There was a time when almost all of us met our future partners at school, work, a disco, in our local area or through friends. But the internet has changed all that.
Around one in five UK relationships now begin online and researchers estimate that within the next 25 years that figure will rise to 70% – with dating websites accounting for 80% of them. Yes, people will still meet in the office and at parties, but the numbers are already amazingly low: new relationships between colleagues and close friends have dropped from 18% to just 12% of the British total in just five years.
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And which group of online daters is expected to grow fastest? With their burgeoning internet use and some 1.8 million of them living alone, it’s the 55 to 64-year-olds.
But are you ready to take your love online? There are plenty of stories out there of online dating attracting weirdos or people wanting extramarital affairs. Well, these three inspiring stories of couples who met recently online may ease your mind.
Does online dating actually work?
Jackie and Erik: straight from the heart
Retired equality manager Jackie Bennett from Morley, West Yorkshire, and Erik Dawid, a former HR director, from Leeds, met in April 2014. They are both 63.
My partner, Peter, died when I was just 60 and though, after a few years, it felt time to find someone new, I didn’t click with anyone I met through social clubs, new hobbies, or parties.
I was worried about rejection with internet dating – and a few blokes I messaged didn’t even reply! But then Erik contacted me and it was very clear that he was into his books, like me. Our emails and texts quickly got longer until we were writing pages of stuff every day. In one, he told me he enjoyed ironing. ‘I’ve fainted dead away,’ I replied ‘I think we are made for one another!’ We’d talk about our lives; having a laugh. I suppose back in Jane Austen’s day, we’d have been writing letters to each other and sending them across the county by coach.
We met after about three weeks and already felt we knew each other well. Over the next three months, we had loads of days out and realised that we had something serious. The texts and emails didn’t stop and then Erik gave me a present. He’d transcribed them all and turned them into a book. I was thrilled.
When we read the book back now, we always think, Did we really say that? Our thoughts, feelings, philosophy on life… we were allowing each other to see who we really were. That book is so special because it’s the story of us.
I love writing. I’ve still got the Parker 51 fountain pen that my parents bought me when I went to school. But when I started online dating last year after a 21-year relationship, ladies were sending one-line, badly spelt, no-commas messages and it put me off! Letter writing is a dying art, but when Jackie and I got in touch, we seemed to resurrect it. I really looked forward to her messages – the humour. They drew me to her.
In my head, I started calling the emails The Chronicles Of Jackie and Erik and she was so happy when I made them into a book because we both know those words led us to somewhere new; led us to each other.
I love Jackie’s eyes, as well as her words, though. You can use as much fancy modern technology as you like, but relationships work just the same as they did when Cro-Magnon man first emerged from his cave. You look at somebody… deep into their eyes.
We don’t live together and I’m not sure we ever will, but we share each other’s lives. Jackie knows I’m a big cinema fan and, earlier this year, I took her to a 12-hour horror movie festival. It was all vintage stuff! A few 1960s zombie slashers and The Exorcist. Nothing says I love you like The Exorcist. Did she enjoy it? Of course! Well, that’s what she told me.
Find out about dating in later life: the facts
Roger and Helen: not alone any more
Roger Jardine, 66, a widow from Bodmin, Cornwall and Helen Goodwill, 69 a retired speech therapist from nearby Port Isaac, met in March 2015.
In February last year, my wife, Angie, was told she had terminal lung and liver cancer. I’d retired from taxi driving and was able to care for her, but she went downhill quickly and the next few months were full of shock and sadness.
Right from the start, though, she was insistent that we talk about what was going to happen after she was gone. It wasn’t something I wanted to even think about, but she’d say, ‘Look, you don’t have to live on your own. I want you to find somebody else’ That was such an incredible act of kindness – allowing me to look to the future.
Angie died in October and that first Christmas without her was tough. Still, after a couple of months, I did what she told me and joined an online dating service. I met some very nice ladies, but it wasn’t easy - when I started telling them about Angie, I’d get terribly upset. A couple of days later, there’d be an email saying, ‘Great to meet you, but you’re obviously not over your wife’.
I wondered if it was worth carrying on… then I noticed Helen’s profile picture. She wanted to meet someone who liked classical music and I like pop, but I eventually thought ‘What the hell?’
We met in a pub and, yes, I cried when I talked about Angie, but I felt instantly that Helen was on my side. ‘You’re grieving and that’s OK,’ she told me. We ended up spending the rest of the day together, which had never happened on a first date before.
From early on, I wanted to be with Helen constantly, but she told me, ‘You’re probably looking for someone to replace Angie, and that can’t be me. I need time for my own life.’ She was tough but made me realise that I needed some space to adapt to bereavement, too.
We now spend lots of time together and by standing by me and not judging me for my sadness, Helen has helped me come to terms with everything that’s happened, to stand on my own feet - even start painting again. I guess you know a relationship’s right when the person you’re with helps you find yourself.
I’d been a divorced, single mum for almost 30 years and suddenly found myself at 65 and not wanting to be alone any more. I joined a dating website, but was contacted by a few odd characters. One chap was not only still married but had children with another lady!
I liked Roger instantly, though. On our first date, I broke my handbag strap as I got out of the car to meet him. I was all flustered, but without saying anything, he took the bag from me, fixed it and handed it back. I looked at his face and thought, 'What a lovely man'!' I just wanted to kiss him on the cheek… so I did. It was magical.
That evening he told me about Angie and got a bit tearful, but that only made me like him more. I could see that this strong man was allowing me to see that he was still vulnerable.
I did say to myself early on that I wasn’t going to be his therapist. But I was also aware that part of his heart of course still belongs to his late wife – just as a small part of my heart still belongs to my ex-husband – and I knew he’d want to talk about her. As I’ve heard about Angie, I feel I’ve grown to know and respect her, too.
Find out about dating after the death of a partner
Ian and Joanna: romance across the borders
Ian ‘Iggy’ Humphries, 57, a document controller from Runcorn, Cheshire, first contacted 51-year-old Romanian computer programmer Joanna Gall in January 2015.
My last relationship didn’t end well, an irretrievable breakdown. I lost all my trust in people and didn’t care about anything for a while. I just about kept it together at work, but weekends involved a lot of Jack Daniels...
My kids, Sophie and Connor, both in their twenties, intervened. ‘Dad, you need to snap out of it’. They encouraged me to try dating websites and, though, I met both lovely and strange people, it felt good to be getting back out there.
I noticed Joanna’s picture after about a year and fell for her smile. Her profile said she lived in Chester, so I was made up. When I eventually got in touch, though, I realised she actually lived in Bucharest, Romania and was planning to move to Chester, where her son, Andrew, was studying.
I was cautious - you hear about people using any excuse to come to the UK. But I decided I’d rather trust someone and be hurt, than never trust at all.
I contacted Joanna in January, we exchanged lots of lovely messages and she came over to see me in February. As we drove away from the airport, she leaned over and touched my arm, and it was like an electric shock. Wow! I couldn’t believe what I was feeling.
Over the next couple of days, we just talked and talked about everything. She told me about her life – her previous relationship wasn’t great – in a way that made me believe in her. Soon, we were going back and forward between here and Romania and, shortly after, Joanna got a flat near to me. We now see each other every day.
You hear all sorts of negative stuff about online dating yet it bridged a 1,700-mile gap for Joanna and I and brought us together.
I divorced eight years ago and had to work hard to pay my two sons’ school and college fees, so didn’t have time for another relationship.
But last Christmas, I came to Chester to visit Andrew. I saw him with his girlfriend, and, for the first time, realised I missed being with someone.
I was wary of some of the men I contacted initially online, but Iggy looked so innocent in his profile picture. He would tell me very ordinary things in his messages like, ‘I have been making cookies today!’ I knew if he was trying to somehow fool or take advantage of me, he wouldn’t tell me how excited he was about baking!
When we first met, he had a bunch of flowers and took me to see Andrew. My children were worried about the relationship to begin with, but I knew Iggy wouldn’t hurt me.
We were both scared by what had happened in the past, but when we met, we understood each other and instinctively knew we’d found new happiness. When this happens, there is perhaps no way to explain it. All the words are inside your heart.
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