bublé or a “Where to start? I never know what to say”. You’ll hit the ‘new search’ button faster than your snappiest snap judgement. You’ll click on another profile, check out the compatability score, flick through the pics… Now repeat this process 20 times a day, every day, until you get it right. Yes, you’re a young, attractive Bill Murray and this is Dating Groundhog Day.

The people
Let’s not be too theoretical about things though. Here’s some good, real-life evidence in case you’re still unconvinced: a brief précis, a few lowlights if you will, of some of the people who’ve sapped hours of my valuable life on internet dates. Gawd love ’em. Someone has to. I’ve given them all appropriate film and TV pseudonyms, as much for my own amusement as their anonymity.
Ensemble cast: Left it to me to have the conversation because, although they remembered their fancy suit and clean shirt, they forgot their fucking personality.
Incredible Hulk: Three stone heavier than in his clearly ancient pictures who, after eating bar snacks, sat back triumphantly in his chair and picked his teeth. For 10 minutes. Right to the back.
Private Frazer: Sulked through the first bottle of wine and, as he cracked open the second, informed me, “I’ve had a shit couple of weeks.”
Dirk Diggler: So focused on his prime objective he nigh-on rammed my head into his lap before I’d finished my first drink
The Hooded Claw: Confirmed my belief that blurry photos in which faces are partially obscured by beer bottles indicate huge insecurities about appearance.
Astro Boy: Had a bit of the former-child-star about him, if you know what I mean. But then he was the former child star of a kids’ sci-fi TV show. My advice: no actors, especially those whose careers are dead.
The Man Who Cried Wolf: Keen-beaned through the first date then rang the next day all over-emotional to treat me to a 20-minute diatribe on how he’d not got over his perfect ex.
Dr No: Wouldn’t take no for answer. Still wouldn’t take no for an answer. Didn’t take me pushing him off me for an answer either. Just about took no for an answer when I wriggled to the floor and grappled to my feet, giving him the look of death as I pulled my hair out of my face. After accusing me of frigidity, as expected, he then announced as I opened the door, “I’m sorry it didn’t work out.” “I’m not,” I tersely replied and pushed it in his face. (A six-month break from internet dating ensued.)

So yes, as you can see, it’s no e-picnic out there in Interbob-datey-land. I don’t deny that it can be fun and I don’t deny that other people have found love through it – I just happen to find it more unfun than fun and I just happen not to know personally one single internet couple that has stayed the course to marriage/house-buying/civil partnership.

If you disagree with me, tell me about it. If you want to know another – extremely funny and well-worth-reading – side to the internet dating story, go and pay my friends over at The Dates of Wrath a visit. Get your info and make up your own minds, just remember that I’ve tried it extensively and, well, look what I’m doing here now. And if that doesn’t convince you…

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I’m single and I’d rather not be. Lately, I’ve ventured to say that out loud instead of keeping it under wraps like one would with, say, syphilis or ownership of the Westlife back catalogue. My statement is usually rebuffed with a variation on one of the following themes:

a) But you don’t need a man to be happy.
I know that. Better than they do, given they’ve remained in their stale, friendshippy coupling with a dullard, lower-league man out of fear of being alone.

b) Someone will come along, trust me.
So when did God/ye gods/Mother Nature/Gaia/[insert spiritual reference here] choose to anoint their head with the power to predict the future? Spinsters exist. We were all taught French by one at school. Maybe I’m next. For spinsterhood, not teaching. Not until killing irritating kids is legal at any rate.

c) It’ll happen when you’re not looking.
Last but not least, possibly the most annoying and patronising platitude, which it seems impossible for anyone to deliver without clipping on Princess Di’s AIDS-baby-cradling face.

This one takes the most-annoying biscuit because, on top of what the others do – which is tell me I’m wrong to feel how I actually feel – it’s also telling me that I’m wrong for trying to do something about it. In other words, I may as well start memorising French books now because I’m heading back to the classroom with a heart as empty as my ring finger.

Let’s be honest here, no single person is ever not looking. Whether it’s on trains, in queues or up escalators; among friends, along streets or down the pub. Single people’s eyes habitually dart like a meerkat’s, scanning the path ahead for the next juicy beetle.

And in these modern times, alongside the traditional scanning-grounds, there’s an entire other world – the Planet Singletron – populated by those engaged in internet dating. (www.eSingletron.com* should you want to sign up, although remember, it’ll only happen when you’re not looking, so fix your gaze somewhere away from the screen.)

Why wouldn’t we all want to jump aboard that rocket into space, with a refuelling stop at Planet Singletron? Relationships are great; lovely things happen within them, wonderful things are learnt from them. That’s why people continue to strap in for the ride, despite the risk of heartache on re-entry.

What I argue with those people doling out platitude (c) is that, if people genuinely weren’t looking when they met their partners, they wouldn’t now be with them at all. They got into a relationship because they were open to one, which could never be classed as “not looking”. Ipso facto, those advisors of mine, despite their protestations to the contrary, were indeed “looking”. They just didn’t – and don’t – realise it. Looking happens, looking is constant, looking cannot not be done.

But here’s the rub: in the last three years I’ve looked high and low, long and hard. I’ve opened my mind, given some chances, taken far more, put myself out there, tried new hobbies, gone to parties, asked my friends, been on websites; and so far the results have been no more tangible than a few months (total) of fun, several unanswered texts, a couple of angry conversations, a modicum of tears, a flurry of punches (best not go into that here but suffice to say they were deserved) and a motherload of wasted effort. Looking is clearly not working for me.

So what happens if I do as my worldly-wise, vicariously-living attached friends say and stop looking? I think I’ve run out of reasons not to find out.

I’m 31 now. Granted, that’s not ancient but I’m certainly old enough to be more of a mid-summer chicken than a spring one. It does make me feel I’m not in a position to pledge never to look again. I’ll give it one year from 1 March, 2010, and see how we go. Sound fair? Good. Then let’s get on with it. Or rather, let’s get on with not.

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