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Looking at other profiles I saw that men’s tended to feature extreme sports; women’s group shots were with friends on nights out or with a male arm circled protectively around their shoulders, signalling they were desirable property.I’d never had a group of female friends, had someone take a photo of a man putting his arm around me and had certainly never been up Mount Everest or on a jet ski with a camera crew in tow.I told her I had tried it once before, when I was twenty-seven; I had been on three dates – my first ever – in the space of a week, and the experience had been enough to deter me from trying it again.I felt stupid for not realising two of the men were not interested.Modern-day dating: An award-winning novelist who grew up in a fundamentalist religion decided to look for a partner online.
About a year ago, at the age of thirty-five, during a long summer walk on Hampstead Heath, I confessed to a friend that I felt deeply ashamed that I had never had a boyfriend or long-term relationship.‘This one’s got a good reputation,’ Sue said, creating me a profile on a well-known dating website that February night in her Manchester flat. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I know two people who’ve got married after meeting on it.’ But the words meant nothing to me; whatever did or didn’t happen to other people had no bearing on me; I was exempt from the rules that governed other people’s lives; Sue and I answered questions (What sort of films did I like? ), uploaded a photo I had on my laptop and described what sort of man I would like to meet.I was flustered, feigning fun but feeling shameful; our action was confirmation of the oddness I have always felt and my failure in – possibly – the most rudimentary area of life.It seemed everyone was simultaneously the observed and the observer these days, the whole world resting upon a foundation of images; that was what social life, networking, business, war, and yes, dating, were all about now; not the thing itself but the image of that thing.But I have never excelled at presenting an image of myself to the world; I have a phobia of photographs; I hid my face behind my hair, then college scarf, for years, and found the most difficult part of publication catching sight of myself in national newspapers.
I felt I should have known; asked myself over and over again how I could have misread the situation so badly.