The miss­ing years

His pro­file said he was 54, but when he turned up, he was sig­nif­i­cantly older …

The Guardian - Family - - Front Page - My my

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.

It wasn’t.

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.

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