Online Dating – merely a reflection of real life

Around a year ago, at the behest of a number of my friends who had enjoyed successful experiences, I signed up to the online dating site Plenty of Fish, known affectionately by its millions of users as “PoF” (poff). It followed an all-too-familiar Saturday night scenario: spot attractive girl in bar, ingest copious amounts of booze to pluck up courage to speak to said girl, watch as Hottie marches off in horror at my drunken seduction technique which effectively amounts to dribbling manically in her face.

Eager to break this depressing cycle and end a lifetime of perennial singledom, I signed up to PoF, confident in the conviction that online dating is no longer an admission of desperation and ugliness but a mainstream activity – the natural domain of the 21st century’s beautiful young things, not just the ageing, perverted or socially inept.

Now the first obstacle to overcome before entering this brave new world is constructing a standout babe magnet profile. Obviously the main hook which reels in the ladies will be the photo – shouldn’t be too hard, I reason, I’m an attractive enough guy. First snag. The only place with a sufficiently voluminous catalogue of photos is my Facebook page and I’m hammered in nearly all of them. Isn’t this my problem in real life, precisely what I need to avoid? I trawl through the past six years of my life to pick out a modest sample of snaps which capture me at my best. Through trial and error, I eventually stumble across the perfect solution: a display picture of me holding my sister’s pocket-sized Chihuahua puppy. To my astonishment, it works. The profile views roll in – girls really do love puppies!

The next challenge is populating the unnerving “About Me” box with honest appraisal and engrossing narrative. As an aspiring writer and hoping to filter out any riffraff, I take the time and trouble to make my description as witty, engaging and grammatical a yarn as possible. After several drafts and much self-analysis, I submit my finished profile and hurl myself unprotected into the wild.

Five minutes later I receive my first message, the Inbox icon on my screen illuminated invitingly with a seductive red (1). Excited and flattered to be receiving attention within a matter of minutes, I open the message. “Your [sic] rather handsome” it reads in its entirety. Although not the most loquacious opening line, I’m intrigued by the archaic compliment and take a look at her page to glean more information. According to her profile the girl is 18 and her interests include cutting herself and masturbating five times a day. Sounds a keeper but I’ll swerve on this occasion, thanks.

Unperturbed, I do some ‘fishing’ of my own. I alight on a profile where the girl’s interests are listed as ‘murders and executions’ – I recognise the reference to American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. A friend of Patrick Bateman’s is a friend of mine. I fire off a message, she replies straight away. I check out a cute blonde with a quirky profile. I’m quirky and blond too, let’s give it a whirl. She replies back immediately as well. Two out of two! This is going to be easy! I always knew one day I would unleash my inner Adonis and finally I’ve found my outlet.

The conversation with American Psycho bird tails off – there are only so many quips about meals at Dorsia one can make and I get bored. Blondie stops replying after just one message but I can see she’s still online in what I come to call “second message syndrome”, a frustrating pattern that will repeat itself over the coming months. What did I do wrong?

It’s soon apparent my initial success was beginner’s luck. It’s true that I’m receiving a steady trickle of messages and ‘yeses’ but most of my admirers look as though they’re rather too partial to a hog roast for my liking. There is plenty of talent on the site but the age-old problem of chatting up a woman in a bar is just as acute online as it is in person: what are you actually supposed to say to them?

Slick compliments have never been my style and they feel just as awkward over the internet as on a dancefloor. Swallowing my revulsion, I try them all the same: ‘deleted’. Careful perusals of profiles and subsequent attempts at humour also go unrewarded. I seethe as my carefully crafted responses are junked. Most of those that do reply fail to ask me anything about myself in return. This irks me – why should it all fall on me to spark witty conversation, isn’t it basic manners to ask questions back? I weigh up whether to continue the stunted dialogue because she’s hot or decide that she’s not worth the effort. I opt for the latter but it’s clear there’s no place for pride in the merciless jungle of online dating.

Despite the many irritations, I’m hooked within a matter of days. One night as I’m absent-mindedly flicking through and trigger-happily rejecting the various female options that pop up on my PoF iPhone app, The One suddenly presents herself on my screen. 21 years old, her profile description is a flawless work of art, textual velvet, and she looks just like the gorgeous Tina from Corrie. Here’s a woman I can do business with. This is a serious job, the phone won’t do, and I log into my laptop to message her. The pressure is immense, a stunner like this must be inundated with interest. I establish contact and wait nervously. I refresh the page and can see she’s read my message. I refresh again and now she’s viewed my profile. Please please please. Moments later: (1). BOOM!

Her reply lives up to expectations and acerbic banter flows naturally over the ensuing fortnight. I think I’m in love. Anxious to take it to the next level, out of nowhere she provides me with her mobile number and asks me to call her so we can arrange to, in her words, ‘play’. I’m excited but deeply unnerved by the request – I’ve never called someone off the internet before and would be more comfortable arranging something online. But I understand she’ll probably want to establish beforehand that I’m not a balding sex offender and so resolve to man up and call her. I try but can’t summon the nerve and decide to turn to my old friend alcohol for assistance. Six Stellas and two generous shots of tequila later I am becalmed, now endowed with the courage of a lion and ready to dazzle. Calling…

THE ONE: [high-pitched, little girl voice] Hello?

ME: Hi, it’s Nick here. [Awkward pause] From Plenty of Fish.

THE ONE: [nervous giggling, unintelligible squealing]

ME: [Panicking slightly and feeling stupid] Erm, well I guess I should start by asking your name as you’ve never actually told me.

THE ONE: [deranged giggling, higher-pitched whining] I, I, I… I never told you cos, cos, you don’t like meeee!

ME: [taken aback, defensive] What do you mean I don’t like you? I’m calling you aren’t I!

THE ONE: [laughter’s turned to tears, total meltdown in progress] Erm, erm, erm…I don’t know what to say!

[Line goes dead.]

She’s cut me off! I call back. No answer. What just happened? Instantly my old prejudices resurface – with communication skills like that no wonder this loon had to turn to the internet to get a boyfriend. Weeks of buildup and anticipation shattered in 30 humiliating seconds.

Recovering from this unsettling experience, I’m determined this needn’t be the end of my online adventure. But even if The One did turn out to be a nutter, I never do find anyone who matches up to my expectations of what I wanted her to be. The weeks roll by and I come to resent having made the effort to compose a thoughtful profile, which feels so affected and pompous in a sea of endlessly repetitive and inarticulate banality. I tire as PoF continues to serve up the same daily menu of orange girls pouting in front of the mirror, their identities meshing into one as they spew out the same vapid epithets time after time. ‘Banter’, ‘bubbly personality’, ‘YOLO’, ‘r u my Christian Grey lol’…that wasn’t funny the first time I saw it. Their listed interests become blindingly predictable, usually restricted to ‘socialising, music, family’, as if enjoying a decent tune and a laugh with friends is somehow an alien concept to the rest of us.

The most annoying thing of all is that it’s obvious they are getting results regardless; their Inboxes brimming with so much activity they need a secretary to keep on top of it, whilst I survey the small cluster of ignored desperados who inhabit my own. Just as in the pub on a Saturday night, the men drool while the women take their pick. I thought this is what I was escaping from. My mood turns mutinous and the backlash begins.

I’m viewing a pretty girl whose profile contains a now-familiar diktat: “no topless pics please.” Of course, I would never dream of inflicting an upper-half as unsightly as mine on the unsuspecting ladies of PoF but I decide to jokingly point out the hypocrisy of such a request when her own pictures are comprised of the female equivalent: cameraphone ‘selfies’, the lens carefully pointed down towards her breasts. My hopes that this attempt at playful teasing might ignite a meaningful conversation are quickly dashed, my light-hearted tone clearly not rendered in text as I’m met with a string of abuse. ‘Cock’, ‘desperate virgin’ and ‘pathetic loser’ among the more printable reactions I receive from this feisty young thing.

Chuckling forlornly to myself, I realise I’m exactly where I was when I signed up three months ago: hopelessly single, with women thinking I’m a dick and recoiling in disgust. I decide to retire from online dating – it’s been an experience but I can get this for nothing in the real world.

Speech in loving memory of my dad, Paul Nicholas Martin (1952-2012)

“I believe that if I should die,
and you were to walk near my grave,
from the very depths of the earth
I would hear your footsteps.”

Benito Pérez Galdós

I’ve known for a while now, months really, that the time would come that I would have to make this speech but, even with time, knowing what to say about Paul Martin and putting into words what it was like to have him as a dad really isn’t easy. As I’m sure most of you here today can appreciate, he was a very unusual man. But this was part of what made him so special and unique. He had a truly remarkable gift for drawing people in and making them feel like they wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Everyone he ever met, even the staff at the local Tesco’s, were instantly charmed by him. Whenever you went to a restaurant with him he would have the staff eating out of the palm of his hand within five minutes. He was brilliantly good humoured and welcoming. All the people I’ve spoken since to since he became ill have talked of his hospitality and charm. He was always engaging, he always had a full fridge of food and a glass of wine on hand for any visitor, be they friends, family or a neighbour just passing by. He was a master of making conversation and puncturing awkward moments. I’ve never seen anyone so good at making people feel at ease and enjoy themselves. I found a quote which I am paraphrasing slightly but which seems perfectly appropriate for him: “while we are mourning the loss of Paul, others are rejoicing to meet him behind the veil.”

As we all know until the last few years of his life he enjoyed a drink, a trait he has certainly passed on to his children. I’m sure his own friends will be able to tell me their stories of his glory days but I can tell you as his children we probably put him to bed as many times as he did to us! Censored highlights include the time he came down at 8 o’clock one Sunday night to make us breakfast, digging out all the breakfast bowls even though we were, in fact, about to go bed. Or all of us being at a restaurant in the Lake District when a fellow diner overheard our conversation discussing his antics the night before and made a point of coming up to congratulate us on a splendid evening’s entertainment. ‘Most enjoyable,’ he said. That was Paul Martin, entertaining people even without meaning to.

However, the most overwhelming memory of Dad growing up was having amazingly good fun. Nothing compared to being little and spending the weekend with him. Every Saturday morning we would go swimming, have something to eat and then zoom off in the car to go on one of his famous walks. As children we were always so proud to have such a cool dad, driving around in his sunglasses playing the latest music and making everyone laugh. Between the three of us we probably have every song he ever played on those car journeys. The song we are going to play for him later, “No More I Love You”s by Annie Lennox comes from a moment which encapsulates his eccentricity and fun. We’d nagged him to take us to Banham Zoo for weeks and he agreed, but as we got there we weren’t allowed out of the car until we sang along to the opening (“dubi dubi dub dub dub, aaah”). We all stood our ground but eventually we did as we were told and sang along as he threatened to drive away. Trust me, Dad, we’ll never need nagging to sing along again.

More recently, memories of spending time with Dad meant cosy weekends spent being fed and watered on the sofa with him and Angie waiting on us hand and foot. It was always such a treat to take time out from uni, work or nights out to spend a couple of days at his flat eating mountains of amazing food, watching one of countless TV programmes or films he’d recorded onto the Sky Box. Then the next day off to whichever chain restaurant he had a voucher for at the time, of course swiftly followed by a lengthy walk. Words cannot describe how much we’re going to miss all this and how hard these empty weekends will be to fill without you here.

Dad was a true Martin and was truly his father’s son. The main characteristic of this is to be hugely adventurous and slightly mad. He always dreamt of being a pilot and fulfilled this ambition. Although we came along too late to experience that, it never stopped us having our own adventures. I can’t even begin to count the number of miles I, Lizzie, Laurie, Angie, Karen, Stuart and everyone else must have covered with him on those epic walks. For my own part, every single corner of London I cross carries a memory of Dad, his presence is with me on just about every street. It seems like there’s no square, park, pub, market or museum of this city we didn’t go to together at some point. This gene hasn’t been lost, Dad, and we’ll carry on the walks and drives and adventures, remembering everything you ever taught us along the way.

The last thing I’d like to say on behalf of me, Lizzie and Laurie, as we never got a chance to say it, is what a truly amazing man you proved to be in the last few months of your life. You dealt with the most appalling diagnosis of cancer with dignity, good humour and a bravery I’d never thought imaginable. For a man who a year ago would have described having a simple injection before a holiday as an ‘operation’, you took everything they threw at you in your stride and were strong till the very end. Despite the horrific effects of chemotherapy the first time round you went through it again. And even when the effects the second time round were worse still, just a few days before you died you were still talking about continuing the treatment. Even at the end when you could barely speak or move you were still trying to carry on as normal and make conversation like you did your whole life – asking how I was, what I’d been up to, if I needed any money… You really proved yourself to be a father that we can be proud of and inspired by. On behalf of your babies, I promise we’ll make you proud, carry on the best of the Martin traditions and never forget you. Love you matey.

A graduate’s guide to staying sane during a job search

You have spent your entire life in education with the simple conventional wisdom in mind: A Levels = university degree = good job. During A Levels you know exactly what grades you must achieve to earn a place on that university course. You then spend the next few years at university believing that a 2:1 is your best chance of getting a foot on the ladder in your desired career path. You spend six weeks or so after your final exam tentatively applying for jobs but are really holding back until that anxious wait for your results is over. The beginning of July arrives quicker than expected. Relief washes over as you realise those three years of study have not been in vain. But now what?

Of course throughout your student years the news has talked of nothing but recession and dire economic forecasts but it’s only now you appreciate the reality as employers stubbornly refuse to bite. You look anxiously at those in your friendship group who have long since secured coveted places on graduate schemes or used connections to secure internships and you start to question your own choices.  You have read every piece of careers advice going, adapted your CV what seems like a thousand times and sought the counsel of everyone you know who has been through similar. They advise you to remain patient, your break will come. However the Jobcentre is putting pressure on you, advising you to lower your aspirations (conveniently ignoring the enormous jobseeker-vacancy gap). You follow their advice, applying for the most mundane of jobs knowing they probably won’t get back to you. Your financial situation is becoming so desperate you start to think, God forbid, you might have to move back in with your parents.

Six months into your job search lurking self-doubt and despair have replaced the hope and enthusiasm of those halcyon student days. However, retaining confidence and drive is just as important in finding employment as the standout CV and killer covering letter. Rather than resigning yourself to a life of daytime TV and rolling 24 hour news, the following five tips can help prevent the job search from crushing your soul:

GET UP EARLY

The ability to lie in as you listen to your flatmates struggle out of bed in the dark to brave sub-zero temperatures outside is perhaps the only advantage of unemployment. However nothing is more likely to decrease motivation than lounging around in your dressing gown until 1pm. Getting up at a respectable hour, showering and having breakfast will set you up for a productive day

LEAVE THE HOUSE

Cabin fever is a common symptom of continued unemployment. A brisk morning walk or meeting up with your friends for lunch will help you feel connected with the human race (if they’re working, let them pay). Try replacing the silence of your kitchen with the buzz of a busy coffee shop – you will be surprised at how it inspires you to approach the job hunt with renewed vigour.

DON’T OVERDO IT

Quality not quantity is the key in a successful job search. Robotically churning out dozens of repetitive applications on a daily basis will not only result in mediocre content but increase your sense of despair when they are unsuccessful. Avoid visiting the same select jobsites every day and take regular breaks between applications. This will help you consider how to approach each job specification in its own right and avoid feeling like you’re going round in circles.

CELEBRATE SUCCESSES

An interview may not be a job but at least in this highly competitive market you have made enough of an impression to be considered. This should remind you of your worth as a candidate and even an unsuccessful interview will offer invaluable experience for the next one.

LOOK TO THE FUTURE

Even if none of the previous points have lifted the gloom, remember this really won’t be forever. Don’t dwell on your present situation and stay focused on where you want to be in a year’s time. Be bold and remember you are not alone: even if speaking to friends or family doesn’t help, there are plenty of government agencies and charities out there which can offer free support and advice.