She’s been married, divorced and had a string of hopeless boyfriends. Now Liz Jones is single and ready to date again at 60.
But the world has moved on since she was last ‘out there’. Can Britain’s top love coach Hayley Quinn use her expertise to help Liz finally find the one?
In the early 80s, when I first tried to meet men, this is how it was done. If you fancied someone, you staged a military operation to get him to notice you. That handsome shop assistant at the health food store? I ended up with a peanut butter mountain. That personal trainer in Highbury? I ended up with killer abs. My nextdoor neighbour David? I bought a Mini in order to offer him lifts and threw a party just so I could invite him: he got off with my best friend Wilma. I have just turned 60 and find that, after one short-lived marriage to a much younger man who cheated on me, and after a five-year relationship with David, whom I snared after a 30-year campaign, but who made me feel like Sisyphus, so inert was he in making any effort at all to make me happy, I’m looking for love again. I’m not desperate, but it would be nice to have someone to check the dipstick. And I’ve been assured dating today is a doddle. Available men are out there, waiting in their hundreds for me to swipe right! Seriously, how hard can it be?
I’m in a trendy private members’ bar in London’s Shoreditch – the sort of place that always makes me wish I’d stayed at home in my PJs. Problem is, I’m with dating guru Hayley Quinn, who is the most positive, confident and bossy woman I’ve ever met. I broke up with my long-term boyfriend in October and she’s supposed to be guiding me through the quagmire that is modern-day dating. I’m saying my shoes hurt and fantasising about my slippers, but she’s having none of it.
‘Give me your phone,’ she says sharply. I hand it over.
‘Hmm. Right. Why are you still texting your ex?’
I tell her I feel sorry for him, plus I need a man to go on holiday with as I’ve already booked it.
‘How many years have you wasted on him?’
‘Five. And, well, 30 pining before we got together.’
‘What was the problem?’
‘He never arranged anything or made an effort. He’s boring. He doesn’t look after his appearance or flat. He’s got no money.’
She tells me he will never change and that there will have been an early sign he was no good for me. ‘There was! His first text after he’d finally asked me out was to ask me to choose the restaurant, as he was “socially inept”.’
‘There! That was the moment you should have pulled away and not replied, so he could sit back, reflect on what he’d said and realise he didn’t meet your standards. You’re a good organiser, so you took over. You mustn’t do that. You should have ignored him as though he was a puppy who had done a puddle. You only reward good behaviour. You have to set a precedent. You need someone who will nourish you and be supportive.’ What I like about Hayley – who is only 32 but has been a dating guru for ten years – is that she is not remotely in awe of men. This comes from the fact that she started out working for the Pickup Artist brand (a semi-underground community of men who teach each other how to attract women), and her experiences of blogging as a male alter-ego and advising men taught her they are just as vulnerable as we are: ‘These demonised people weren’t asking for the world, they would just love a woman to connect with.’
Hayley now mentors women and men in boot camps that give a sense of community and reassure participants that they’re not the last single person left alive. She also takes singles out to learn how to meet people in real life. She has developed a skill set anyone can learn to help them meet people. This includes body language, conversation skills, tips on redoing your online profiles, styling and personal training. Plus, she is an advocate of the theory that it’s OK for women to make the first move.
Dating now and dating when I first attempted it back in the 80s in my early 20s are worlds apart. I tell Hayley that when I fancied a man, I’d be too terrified to talk to him and would never, in a million years, have asked him out. Instead, I would go to extraordinary lengths to snare him. Never mind all the beauty treatments and outfit buying, pilates classes and jogging, I would conduct stakeouts just to watch him while hiding in my car. I’d have lunch near his workplace.
‘You see, that is the problem – you mustn’t idolise a man. You were placing far too much focus on just one man, investing too soon. I tell women to cast the net wide, have lots of dates and meet lots of men so if one doesn’t work out you can move on. Let’s get you in the pool and encourage lots of guys to come in.’
I see, so, basically, dating in the 21st century is: ‘Thank U. Next.’
She asks what I’m looking for. At first I say, ‘Rich and not stupid.’ Then I elaborate, ‘Someone proactive. Someone who doesn’t just have an Oyster card in their wallet. Who will look after me. Put me first, always. A gentleman. Well read. Useful. Funny. An animal lover. Intelligent. Handsome. Fit.’
I’m to sign up on two dating apps: Match and Bumble. Hayley tells me to be honest in
my profile and post at least four recent photos, ideally ones where I’m relaxed, in natural light.
In the meantime, she takes me out in real life to show me how easy it is to chat to men in bars. ‘You need a prop,’ she says, flourishing her hat. ‘Watch.’ She goes up to a group of men chatting among themselves and says, ‘Can I leave my hat here?’ A simple ruse, but one that makes them notice her, smile and see her as approachable. Walking into a party? Don’t just run over to your friend, walk round the room first. It helps to have a ‘wing woman’ – but don’t exclude everyone else. At a bar, angle your stool so it’s facing out. If a man looks at you, smile. Ask him a question, then be direct. Use ‘I like how’ as an opener – remember, most men fear rejection – as in, ‘I like how you’re reading a real book.’ Hayley swears this works, though I am still too shy in real life to actually flirt.
Her approach to dating is not to trick men or be remotely desperate. It’s all about inner poise, so I wonder where she gets her confidence from. She grew up in Cornwall, the daughter of two disabled parents, which meant she had to do everything for herself. She got her first job, washing up, aged 13 before leaving home to study English at university in London. She doesn’t need a man to make her whole but to enhance her life and add value, which is as it should be. (She has a very handsome boyfriend who is very supportive and whom she met at the gym.)
Having gone live on the dating apps, we wait with bated breath for a response. On Bumble, where men can favourite you but are not allowed to message women first, I get about 100 notifications in the first hour. On Match, the number of men winking at me hovers at around 300 (the youngest messager is a 26-year-old, the oldest is 63). Rather than feeling like a pariah, I find out I’m like a pot of jam on a hot summer’s day! That’s the first revelation: there are so many single men out there – and there was I thinking they were all happily married or gay. The apps, though, soon get on my nerves: ‘You’re a catch, and someone else thinks so, too.’ Plus, there are just too many men to scroll through. Who has the time, frankly?
And when I start to scroll through the photos – oh, dear me, no. Beer guts. Bald heads. Some have even used the photo from the first dance at their wedding! How lazy is that? I ask Hayley why men who are clearly not comparable with me looks or career wise have asked to meet me. ‘Men don’t get many likes, so they tend to have a scattergun approach. They just swipe you right in the hope one will stick.’ Charming.
We start to whittle down the men. Hayley messages five on Bumble. While I’m tempted to ask what they earn, she is far more playful, asking about their favourite music, what animal they would be or their favourite dog-walking spot. She tells me that only if they are fairly literate and responsive should I get down to the nitty-gritty of career, etc.
We finally plump on three for me to meet. The first is The Artist, who lives near Henley and paints in his spare time. He has hair and is in his late 50s. He isn’t that chatty online but we arrange to meet for coffee the next day anyway. I do as Hayley asks and choose a café within walking distance of my flat – ‘Do not travel to a date!’ He texts to ask the location of the nearest tube, which I find pathetic, but against my better judgment I don’t pull away. We meet and he is nice enough. Quite well dressed. But it turns out he lost his job and his home which sent him into a depression, and he now delivers cars for a luxury showroom. He texts me later to ask to see me again but I’ve learnt my lesson when it comes to men. They have to be solvent and have an interesting life. Anecdotes. Be proactive. I don’t need a giant son.
The second is The Italian. Hayley is really excited about him as he is tanned and muscular in his photo – posed on top of a roof, holding a hammer. Holding a hammer is good. He lives in St Albans and has renovated his own house. Like The Artist, he has grown-up children. In fact, so suitable does he sound, I go against Hayley’s advice and we text all night, mainly about how much we love Prince’s music. We arrange to meet the next evening, a Friday, at his suggestion. I tell him I live in London’s Primrose Hill. ‘Can we meet in West Hampstead,’ he asks. ‘Outside the station?’
I report him to Hayley. ‘He is saying West Hampstead as that’s a direct train ride for him,’ she says sternly. ‘And no, you don’t meet him at the station, you meet him in the pub.’
When he turns up, he is very, very short. He had put 5ft 9in on his profile, but there is no way he is even 5ft 7in. Perhaps because I love Prince he thought I wouldn’t mind. Conversation is pedestrian and then it all goes south. It turns out he is a locksmith, which is fine, but not what I’m after now I am no longer with David (who regularly lost my keys). After two drinks, he asks for the bill. I get out my wallet thinking to pay half, and he swiftly puts his away. ‘Do you want a lift home?’ he asks me. We leave the pub. ‘Are you heading towards that white van?’ I ask, stopping in my tracks. ‘It’s not white, it’s silver.’
I am feeling I have wasted time with these two. The Italian, so chatty online, saying ‘I always fancy a leggy brunette’, doesn’t even send a thank-you text; when a couple of weeks later I ask why, he texts back, ‘I was thinking it was a bit far for dating. How could I do this a few times a week with my job?’ Ah, so finding the love of your life means the distance on sat-nav. I reply, ‘A thanks for buying you a drink would have been polite.’ Moron.
But I still have one date to go. (Hayley wants me to do more but I’m behind on my Big Little Lies boxset. ‘Rotate your dates,’ she tells me. ‘It can be fun.’) This one is nearly 60, lives near the coast in the North York Moors and has his own interior design business. That’s more like it. I offer to meet halfway but he insists on driving to a pub near me, where he books a table.
He is tall but not remotely attractive. I think to myself, ‘Oh, come on, give him a chance,’ so I do. He doesn’t ask any questions, so I say, given the pub is so old, ‘I wonder if it’s haunted?’
He says, ‘Do you want to know what I really believe?’ OK. ‘There is a race of reptiles, living beneath the Earth’s crust, that feeds off the blood of children and they rule the world. Trump is actually one of the good guys – he’s trying to fight them.’
At first I think he can’t be serious. He has two almost grown-up daughters. An ex-wife. Two recent ex-girlfriends. He owns two houses. But, yes, there’s more. ‘The Germans landed on the moon in the 1930s and they are still there!’ I posit that perhaps if they were so clever, they’d have won the war, but apparently they’re ‘biding their time’. I ask for proof. ‘I could take you out tomorrow and show you American planes spraying our population to keep us depressed.’
Well, if I hadn’t been depressed about being tossed on to the dating pile at this stage of my life, I certainly am now. What I find staggering is the arrogance of men. He had arrived at a date, thinking it perfectly fine not to have forewarned me he’s a David Icke disciple. And I’d been worried about turning up with one unwaxed knee. I report back to Hayley. When I complain that The Italian made me pay, she says I shouldn’t have offered. And The Nutter? ‘The chances of meeting a conspiracy theorist are quite slim. Keep the dates local and short, so you’re not wasting time.’
If you really want to meet The One, expect hard work and a lot of frogs. You have to filter them down ruthlessly, get dressed up, show up and talk for an hour without yawning or looking at your phone. The hairdresser on our photoshoot pipes up that she spent three months chatting to a man online before she met him – and now they’re happily married. So virtual dating can have a happy ending. But it’s a numbers game. Only you can decide whether you have the energy to commit to it.
I tell Hayley that meeting these men and scrolling through the apps has turned me off dating. I prefer the old days. Nowadays there’s no frisson, no chase, no build-up, no butterflies, no romance: it’s all very clinical and available and instant. But, perversely, what is fantastic is that I’ve finally found out my own worth. I am a catch, and the reason I’m single is that most men don’t measure up, especially those in my age bracket: usually divorced with grown-up children, and having lost the family home, they seem bruised and bitter and lonely. In the #MeToo age, it’s also glaringly apparent men seem quite scared of us, too. So if you are, like me, emerging into the modern world of dating and worried you might not be good enough, trust me, you are a catch. If you choose to dive in the pool, they would be very lucky to have you.
I tell Hayley the men who’ve been winking at me don’t deserve a nanosecond of my time. ‘That’s the attitude with which to approach dating in the 21st century!’ she texts. ‘Be super picky! Nice men do exist. But, yes, there are more important things in life than meeting men.’
Hayley’s Ten Dating Commandments
Liz shares her guru’s advice
- Be specific in your online profile about what you want: must be a home owner, read books, not a lunatic. But Hayley stresses you should still be positive – say what you like, not what you don’t.
- Filter and discard ruthlessly. If a man doesn’t give enough details, sounds stupid, has made no effort with the photos, swipe left for reject.
- Have fun with messages: where would you go if the world were your oyster? Only further down the line should you quiz more thoroughly. Find out as much as you can before wasting each other’s time.
- Remember to pull away at the first sign of moron-dom. If he can’t google a restaurant to find the nearest tube, can’t make you laugh or doesn’t ask about you, ignore then withdraw.
- On a first date, wear your fourth best outfit, and so on.
- Never offer to pay if it’s drinks: this is a clear indication of where the relationship will go. If it’s a meal, offer to go dutch.
- If he doesn’t follow up with a thank-you text, delete him.
- Stay safe: meet in a public place, don’t let him walk you to your car – say you are going to the ladies first. Never share your address.
- Hayley isn’t against men being flirtatious in texts (‘Will I get a real kiss?’). She thinks they’re just trying to prove themselves and being nice. But for me, it’s a no.
- Check apps just once a day. If you go on a date and like him, meet only once a week at first: he has to respect that you have a life that existed before you met him.