Checking the male

May 27, 2005

It might be high-tech, but there's an old-fashioned touch to internet dating, writes Madeleine Murray.

As a connoisseur of internet dating, I quickly learned the cardinal rule of chemistry - forget the dialogue, it's the mannerisms. My first dinner date wore a waffle-weave plaid shirt and sandals. As he told me about computer programming, he put his elbows on the table and carefully placed his two pinkie fingers under his nostrils for support, or possibly emphasis.

It was an ominous beginning, but I kept on looking. Trawling the net for men puts a bit of zing into a single woman's life. Internet dating is old-fashioned and slow, like courtship in a Jane Austen novel.

Men see my profile on, email me and tell me their codename on the site. That's when the suspense begins, as I find the profile and the page slowly scrolls down on a photo of the possible Mr Darcy.

With the photo are a few stats and a description. I study the profile and reject anyone illiterate. This man is clearly unsuitable for most women, except perhaps a dyslexic Snow White: "If I where a book they would call me Around the world in 80 days I possess a positive, cheerful and optimistic outlook. Am one who whistles or sings while they work."

Some men write what they think a woman wants to hear. "Could you enjoy eating under candle light whilst listening to sweet, soft, romantic music? Maybe a cuddle in front of an open fire whilst whispering sweet nothings in the ear?" This same man lists his interests as "gardening and law enforcement".

With one man, the long email courtship was unconsummated. We never met. In his profile, he seemed obsessed by his appearance, or lack of: "I'm no oil painting, I'm no Hugh Grant." For two years, off and on, we spoke on the phone and made dates that he always cancelled at the last minute. Finally, I saw him on TV one night and he definitely was no Hugh Grant, nor even a Danny De Vito.

You can tell so much by an email - choice of words, punctuation and case. Here's a controlling, hostile man best avoided: "Madeleine, I need to get one thing VERY, VERY straight: I am a regular smoker. People often say they don't mind, however in the final analysis they back off. A thoughtful and truthful answer predicates further contact."

A few men were gentle and decent - making a foray into the single world after years of marriage. A widowed scientist wrote: "I am told I look like Michael Palin." At dinner, he kept snatching his handkerchief from his trouser pocket and violently blowing his nose, trumpeting like a rutting hippo. He did remind me a bit of Michael Palin, but with chips up his nose in A Fish Called Wanda.

My worst date, a "retired lawyer writing a novel", looked good on the site. He turned up at the restaurant wearing an Italian shirt and belt with some designer's name on the buckle. I was halfway through my glass of wine when he suddenly burst out, "Look, Madeleine, you're a lovely lady, but this isn't going to work out."

He wanted to have dinner anyway, shovelling paella into his mouth while unburdening himself about his cancer of the pituitary gland: "But I'm horny again." When he suggested a walk on the beach, I replied: "Sorry, I want to go home and have a cigarette." My tactic worked, he flew into a rage. "Your body is a temple! You said you didn't smoke on RSVP! Women on RSVP lie!"

Somewhere along the line, I found a good one, a shy American in Sydney for a couple of years for work. He was funny, clever and wrote a charming profile: "Hobbies include tea drinking, ceiling gazing and pondering the ineffable mystery of woman. Things that bore me include psychobabble and babies, especially photos." We were lovers briefly, then friends. He moved back to the US, but we talk often and exchange flirtatious, cryptic emails - a modern Pride and Prejudice.