The missing years
His profile said he was 54, but when he turned up, he was significantly older …
His profile picture had been on the studied side; suited and staring into the middle distance. It was one of those photographs that could prove to be entirely accurate or fall into a dread category known to online daters in which the frozen self bears little or no resemblance to what walks through the door. But there was a fluency and confidence to his writing that I had liked. At 54, he was five years my senior. It was worth a shot. We agreed to meet.
In retrospect, his email follow-up, setting out not only the time and place but also a detailed request for my drink order was on the pedantic side (a friend put it squarely into old-fart territory). But I had considered it to be getting the admin out of the way. Protracted waiting at the bar with someone you have never met can be excruciating.
On the night, in walked a man in a polo neck. We are talking 70s casual rather than cat burglar, but it could have been retro.
My glass was barely clinked before he asked, “Can you guess my age?”
It wasn’t the opener I had anticipated. Neither was the glee in his question. There was a need for an answer. Meeting him in person, I had thought he was probably nearer 60 than he had said, so I hedged it with “late 50s”. This was the cue he’d been waiting for. Evidently delighted, he announced: “I am 70.” It had the feel of a declaration.
I was horrified. To be an older man is not a crime. But I was processing a 16-year shift in the “facts”, full wine glass in hand, in a crowded bar, with no obvious escape route. The John McEnroe-style (“You cannot be serious!”) response that sprang to mind went unsaid. And we were only at the start. We were heading towards the quieter part of the bar where, he said, we could “hear ourselves think”.
hearing, listening as it proved to be. This was a case of leaving the hubbub for something like a seminar. There is probably a rule about not casting about for other dates when you are on one but I couldn’t help but notice a relatively youthful Trevor Eve, seated at the next table, as we left it. Waking the Dead seemed both apposite, and a further loss, in the space of moments.
My companion was settling in. Leaning back into his chair, he explained his reasoning. “I look younger than my age and, had I told it to you in advance, you would never have agreed to meet.”
“You’re damn right I wouldn’t,” I heard myself say. More Bette Davis than 2017 dating-speak but this type of reveal would bring out the theatrical in most.
He elaborated; he was “extremely fussy” about who he agreed to meet. Most failed on grounds of spelling, looks or assorted qualifications he found to be lacking. Did I have any idea how lucky I was to have got through the first cull? I said I was fast getting one.
An image of my sofa, and of getting back home to the last, critical 20 minutes of House of Cards was becoming a real possibility when he asked if I would like to know his “biological” age.
I said I knew it: 70. Apparently not. A raft of medical tests (heart, lungs – and let’s not go there) said otherwise. I feared there might be slides. “Biologically”, he was 48. Lest I needed further assurance, he was, he added “Oxbridge”, and in top physical form. Just the week before, he had been racing his seven-year-old son across the beach. Something in the stress on “seven” hinted at the uncomfortable message that the “equipment” still worked. “My ex-wife is younger than you are,” came by way of the clincher.
At this point, I headed to the loo (that easy route to receipt of 10 minutes of text messages saying “get yourself out of there”) and made my exit soon afterwards, with not even a sneak peak at Trevor. It was an evening to walk away from.
Casting back to when I had toyed with the idea of joining a dating agency, I had been warned that I would need to be willing to meet men up to 10 years my senior. In fact, I have found, from my mid-40s, the options have narrowed in the context of peers but extended at the extremes. It took me until the end of my 40s to be favoured by 28-year-olds (that is never going to work for me however many times people cite Joan Collins), and the over-65s.
He was ‘extremely fussy’ about who he met. Most failed on spelling, looks or qualifications. Did I have any idea how lucky I was to have got through?
But it was this man’s assumption that had thrown me. Where the alteration of a few years might have been more reasonable, I wasn’t comfortable with a skipped generation. Is there ever an acceptable level of lie, about age? A friend, having conferred with men and women dating online, said: “We expect men to be truthful. They anticipate we may ‘knock a few years off’.” That there is a perceived need by either to do this is a whole other outrage. But I think it is a fair representation.
I have “lost” two years from my stated age on a dating profile in the past. Friends were divided about this. One felt I looked younger than my years and that to state my real age could conjure an image that was inaccurate and mean I was discounted from a search. Online, we are data first. Others felt no good could come of a lie.
There are arguable degrees of misrepresentation. This man had exceeded mine.
And at the last look he is still on the site – not having aged a bit.