Hmm. That's twice in two weeks the suggestion has been made to me that I should try out the Internet and find myself a partner, or at least have some sex. Age, of course, is no barrier nowadays to getting online and seeing what might happen. And there must indeed be thousands of potential soulmates out there. A common-sense selection of dating websites ought to produce a crop of nice people to meet. And then, who knows?
But I'm at that awkward stage of life when, with forty years of past (and failed) relationships behind me, I've really had quite enough. And yet I'm by no means too old to try one more time, and keep trying. No longer is love in one's later years a great big joke.
It used to be. Love and romance used to be reserved for the young, or at least the young at heart, which might include a particular kind of sociable middle-aged lady or genial gentleman who had energy, a zest for life, irrepressible hope, and somehow deserved to find true love after years of looking for it. They weren't laughed at. But silly old fools and self-deluded old biddies were.
'No fool like an old fool.' A phrase that had meaning. It applied not just to old men and widows with money, the sort traditionally ripe for the taking. It applied to all kinds of younger people who ought to know better but couldn't see that they were the means for some foreign person to get British citizenship, or at least residency rights. Thus there were lonely men of forty-five who wanted sex and fell for a story and a pretty face, and ended up with a young girl from the Philippines - and of course her family.
And let's not dwell on all the lonely ladies who should also have known better, who fancied that love had at last come their way, but were cruelly played by con-men who plundered their bank accounts and broke their hearts.
The first connection was originally accomplished through agencies, or some other kind of haphazard face-to-face means, like approaching likely victims in public places. But once the Internet got going, it could all be done online and methodically. And so much more effectively. People forget how easy it is to wear a smiling disguise on the Internet. Sitting in front of a laptop, on your own at home, you are in a 'safe' environment physically. But that laptop or phone screen is a dangerous window into a cyber world of illusion. You feel in total control, but you are not. You are on your own, just you, your laptop, and the gorgeous, wonderful, charming person who has singled you out and is now proffering his or her love and loyalty, and a background story that chimes with you. What could possibly be the catch? Well, you may well find out once hooked.
The word has by now got around that a high degree of wariness is required. That you should block contact as soon as money comes into the picture. The signs of deceit have been flagged up, and surely everyone now knows them. But it's rather like health warnings against smoking and drinking and unsafe pursuits generally. They are acknowledged, but ignored. People think they are special and can deal with the risks. That they are vigilant, clued-up, and won't get taken in. That it can't happen to them. I think that too. I know that it's a false assumption. I would be easy meat if caught off-guard. Partly because despite all these words of warning, and a career spent investigating false tax returns, I am basically disposed to think the best of people, and I'm not by nature hyper-suspicious, just moderately circumspect. But that isn't enough, to be moderately circumspect.
At least I realise my vulnerability, and don't brush it off.
You'd think all older unattached people like me would by now have become savvy about what could happen if they make a connection with an attractive stranger. But evidently not. I hear rueful tales all the time on consumer programmes such as BBC Radio 4's You and Yours. Generally it's a tale of too much trust, promises broken and money lost. And where love came into it, love betrayed, which I'm sure hurts the most.
It may be that a sharp distinction can be made between connections with only sex in mind, and those that included love too. Sex arranged online can apparently be reduced to a pay-as-you-go transaction, with no strings, no comeback, no problems. Or so I gather: I haven't had any. If the reported position is true, then to me it seems soulless but without traps.
Love nurtured online is surely is very different matter. Once emotions are stirred, caution evaporates and any kind of manipulation is possible. It's amazing how people looking for love online can be hooked and then led on for a long time without an actual meeting to provide a reality-check. How can that be? Call me old-fashioned, but I'd want to meet my seducer asap, and assess him for suitability and sincerity, and if I couldn't I would drop the whole thing as a forlorn waste of time.
But in any case, I can't see myself going online for this kind of thing. I have a tidy, uncomplicated life, and independence suits me beautifully. Besides, I'm very suspicious of 'social networking' and 'dating websites'. I can live with a host of anonymous people gawping at my selfies on Flickr, but the occasional closer contact by email from 'admirers' is unwelcome and immediately puts me into self-defence mode. Which tells me that I have an under-developed, even stunted, instinct for love and romance. Let it stay that way. It's safer.
I suppose I will keep on getting urged to try the Internet. A lot of people seem to feel that the single life is unnatural, and they must try to match-make, or at least steer an unattached friend towards a potential partner. I wish they wouldn't.