When I was in my early 20s, complete with jumpsuit and pink hair, I wore a badge saying: “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle”. Men flocked to me and I soon fell into a long-term relationship while protecting my independence and ambitions for the future.
When I married in 1989 I was happy. I’d had most of the 80s to develop who I was, both in and out of relationships, and the time felt right. For over a decade I loved being married but too many things happened in a short period of time to allow the elastic of our bond to hold together and just short of 18 years after we walked down that sunny aisle, we divorced.
Soon afterwards my mother died and enter, to her funeral, my childhood sweetheart. He felt like a knight in shining armour and quickly we were reconnected and two years later married. Eight years later divorced. The 30+ years we had spent apart, growing into the adults we were with all our ‘baggage’ of families etc, made us just too different.
So I allowed myself some considerable time to get to know me again. I also retrained for a new career. Moved house. Sold the villa. Planned for the future.
Working on myself
Last year I upped the ante. For several months I worked on myself. Attended A-Fest (sort of spiritual/dynamic TED Talks conference) on the theme of ‘Love and Relationships’, went to LifeBook (a 12-step programme to work out exactly what you want in every aspect of your life) in Barcelona, all the time aiming to work out what I wanted from a relationship.
As leading Relationship Therapist Ester Perel shared at her workshop during A-Fest, what we really want in a love relationship is ‘Intimacy’ or ‘Into Me See’.
That deepest, most profound, level of connection where the other person is able to see into you and connect at the very heart and soul of your being. So you had better be prepared. You could waste hours and emotional energy taking the personality tests, creating a great profile that invites others in, chat, speak, meet and start a relationship and then when they look into you sadly they really don’t like what they see and are gone. Leaving you rejected. And as we know, rejection sucks.
The route to an amazing relationship is to become the person you want to attract. Clearly not by becoming the object of your desire but by matching their values, standards of behaviour and character.
If you want to attract someone driven, solvent, slim and fit, adventurous, intelligent, able to take risks and be open, passionate and good looking then guess what? Chances are they will want the same in their partner. It is unlikely that someone like this will hanker after a couch potato, with poor personal standards, no drive and total aversion to change and risk.
If you want them to love what they see in you then you need to look inside yourself and work out if you like what you see. Love what you see.
If you are filled with self loathing or self doubt then hiding it with any of the masks we wear; make up, fine clothes, accessories, toys, cosmetic procedures etc may work for a while. Like a sticking plaster. It may even hold up long enough to get someone interested but after five minutes, you are on your own.
It is also crucial to determine what you want from a love relationship. Make a list. I did. Create a manifestation list of what would your ideal mate be like and look like. What are their values? What do you want? Do you want connection? Respect? To be valued? I expect each partner in a love relationship to work to put the other first or at least on an equal footing as all the existing family who are in the picture. There is enough love and respect and time to go around surely?
Entering the online dating world
I embraced online dating. It felt very alien at first, particularly to a Baby Boomer. We met our future partners in bars or nightclubs or at friend’s parties or weddings or at work. The internet was in its infancy and internet dating still to be invented. I dived in and attracted a very lovely, funny, generous boyfriend into my life but ended it when I realised we would just never make the chemistry work. I did this face to face, catching a train to London for the day.
I let the dust settle for some months then went back online for a second go. Once again I chose a paid-for site – with these, you tend to avoid the horrors of photos of private parts of the body that I’ve heard about from girlfriends via some of the bigger free sites.
This time I created a more open profile description. I had recent photos that showed me in a good light and again were positive and open. I understood that most men online are rather guarded in their profiles (not to mention with terrible jokey photos and answers to questions that run along the lines of “I thought I’d already answered this” or “Don’t know why I have to answer this. I’m here aren’t I so it’s obvious what I want”). I looked beyond it, I was flexible, and kind, and so when I finally opened myself to someone who wooed me mercilessly then had my heart broken when he just disappeared I was left very hurt, bewildered and disillusioned.
That was when I noticed that the ever insightful Ester Perel was blogging on the topic of online dating. Her observations were about Millennials, but they held up perfectly well, in my experience, for Baby Boomers too. I reposted Ester’s article: ‘Relationship Accountability and the Rise of Ghosting’ (“Are the new trends of ghosting, simmering and icing increasing our acceptance of ambiguous ends”?), on my Facebook page and on a number of private FB groups.
The response was overwhelming. Both women and men came forward to speak of how they had been duped, dumped and dismayed by their online experiences. How online had somehow made normal, decent, kind behaviour seem an optional extra as it creates an environment where there is a loss of relational accountability.
People go from hundreds of texts a day to nothing. People ‘simmer’ their potential love interests; giving them just enough encouragement and contact to keep them interested while they looked around for someone better. Because the huge choice of all these singles looking for love across hundreds of dating sites has to mean that surely you can meet ‘the one’ so why compromise?
But, in practice, this was being widely misinterpreted as meaning you didn’t have to work at it, to be flexible, to be kind. To try and co-create some relationship together. Go out with them for sure. Even have sex. Even make plans but as soon as they remind you of your ex or have a bad day or after that ‘ping’ from a new potential prettier mate comes into your inbox you can just ice them. Or ghost them: just disappear Also, particularly with the Baby Boomers there is a dilemma in what most people want. On one hand they want love, connection, someone ‘to come home and snuggle up to on the sofa’ but they also don’t want to lose their independence and freedom.
A new understanding
It is brutal and I realised that I had been on the receiving end of all those poor behaviours and had been ghosted, iced and simmered. As a therapist who had studied with Ester and as a former marketer I saw clearly that our rampant consumerism means that we now have hundreds of options and a paradox of choice when it comes to dating and meeting the one.
All the time, we are asking ourselves: “Is this the one? How do I even know you are the one? How do I know that there isn’t a better one?” Like some weird dating game of Deal or No Deal, we are trying to work out “Should I take the Banker’s offer? Or hold on as there may be a better deal in one of the yet unopened boxes?”
What I did realise is that online dating can seem fun with all the attention but turning that into a real-life relationship is not easy.
Understanding this was cathartic. It put it into context and stopped me blaming myself, doubting my judgment, doubting the process of online dating and doubting that despite all the work I had done on myself and being clear about what I wanted that having a close loving relationship was not available, certainly at this time.
Regardless of outcome, what I do know is that even when you have put out your stall, it is also important to remember to enjoy the journey. Just because that special person has not been attracted into your life yet doesn’t mean that your life or happiness should be put on hold in any way. Be joyful on the journey. Happiness is a choice not an external set of circumstances when all your ducks are in line. As John Lennon observed: “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans”.