Spectator ? Love on the net

(start of email) Hi Sweetie, In the middle of the night, I started worrying about why Man in Augusta didn’t wink back. Then I studied more closely the attributes he’s looking for and saw ‘someone who’s spiritual but not religious’. Rufus thinks I should remove ‘practising Episcopalian’ from my profile because it looks like I pray before I eat. (end of email)

For over a year now, the Gang of Five women friends who went through le divorce with her and Rufus and Phoebe, her grown-up children, have been pushing Susie to join Match.com. It hasn’t been easy. She thinks courtship on the internet is spooky, and when she did a scan of who’s out there (you can do a recce before you join), no one looked like the men in the Barbour ads, with weather beaten faces, tweed jackets and black labradors.

Still, we told her to look on the bright side. Her cousin Betsy has just married her Match.com husband (her advice: ‘If they say “Love riding my Harley”, click “next”, because that always means a man with a grey pony-tail’). My cousin, Mary Faye, met her Swedish doctor online and is now Mrs Peterson. And one of our tenants, a teacher who looks like Meg Ryan, is moving to Virginia in two weeks’ time to marry Stan, her PerfectMatch.com fiancé, and become step mom to Holden and Maxwell, ages 9 and 7. Stan even took his sons with him to choose the engagement ring how Sleepless in Seattle is that?

Signing up on Match.com is not what anyone ever expects to do in life. Then again, no one expects to have a root canal, get arthritis, need glasses to distinguish shampoo from conditioner, or have your husband go off with someone who is the same age as your children. Suddenly, you have to learn how the sump pump works, how to set the thermostat on the winter boiler, how to find a lawyer who’ll save your life, and how to be alone. And once you’ve mastered all the above, you have to figure out how not to be alone. It doesn’t take long to realise that friends are unreliable matchmakers. You then have three choices: dating agencies, which seem expensive and old-fashioned; personal ads, which now appear in the most highbrow magazines; and online.

The personal ads have become a cult phenomenon, pushed up a notch by Jane Juska’s now immortal ad in the New York Review Of Books: ‘Before I turn 67, I would like to have lots of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me’. I’m waiting for the day when this magazine gives The Spectator and The Telegraph a run for their money (‘Lady Tottering lookalike, loves Elgar, Pouilly Fumé, M&S ready meals, can pluck a brace in under four minutes. House-trained dogs only need reply’).

Online agencies may eclipse the personals, mainly because it’s cheaper, faster and you get to see a photograph. You simply fill in a lengthy profile and then wait for a wink tatoror a response to your wink. Still, I’m worried that we may have pushed Susie into the wrong site. I’ve now learned that there are sites that narrow the field to the like-minded, such as CatholicMingle.com for Catholic singles, JDate.com (for Jewish singles); senior sites and single parent sites. There’s a lot to be said for the shortcut of familiarity. If you love the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, you might not want to wade through a bunch of men whose last book was The God Delusion. The truth is, we live in an age where it is hard to meet a soulmate. The best you can do is pray before you eat.