I’m going back to dating in real life – but no one seems interested in real romance

Say goodbye to cruel dating apps! Farewell, tedious nights in tacky wine bars talking to “dates” that might be boring for Britain! After years of dating app hell, I’ve deleted the lot and I’m finally free from this whole soulless business. So what can a single looking for love do? Is there a love life after the apps? Like many disillusioned online daters, I’m coming back to real life.

Does anyone remember real life? This lost world where “lonely hearts” – as single people like me were once called – met other people at parties or social events. We didn’t read the profiles; we read faces. Across a crowded room, eyes met and the electricity was on; or in a hidden nook the lips would lock – if you were lucky! But real life has been left behind as we place our trust in technology to find true love. Yes, some have found it through dating apps, but most singles over 50 I know have given up looking for love. on line.

They told me I should join one of those event groups – like Flash Pack, Meetup, and Otto Connection – that offer the chance to meet “like-minded people” and have fun doing all sorts of things. ‘activities from Scrabble nights and dinners to skiing holidays and visits to exhibitions.

Yes, they look fun, but for me there is a small problem: these groups claim that they are more about making friends than finding true love. These Scrabble nights won’t end in hot sex and the trip to the V&A won’t lead to the wedding altar. “You’re as likely to find your new best friend as you are to find the love of your life,” Sophia Anne Ziegler, founder of Otto Connection, tells me.

My first thought was, “But I don’t want to find a new best friend – I want to find a wife and live happily ever after having passionate, crazy sex and lots of laughs for the rest of my life.”

Still, I decided to keep an open mind and attend an Otto event. What did I have to lose? Everything had to be better than another night with a stranger who looked nothing like their profile, listening to them talk about their ex.

Preparing for a date is usually a source of existential anxiety for me. What am I wearing? Why does my hair look like a cheap wig? How could I have gained so much weight since breakfast? But this time, I kept telling myself… Relax! It’s not a date, it’s just a fun encounter with a group of nice people!

If I really believed it, why did I change my outfit three times before I left the house? If it wasn’t about love – or lust – why did I iron my underwear and clean my bathroom? You may tell yourself it’s not a date, but there’s a little voice in your head that thinks, Oh yes, it is! Don’t kid yourself, mate. She may be there: the One. Wife number three!

I’m happy to report that Otto’s party was really good: plenty to drink, lovely surroundings, delicious food and an eclectic mix of people in their 50s and 60s – writers, people in finance and real estate, therapists, a few academics, “personal development instructors, bloggers. All were friendly and you could talk to anyone you liked.

Ziegler told me that she wanted to create an environment where “singles could meet without all the pressure of the online dating scene.” And she did. Most app-based dating feels like a job interview: this party felt more like an impromptu celebration. The crowd was laid back but lively. Instead of the usual chat routines, everyone engaged in conversation.

It was the kind of relaxed environment where you can really be yourself. You don’t have to pretend or pretend to be someone you’re not like you feel pressured to do on a one-on-one date. Personally, I’ve always found being myself to be a disaster when it comes to finding love. So I always try to be more like Cary Grant than the real me. But my suave Grant style didn’t work on this crowd.

There were about 60 single men and women and not a hint of sexual interest or even minor flirting occurred to me.

I asked a woman if she was looking for romance. “I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t,” she replied, “but I’m really not worried. I am happy to make friends.

And that’s a key part of what all these event groups are selling: it’s the idea that if you meet someone, that’s fine, but if you don’t, that’s fine too, because being single can be as fun and rewarding as being in a relationship. “It’s a good place to live,” says Ziegler.

I’m not sure about that. There are times in your life when you’re content to be single and other times it’s fine…lonely. It may be more difficult for men. Studies have shown that women are more satisfied with being single than men because they have larger social networks of support. We lonely men are prone to the nightly vices of self-pity, porn, and pot noodles.

But there seems to be a contradiction at work here – if being single is so great, then why would we want to go to events with a whole bunch of other singles? Isn’t this a sign that deep down, despite all our assertions about the happiness of being single, we would really like to meet someone and start dating?

I asked Ziegler if her group is all about finding friendships, so why does she only allow singles to attend? Isn’t it an admission that despite all the talk about friendship, people still hope to find love?

She said to me, “If people find love, that’s great. But that is not what the Otto experience is about.

I ask, “Has anyone found romance in your meetings?” She replies, “Not to my knowledge – but it’s still early days and I don’t think our members really care. I wanted to create an environment where singles don’t feel less valued because they’re surrounded by couples.

So how did I do it? Not good. I haven’t found my new best friend and I haven’t found my future wife either. I asked a woman for her number and she looked appalled, as if I had asked for her hand in marriage. “I thought we could have coffee sometime,” I explained. She never responded to my invitation.

Of course no one finds a friend or wife on the first outing and I would definitely go to another Otto gathering. Who knows, maybe I’ll find the new best friend who will become my next wife.


Read last week’s column: It’s time for me to become more discriminating in my love life


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