Teachers use dating agencies more than any other profession. And that includes the online stuff, as I discovered. What a lesson I learned.
I have an old schoolmate - Colin. Colin. Just close your eyes and think about the picture this name conjures up. Bit overweight, balding, nearer 40 than 30 (a lot nearer); still single (well, single again). In fact, a carbon copy of myself. A similarly forlorn, tragic figure in the pantomime of personal relationships. Born in the 1960s; school in the 1970s; college in the 1980s. Dumped in the 1990s. He's one of those guys who, you kid yourself, have not aged half as well as you have. In fact, he looks all of 10 years olderI at least. And his behaviour. Shockingly ahead of his years.
He gave me the www addresses. Somehow I knew he'd be the man to ask. And off I went. Part curiosity. Part recklessness. Part boredom. And, yes, I guess I was hoping to meet someone to light a fire. Or at least strike a match.
If you're thinking of doing this, be warned. You'll probably be better off having a shower and trying a night in Tesco. But with credit card details surrendered, pound;9.95 worse off, I began my trawl. It was exciting at first. Screen-loads of women's faces. But reading the profiles - well, that was another tale. So few were captivating. Lots of "likes a night in with a bottle (or two - followed by 10 exclamation marks) of wine" and a peppering of "let's just see what develops". I meanI "just see". Have you ever seen a more abused adverb?
Matching the details up is a trial in itself. I'd never go for a country and western woman, but I love Hank Williams. I listen to heavy Beethoven, but don't fancy a meal with someone whose interest in Bach stretches to the sort of pap played on a Stylophone when you get slapped on hold for 15 minutes. I like reading too. But falling asleep every night with a Terry Pratchett on my chest would be hell for me.
Then the targets' names seemed to change dramatically when I fiddled with the search options. Optimistically heading for the 28-40 range, I could choose from Rachels, Debbies, the odd Zoe (without umlauts, of course), the Sarahs and the Kates. Upping that to 50-55 (yes, I was getting desperate, and more curious), I landed firmly in the land of the Brendas, Denises, Maureens and Dorothys. Oh, and Judiths. I was shocked. I know my dad's been out with at least one of each of these namesI and he met them through the Telegraph. It was getting bad.
I started with what I called "strategic strikes" (including two smart-looking 30-plus teachers). This involved reading their whole profile, then making a conscious effort to hit one or more of their interests. Bit like a job spec when you have to think carefully about each lie you tell. I realised, quickly, that this was a waste of time.
So I moved on to plan B - a kind of "carpet bombing". I bashed out a pleading synopsis of my better points, perfectly spelled and mixed with a bit of irony, art and a half-serious line from some poem I love so much I forget who wrote it and what it is called. I tapped these into Microsoft Word and pasted it into as many reply boxes as I could. Sometimes I even remembered to alter the woman's name. And once or twice changed Beethoven for Berg, my walking for window-shopping, or my Grolsch for Guinness. It was that bad.
I asked Colin how many messages he sends. Colin around two a week. That's more than one, but not quite three. Made sense. I've known Colin since we were 12. And he's as sensible now as he was then. "God almighty," I thought when he told me this - it had only been six days and I was on 182. Look, what I'm saying isI without sounding like an embittered old cynic of an English teacher (which I'm clearly not, of course), it's such an artificial and forced way of doing things. For us animals of interpersonal zest, this just isn't the way forward. The things of the beautifully unsaid suffer.
They're killed before inception. Those potentially delicious twists of linguistic semantic inference aren't there. At all. But does this deter the Colins?
I asked one girl, also a parent (this, I naively thought, would enhance my suitability) if she'd give me five words. I told her I'd weave each into a separate poem. This, I decided, was bound to impress her. Someone from the same stables as myself, I thought. It's not because I spent an hour writing the wretched things for Ms "must be able to make me laugh" in Stoke that I was disappointed. I'd tried to impress her in an alternative way, but producing a pentateuch of work wasn't easy involving all these words. Worst was, she emailed me back with comments from the marking criteria, and she'd given them a national curriculum level. I was a strong six, but not quite a seven.
Nor was it the fact that the gorgeous bob-haired coffee drinker from Leicester replied only with a selection of "jokes" from Purple Ronnie's How to Survive Ofsted manual. I don't know what it was. Maybe me. Maybe I'm not up there with Colin. Or maybe I'm just down; down there with myself. Maybe I'm more old-fashioned than I'd ever admit. Meanwhile, those poems are about to be deleted. My credit card's in my wallet. Safely tucked away.
And, meI what am I going to do now? Well, I'm off to Tesco. Any of you ladies fancy a night out in the aisles?
Alan Gardner teaches in the north of England. He writes under a pseudonym
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