|Internet dater Cathy Comerford and her husband and son.|
As this century dawned and half the world was waking up to the first day of the Noughties, I was walking down the Strand ending my seven year relationship. I was 35 and it felt like hell. Most of my friends and all of my siblings had children. I came from a family of six and in my twenties had never questioned that I would be a mother. But in fact I did not have that compelling need, as some women do, to have a baby. As my best childbearing years were already behind me, I accepted that I had probably missed that boat.
At first I quite liked being single again anyway. I liked running on the Common in the early mornings before work. I liked having the papers to myself on a Sunday. And I quite liked the open book my life had become. I went on some great holidays learning to sail with a crew of French and Irishmen off the coast of Cork; doing Tai Chi with a bunch of girls on a Greek Island and learning Thai massage from someone of dubious gender on a beach in Koh Phangan.
But going to parties alone, spending Christmas Day literally alone in my flat, twice, and worst of all, going to bed alone at night were not easy.
Over the next five years in between singles holidays and solitary Christmases I went from one cliche - the Office Christmas Party Romance With The Boss which lasted a year - to another, a three year dalliance with a man so afraid of commitment he would not buy cinema tickets in case he turned out not to like the film.
As I approached 40 instead of feeling panicked I began to feel a new confidence. No, I was not quite ready for spinsterhood yet. I clearly had a dodgy relationship radar, so maybe I needed to look in a different way. Perhaps technology could help. I knew the prejudices about online dating: it was all married men looking for an extra-marital fling, no one looked like their picture and everyone lied about their age. But I had a friend, who had met his partner on line. He was genuine, he was kind, he was solvent, he was even handsome. My logic said that if he was out there, there might be more like him. I just had to look.
Over the next year I went on dates with about 10 different men, most of them one-offs. None, contrary to the myth, were married. They varied between chronic shyness and laughable arrogance. One walked off leaving me at a restaurant table because I would not drink. One sent me a nasty email after I abandoned the date because he was running so late.
Only two fell into the category of 'A Bit Scary' – the first telling me how he nursed his mother to her death as we walked along a very dark street and the second who was furious that my long hair had been cut into a bob since my profile photo had been taken. He accused me of being two different people.
There was one Possible - a media lawyer, who was funny and clever. We went on a few dates, which I really enjoyed, but it became clear that he was still recovering from a very painful divorce.
Then there was Porsche Man, who I only spoke to on the phone. On his profile he sounded OK and his picture looked nice, but as we tried to arrange a time to meet up, he mentioned, at least twice, that he owned a Porsche and seemed upset that I was not more impressed. It became clear that he was about to tell me I should count myself lucky, before I made my excuses…
However, that same November evening I received a call from another man whose profile I had picked out one night as I sat in bed with tonsillitis, feeling feverish, seriously unattractive and impatient. I could not be bothered chatting by email and simply sent my phone number saying, "If you are interested, call me."
By then I had learned what to look for when checking a prospect's profile – not the photo. It tells you very little. I had also changed mine from one where I thought I looked my best - makeup, earrings and a black cocktail dress - to one taken by my cousin, in which I looked relaxed, friendly: my approachable self.
His profile said he liked films. I love films and we had both listed On Golden Pond as one of our favourites. He was an engineer – a scientist to my arts background. I was attracted to someone who could actually do stuff. He was a Kiwi but had lived in London for over 20 years. I had worked with loads of New Zealanders and loved their reluctance to take anyone or anything very seriously. We both liked sailing and walking. He described himself through his friends' eyes - a humility I warmed to straight away. His photo showed a kind, strong face and loads of hair. He was divorced with two children in their late teens, who lived with their mother. The clarity and tact with which he covered this on his profile said a lot about him. I was not put off by his having been married before. It meant he was able to commit, and must have some idea about relationships with women. He was 12 years my senior but so was my father to my mother.
It wasn't all plain sailing. My first impression when I walked up to shake his hand on that bright November day, was that he had only one eye and had doctored his profile photo to disguise it. As we stood discussing where to have coffee I wondered if I could love a one-eyed man. It was not until we were sitting down having lunch that I realised he had been squinting into the low winter sun.
Oh did I say lunch? Yes. My strict rule on coffee-only for first dates was brushed aside in favour of a 'nice little Thai place', just around the corner. But I let it go. At the end of the afternoon I offered him a lift to the station, breaking my second rule of dating.
I wouldn't say it was love at first sight, but something was definitely different. On our third date we agreed to take down our profiles from the website.
We bumped around for a bit through all the usual stuff of any new relationship. He had not chatted anyone up for a long time and it showed. I had not trusted anyone for a long time, and it showed. One of our first dates was a Christmas riverboat party thrown by the company where he worked. I dressed up – long velvet gown, new hair-do. When he arrived to pick me up I commented on how nice he looked. The compliment was not returned and I was furious (I have since coached him in how and when to compliment).
But when trouble struck we just could not be apart, no matter how annoying the other one could be. By February we were properly going out. On Valentine's Day we ran off to Brighton and stayed at The Grand - a tradition we continue to this day.
The moment came when I knew he was The One after a row in which I had panicked and called it all off. As I put the phone down, I thought about how happy he had made me. I simply could not countenance my life without him. I had never felt that way about anybody. I slept on it to see if it felt any different the next day. It didn't. After two days I called him back and told him that I loved him. I just had not known it.
We were about five months into the relationship when one afternoon, over a chat in a tea shop, our worlds changed for ever. The dating site had asked whether you wanted children. We had both ticked 'no', he because he already had two, me because I was over 40 and was being realistic.
"You know, I would like a baby with you," he said, just like that, as I poured the tea.
By the time the scones turned up we were engaged. Well not officially. I made him propose properly much later, with a ring, on bended knee, on top of a mountain, with snow and everything. But really there was no going back from that moment. I realised, right then, that I would like a baby with him too.
We got married that summer and our son was born two years later, healthy and bright. Both conception and birth were achieved without the aid of modern medicine, though I was in hospital for the latter. I was 43.
by - Cathy Comerford