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I’m 41 and dating is a minefield – I had to dump a 22-year-old as he was my mate’s son & I’m sick of being catfished

FROM catfishing to being sent explicit pics, today’s dating scene is complicated enough.

When you add divorces and kids from previous relationships, things get REALLY interesting.

For midlife daters, this is par for the course, as 44-year-old Andrea Binks found out for herself.

The divorced mother of two says: “There were realities of dating I wasn’t expecting, like having everything you could imagine messaged to you — private parts, graphic videos, even voice messages where they are clearly ‘having a nice time’ by themselves.”

Andrea is far from alone in this experience.

In a Sunday Times survey of 1,000 daters aged 38 to 81, 68 per cent of women had received unwanted explicit snaps or messages.

Andrea, who lives with her two teenage sons in Chafford, Essex, says: “Often, before we’d even met, the conversation turned to ‘Show me your bits’.

“That’s when I’d check out. Somebody even messaged me asking if we ever did meet, would it be a problem for me that they had a condition that made them sexually turned on, over and over.

“It was a very graphic description, full of details of what physically happened. And he wondered if I’d be OK with that! We never met.”

PR company boss Ellen Widdup, 41, another divorced dater, says her biggest faux pas since rejoining the scene two years ago was being caught by her 11-year-old daughter Ruby smooching a date.

The mum of three, from Woodbridge in Suffolk, says: “We’d settled on the sofa into a bit of a snogging session when I heard the floorboard creak.

"I looked up and Ruby was staring at me, stunned. It was worse than being spotted kissing by your parents as a teenager.

She asked, ‘Why do grown-ups lick each other when they kiss?’ — then told all her school friends the next day.”

Both women have experienced catfishing, when someone looks very different to their profile picture, being ghosted and “roaching” — a newer term for when a person you are dating is secretly seeing other people.

Andrea started using dating apps when she split from her husband of 20 years after he met someone new.

She says: “For me, there was always the worry that the person in the pictures on the app wasn’t the person who would turn up.

“One person I met was very different from the pictures. It was awful. He arrived with Kinder Eggs for my kids, which I found creepy. I didn’t pass them on.

“And there were other disappointments — people I was keen on who didn’t like me. And I’ll never know how many of them were two-timing without my knowledge.”

Meanwhile, Ellen, whose ten-year marriage ended when she was 38, remembers a date with a man who was much shorter than he claimed online.

She said: “You need to do your homework on someone before meeting. I’m 5ft 8in and ended up on a date with a 5ft 4in jockey who had to stand on his tiptoes to kiss my cheek.

“I’ve also been ghosted on chats a couple of times. I think, ‘Oh well’ and move on. They often resurface down the line and you have to remember they previously let you down.”

Ellen is also wary of men with unresolved issues from their past.

She says: “In your forties, you expect the people you date to have some baggage. You wouldn’t want to be with someone who hasn’t lived a bit, so, of course, I’ve dated men with children and divorces.

“That’s not a problem but I went on a date with a guy who bad-mouthed his ex the whole night. That’s definitely a sign of unresolved issues. I then met his ex at a school function and she’s now one of my friends!

“At the other end of the spectrum was a guy who asked me to drop him home from the pub and his mum came out in her dressing gown to tell him off for being late home. He was 45.”

Despite their mixed experiences, Andrea and Ellen have enjoyed dating in their forties.

Andrea, a counsellor, says: “Before my first date, I was nervous after being out of the game for decades. But he was gorgeous, which was great as I had put my ex on a pedestal.

“My ex was 5ft 6in and bald. This guy was ex-Army, over 6ft and had a six-pack. He was the first person I’d contacted and dating him really built up my self-confidence.

“After our first date he walked me back to the car, kissed me and put his arm over me to protect me from the rain. It was such a nice feeling.

“It didn’t matter that things later fizzled out. I also liked that someone might find me attractive.

“That was missing in my marriage. Dressing up and feeling sexy after being a mum was like releasing my inner goddess.”

Ellen agrees that dating has boosted her self-esteem. She says: “One of the best dates I went on was with a 22-year-old.

“It didn’t go anywhere, as he turned out to be my friend’s oldest son — although we kept that quiet from her.

“But he was just the tonic I needed to feel great about myself. You might have body hang-ups in your forties but you are still sexy and blokes will want you and your life experience.”

For Andrea, who has dated around 20 different people since her divorce, her efforts paid off when she met Matt, 51 a few years ago.

She says: “I was at a point where I was completely over dating. I saw his profile and all I wrote was, ‘Hey’.

“We met up and by the second date I felt like I’d known him for ever. We’ve been together since and things are wonderful.

“There are good ones out there. You just need to weed through all the possibilities.”

Ellen is single but her idea of dating success has changed since she first started using the apps Tinder, Hinge and Bumble.

She says: “Back then, I knew what I was looking for — someone to watch telly and cook with, a best friend. I didn’t want a father for my kids. I wanted a relationship that enhances my life, not drains it.

“While I haven’t quite found that, dating has been an experience. I’ve realised it isn’t just about finding someone to have a long-term relationship with.

“Now, if I date someone, getting into a relationship is just a bonus.”
The Sunday Times poll found 53 per cent of midlife singles are open to dating without commitment. Ellen is too.

She says: “The man has to offer something more than you have already.

Quite honestly, my life is pretty full. I don’t really know what I want any more.

“Most of the men I meet have been in long-term relationships before and know what they don’t want, but not what they do want.

“Your life changes as you get older and so do your expectations.

“I’d advise other women not to expect the fairytale, don’t undervalue yourself, be confident and brave, stay safe, be open to new experiences, don’t put up with anyone who doesn’t treat you the way you deserve to be treated and be kind.”

How to find love after heartache - Mel Schilling

DON’T RUSH INTO DATING

MANY people wrongly judge they are ready to step into a serious relationship again.

So they stumble into dating while carrying wounds from a previous love, having not had the time to work on themselves, and things go south.

It is important to make an accurate and honest self-evaluation of your current state in relation to dating.

On a readiness scale of one to ten, where are you? You might decide six out of ten is good enough for you and you will enter the dating scene with a level of caution.

Or you might prefer to wait until you are nine out of ten before putting yourself back in the firing line.

Dating takes resilience and grit to bounce back from the inevitable rejections and disappointments, so being emotionally prepared is critical.

HAVE A GOOD CLEAROUT

MAKE an active choice to accept that your past experiences have formed part of who you are. Write down all the things you have learned from your past relationships — the things you will now do differently.

It might be hard but find a way to express gratitude for the lessons, despite the heartache.

Read your list a few times and commit it to memory — then destroy it. Yes, that’s right, screw it up, tear it up, drown it or burn it.

Symbolically, you are clearing the space, moving your past relationships out of the way for new thoughts, feelings and ideas to come to the surface.

CHANGE YOUR SCREENSAVER

DECIDE on the self-talk that will serve you in your dating life.

Negative thoughts are an inevitable part of the human condition — they are often automatic and we cannot control them.

But we can control what we do about them. When your “old” thoughts come up — for example, “all men cheat” or “all women lie” — choose to reframe them.

Develop your own set of dating beliefs to replace the old way of thinking.

Something like, “I am ready for love and have so much to offer my next partner” would be a good antidote to any negative thoughts.

Write it down and make it your screensaver or set it as a pop-up reminder on your device.

IMAGINE THE LIFE YOU WANT

NOW that you have created a clean slate, it is time to get really clear about your future relationship.

Each night, before you fall asleep, spend ten minutes imagining yourself one year in the future.

Take five deep breaths and really allow yourself to let go of the day and relax. Imagine you are in a great relationship with your ideal partner.

Do not focus too much on what they look like, just create a picture of the life you will build together.

Delve into how you feel in this future state, letting your imagination take you wherever your intuition wants to go.

This will enable your subconscious to open up and release your deepest desires.

DECIDE YOUR ENDGAME

YOU would not go to a job interview without having a career plan in mind, would you?

So why go on a date with someone if you do not have clarity about what your endgame is?

Lack of clarity in dating goals leads to aimless wandering through inappropriate dates and inevitable frustration and time-wasting.

Rather than making proactive and empowered choices, you will just be responding to potential dates who show interest in you.

It is like waiting to be head-hunted rather than going after the job you want.

Set a goal about your future relationship then set yourself actions to do every week to get there.

MAKE A WISHLIST

I BET you could give me a long list of all the characteristics you do not want in a partner.

All the things that have annoyed and frustrated you about past relationships, all the niggling nasties that turn you off before a date even opens their mouth.

While this topic is fodder for some fabulous conversations over cocktails, it can be damaging as our brain will make us focus on it more.

By carrying around a bunch of negative thoughts about dating or relationships, we set about either repelling any good potential dates or stepping into dysfunctional relationships that do not last and create more emotional pain.

Start afresh with a new list of all the things you DO want in a relationship and display it where you will see it every day.

DON’T INVEST IN FORBIDDEN FRUIT

HAVE you ever felt really annoyed when it rained during a picnic, a wedding or a concert?

Have you also noticed how fruitless it is to get angry with the weather?

Focusing your effort on something that is beyond your control will inevitably lead to disappointment.

I see men and women wasting their time with people who are married or unattainable for another reason.

And they invest way too much emotional energy in wishing the situation was different.

Each time you become frustrated with an aspect of your dating life, ask yourself: “Is this within my control?”

If it is, work towards changing it. If not, let it go.

NEVER PUT LIMITS ON YOURSELF

HAVING self-limiting beliefs is probably the most common and most damaging of all our self-sabotaging behaviours.

We often send ourselves negative messages about our worth, such as: “I don’t deserve to be happy.”

Or “When I lose weight or get another job, I’ll be ready for a relationship.”

“No one would ever be interested in me.” “I’ve forgotten how to be sexy."
“I probably won’t like him/her, so what’s the point?”

Notice when these thoughts show up, then stop, breathe, challenge the thought and reframe it to something positive, such as: “I deserve love and am ready to meet my ideal partner.”

I used to get asked out as a joke when I was younger, but now after my insane glow-up, people are begging to date me