Monthly Archives: August 2011

Excuses car drivers use, and why they just won’t wash

Last week, as I walked into work, I was almost annihilated by a car driver as he drove straight through a red light. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not daft. Generally I expect the first driver approaching a red light to jump it. It’s just that the van at the front of the queue had actually stopped, so the car driver had to manoeuvre past him to then drive through the red light. That I don’t expect, and yet nobody batted an eyelid. I’m not sure quite how many traffic laws he contravened, but no-one around me seemed to notice or care.

The next morning, at the same junction, as I sat on my bike waiting for the lights to change to green, the driver in front of me got bored waiting and drove off through the red light, even though there was traffic on the junction. Again, no reaction from anyone. And I wonder, how did we get to this stage? Why do we put up with this behaviour from drivers, and in fact why do we barely react? How have we come to see the dominance of cars, and the appalling behaviour of drivers, as so normal that we just don’t register it?

Walk around any town or city and you will be continually stopping so as not to impede the progress of drivers. Attempt to cross a road and you’ll be faced with tons of metal screeching towards you at 35mph. The air stinks. Cities are noisy. And for what? We are expected to drive to out-of-town shopping centres. Our transport infrastructure, everything around us, is designed for the car. We think that 2 miles is a long walk and that it’s dangerous to cycle because of all the traffic and yet we suffer more and more from the problems of obesity. Is it really beyond our wit to realise that there is an alternative? We live hemmed in by fear but don’t think it’s problematic because we assume that the car is king and we must bow down before him.

One evening as I cycled home, a driver overtook me in a space too narrow for cars to pass, let alone wide enough for cars and a bike. There was clearly oncoming traffic and it was clearly unsafe. Yet he overtook anyway, braked as he overtook, forcing me to brake, and only made the manoeuvre without an accident because the oncoming car also braked. The road was narrow there due to the number of parked cars. And his manoeuvre was completely unnecessary for I caught up with him at the next set of traffic lights.

I told him exactly what I thought of him and his driving. Loudly. On this occasion there was no ignoring the situation. The passenger and driver in the car behind him gave me a round of applause, having witnessed his earlier behaviour. In fairness, I didn’t shout that much. In fact it was one of my pithier outbursts, aimed precisely at his lack of driving skills. There may also have been an unflattering comment on his anatomy, or parts thereof. He attempted to ignore me. This became more difficult once the lights changed as myself and a motorcyclist boxed him in, preventing him from overtaking again on the next narrow stretch of road. I said nothing to the biker and he said nothing to me – it was just the unspoken camaraderie of the two-wheeled.

It seems to me that this kind of action may be one of the only ways to make it clear to drivers that enough is enough. You’ve ruined the local environment. You’ve made towns and cities feel at best unpleasant and at worst downright dangerous. It’s time to fight back. But first, here are some of the things that car drivers have said to me, and here’s why I disagree with them.

1. It’s OK to use my mobile phone, because the road is quiet

How would you know? You’re not looking at it. For the record, using a mobile phone, either hand held or hands free, slows your reaction times more than being over the drink drive limit. If you are using your mobile whilst you are driving, you are as dangerous as you are when you are drunk. People who are texting or talking on their mobiles whilst driving are easy to spot. They can’t hold a line and tend to drift over to the kerb, their speed varies oddly. The peering down at the phone rather than watching the road is also something of a giveaway.

I don’t care if the road is quiet, for two reasons. First, conditions change very quickly on the road. It may look quiet, but how do you know someone won’t step out in front of you. And second, the fact that you are on your phone says to other drivers ‘It’s OK to do this’. Essentially you are just exonerating those drivers who will happily do 80 on the motorway whilst using a phone – because you are sending out a loud, clear message that driving is just part of multi-tasking.

See also “but I was pulling over whilst I was talking”. Yes, you pulled over. And you nearly took me out in the process because you didn’t even realise I was there. Just don’t answer the phone whilst you are driving. We did manage to exist for millions of years without the things. In fact it’s only the under 30s who are labouring under the delusion that when you put your mobile down, your ear falls off. You do not need to use your mobile phone whilst you are operating heavy machinery. It really is that simple.

2. What was the pedestrian doing there any way?

This one makes me want to stab people, hard and preferably fatally. The UK has no jay walking rule. This is because the roads are public highways. The clue is in the name. They are for public use. Pedestrians have a right of way on them and drivers should give way to them, what with the fact that they will kill them if they don’t. However, somehow on the UK’s roads might has come to equal right. We think the road belongs to cars because any pedestrian walking on them will get driven at and crushed, it’s not ‘safe’. The fact that it would be if drivers behaved themselves doesn’t occur to us, we hold up our hands in helplessness. We don’t fight the bullies, we move over so that we don’t get mown down.

I was forcibly reminded of this one day when crossing a busy junction at a pedestrian light. It is a long junction and when traffic is moving slowly, drivers do not make it all the way across before the lights change. Instead they sit in the middle of a pedestrian crossing, in a queue of traffic. The pedestrian lights change to green and the pedestrians must weave their way in and out of traffic. This is bad enough but on this particular occasion, as I passed in front of a stationary van, the driver decided that since the car in front had moved he should move too, and he drove at me. I pointed towards the green man, he swore at me. Given the amount of flak that cyclists have aimed at them for going through red lights, I found this gobsmacking. Why do we aim such opprobrium at one group of road users, yet ignore another set when they do exactly the same thing? Why are we so blind to what drivers do wrong?

3. If I‘m looking at my speedo, I can’t watch the road

That’s an admission of incompetence. You should know from the visual clues outside the car what speed you are travelling at. And remember, a 30 speed limit is not a target to be aimed at. You don’t have to drive along peering at your speedo making sure you are doing 29mph. You just have to be doing less than 30 and travelling at a speed appropriate to the conditions, which might be considerably less. If you cannot do this without peering at your dashboard, you are not a competent driver.

4. But I was only doing 39 in a 30 zone

Difficult to know where to start with this one, there are so many things wrong with it. I’ll go for the bit that doesn’t require a basic knowledge of physics. A limit is a limit, not a target. A 30 limit means it is always unsafe to go over that speed. It does not mean you keep brainlessly accelerating to 30 and then think ‘ah fuck it, what’s a 30% increase in speed between friends.’

Which leads me to the next point. It is not just 9mph over the limit. It is 30% over the limit. That’s like doing 80 in a 60 zone, except in some ways worse than that because you are unlikely to encounter pedestrians in a 60 zone and highly likely to encounter them in a 30 zone. That’s why the limit is there.

A pedestrian has an 80% chance of survival if you hit them at 20mph and an 80% chance of death if you hit them at 40mph. It may look like a number on a speed dial – it isn’t. It can be a life or death decision.

Which brings us to the physics of force and motion. The short version is that the impact force on a pedestrian does not increase in simple percentages. Instead, the impact force increases as the square of the impact speed. There is a more detailed explanation here,

Add to that the additional reaction time required at 39mph rather than 30mph. At the lower speed you are covering, by my calculation, 44 feet per second. At the higher speed you are covering 57.2 feet per second. For each second you travel you travel an additional 13 feet. Humans have not evolved to cope with such speeds – our eyes and our reaction times are not good enough. Even if you only take a second to apply the brakes, that second has taken you 13 feet nearer whatever caused you to brake.

5. I didn’t see you

That’s a clear admission of guilt, not a justification for what is, when you think about it, bad driving. I am sick to the back teeth of drivers telling me not to cycle in the rain because they cannot see me or not to ride a horse when the sun is low because the sun blinds them. Well in both those situations I can see the car. I am not impeded. If you cannot see, then why on earth is it OK to drive around blind? Would you actually say it’s ok for the blind to drive so long as everyone else moves out of their way? Would you like to try a Blunkett day, where the blind drive and the rest of us stay indoors? No? Why ever not? And if that is the case, then why do you tell me to stay off the road on the grounds that you cannot see me? I’m not small, it’s not a sparrow you cannot see, it’s a person. Either slow down so that you can brake in the space that you can see, or don’t go on the roads.

6. But lots of drivers speed

Oh dear god, it’s like being back at school. Remember those times when you would do something unutterably stupid and Miss Smith would ask why and you would reply ‘because Johnny said so’ and Miss Smith would ask ‘would you jump in front of a train if Johnny said so?’ At the age of five I was confused by that one. Of course I wouldn’t jump in front of a train if Johnny said so, it would be a stupid thing to do. And then eventually I realised that that was the point. You don’t do things because someone else says so, that’s just a handy excuse. You do something because you decide whether it is stupid or not. Step up and take responsibility for your actions. Don’t just point the finger and say ‘but they’re doing it too’.

Why have we enabled this? Why do we use these excuses? When I compare today’s cars with those I remember from the 1980s, they seem to do everything to convince you that you are not in fact in a car. 1980s car rattled. The seats were not all that comfortable. It was small. If you were lucky there might be a radio or a cassette deck. In the winter it was bloody cold and in the summer it was too bloody hot. You could attempt to moderate these problems by winding your window up or down. You could never deny that you were in the traffic – it was easy to see just beyond your window. There was always that sense and feel of being in a car.

Modern car tries to pretend it’s something else. It cocoons you from sound, its own and those beyond it. Its seats are plush, it’s too large to go through gaps readily or to park it. This gives you more room inside and correspondingly places you further away from the vulnerable road users just outside. It has CD players. TVs. Recharging points for your mobiles. Heck, they might have started singing to you. You certainly have little voices telling you where to go. It has air con and precision temperatures. It has windows that move at the touch of a button. It does everything to isolate you from your surroundings and from the sensation of being on the road. In short, it cuts you off from communicating with those around you and it seems to me to cut people off from caring about other people.

And we take this lying down. We’ve stopped caring about people around us. We just want to be snug in our own little bubble and woe betide anyone who dares to remind us that maybe, just maybe, we’re part of a larger system. Maybe our actions do affect others. Maybe we should concentrate on what we are doing and value those around us. Maybe we should have enough respect for other people to slow down, stop talking on the mobile, stop breaking the rules of the road and actually concentrate on what we are doing. For enough lives have been lost to people who use the thinnest of excuses to cover up what is in essence selfish and dangerous behaviour. 


Filed under Current affairs, Cycling

The reason for the riots? You reap what you sow.

Since the start of last week’s riots I’ve often wondered about a young girl I once encountered in a Cambridge suburb. I was quietly hacking out on my horse when I rode past her and, turning to her friend, she said, “fucking c*nts the pair of ‘em”. I’ve never been quite sure why she said this about me and my horse. What motivates someone to be that rude to someone they don’t know at all? I assume it was jealousy but she knew nothing of my circumstances. After years of riding other people’s horses, this was the first one I’d owned myself and I had worked very hard to buy him and keep him. This wasn’t something that was handed to me on a plate but something I had worked towards for decades.

The horse–human relationship has been on my mind for other reasons. It is rumoured that George Orwell wrote Animal Farm after seeing a small farm boy leading along a huge working horse. Orwell contemplated the nature of power—the horse submitted to the boy because it did not know its own strength. Why else would an animal that weighed a ton, do the bidding of a child it could so easily crush? And the police facing rioters reminded me of nothing so much as a human facing a horse that knows its own power. Ask anyone who knows about horses and they will tell you this—once a horse knows its own strength, the relationship with it is spoiled forever. You can regain control, but you might find that you have to be so brutal in the process that the horse never again really trusts you, but submits through fear rather than respect. Better to ensure that its respect for you is not lost.

It is all too easy for politicians to dismiss the rioters as greed-driven looters, criminals impure and simple. But if that is the case, then why did they choose now to loot? What caused the breakdown of restraint? Why no self control, no respect for others, no respect for authority? Why choose now to kick over the harness?

In Devon, it is harvest time. We didn’t bother rioting in Exeter. I suspect there was no critical mass of disaffected teenagers. I suspect that any teenagers breaking the law would fairly quickly have been spotted by their Aunty Jean, or their mum’s friend Pat, or that bloke who works with their dad. You can’t move in Devon without someone who knows you seeing you somewhere and commenting on it. That comparative lack of anonymity does act as a brake on any criminal tendencies. Devon also has not quite seen the sudden changes in society and the economy that were experienced in industrial cities. There have been general declines and changes in occupation, but nothing like the change in Trafford Park from workshop of the world employing tens of thousands, to a glorified emporium of consumer tat, complete with a plastic dolphin fountain.

Add to that the continued tie with the countryside. I might perhaps have looted a bale elevator, but I wouldn’t have got very far. I did see people out with blackberries, but if you know the best places you can find the ones that ripen early. Along with windfall apples they make a great free pudding. That’s not to idealise Exeter. There are pockets of poverty, there are bored youngsters, there is crime. But there is also a greater sense of some kind of connection with the fundamental things in life. It’s not all about DVDs, bling, Wii, wifi, and the latest tatty gadget. Here I have more of a sense of nature, of changing seasons, of the things that can affect human survival. There is no cocoon in which material things become a substitute for something primal.

Long before I moved to Exeter I lived in Manchester. I moved there to study and for the first four years, had a grudging affection for it but no real understanding of it. I disliked its roughness. I would only visit cashpoints in broad daylight and in busy areas. During freshers week police horses were stationed at various cashpoints near campus, so that naive 18 year olds away from home for the first time were not mugged too often. I would go out in the evening carrying an empty handbag as a foil, with what minimal cash I had on me stashed in my shoes and bra. The flat below mine was broken into. The flat next to mine was broken into. Various people tried to steal my bike whilst I was on it. Bear in mind that it was a ten-year old road bike that would only have bought them one fix and you have some idea of the desperation of the would-be thieves. The sense of personal threat was almost ever present and did not endear the city or its population to me.

But then I started working in the Museum of Science and Industry and I realised what Manchester had been. I already knew something of its history in the nineteenth century, I knew about the industrial revolution, I knew about the slums, the poverty, the child labour, Chartism. But all this I knew from books. In the museum I got far more of a sense of the scale of industry and the scale of the things manufactured. And that was the difference – seeing the objects. Manchester was good for cotton, the damp weather helped prevent fires. Manchester and its dampness were less good for the people but the cotton provided jobs. Not just the jobs in the textile industry but in manufacturing the machinery for that industry, the vast looms to which the workers were harnessed.

Digging around in the history of Trafford Park I realised that the majority of Manchester’s population had been involved in industries which produced goods that seemed to me, somehow, to be more fundamental than the ipod or a Sat Nav. They made plant for what was to become the national grid. Huge pieces of metal that weighed hundreds of tons but that needed precision engineering. Away from Trafford Park, to the east of the city in Gorton, were manufacturers of locomotive engines. Now I realise that people suffered within the manufacturing industries. I know conditions could be appalling and that wages were generally low, not to mention industrial accidents and various diseases that went along with these industries. But I also realised that 100 years before I lived there, the great-grandfathers of the disaffected youths trying to mug me, would in all probability have had more of a sense of purpose than their descendants. More realisation that life is not all about what you can steal, but that in part it is about what you can usefully make.

The youngsters who were out rioting and looting are the children of Thatcher’s children. Thatcher taught us to be avaricious, she valued a fractured society. She saw no need for one person to be connected to another. She presided over a government that thought a lord and a bin man should pay the same amount of tax. And so you reap what you sow. Thatcher’s grandchildren have no connection to nature, no sense of industriousness, no sense of belonging. We spend most of our lives cocooned from each other. I tire of ringing my bike bell when I’m on a shared path as half the population will be plugged into some electronic device or other that prevents them from hearing and along with it, seems to protect them from any sense that it is a shared path and they might want to be aware of their surroundings. Worse are the times when I have to ring my bell on the approach to someone as they are texting, and unable to watch where they are going. As a pedestrian I wonder if I should attach a bell to my wrist, just so I can ping it when the next zombie blunders into me.

And when we’re not walking around ignoring each other we’re on trains or planes, staring at miniature TV screens. Or in cars, using our mobiles, watching TV, listening to the tinny little voice as it bleats ‘turn left in 50 yards’.

So, for what it is worth, here is my tip for avoiding riots and looting. Put the phone down. Unplug yourself from the internet. Turn off the TV. Take the earplugs out. And take that out of your pocket as well, whatever it is. Turn around, find the nearest person, and say ‘hello’.

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“I suppose I’m quite boring really” and other dating faux pas

A few weeks ago I received a message from a man asking me to send a message back. Five hours later I received another message from him berating me for not replying to the first. Was this my boss wanting work done? A boyfriend wondering where I was? My bank manager getting in a tizzy? No. This was my welcome to the crazy world of online dating.

 The message was from a 47 year-old man in Cornwall. I briefly checked his profile. It looked OK-ish until I got to a section entitled ‘You should message me if…’ His answer was along the lines of ‘Women, what do they want? They won’t communicate properly, they never say what they mean’. At that point I had to go to work but from time to time during the day I wondered whether or not to send Cornish Bloke a brief thanks-but-no-thanks missive. I wasn’t quite sure if there was a polite way to say ‘piss off you misogynist cockwombling piss weasel’ but thought I might give it a go. Then I realised he had sent a second message saying ‘why ask men to send you messages and then don’t bother replying, eh?’

It seemed to me, given his behaviour, that I had three basic options. He might have been a manipulative pillock. He might have been clinically insane. Or he might have been a clinically insane manipulative pillock. So I blocked him from viewing my profile and gave thanks for the existence of the Tamar.

It’s depressing to realise that there are people out there who think that because you have a profile on a dating website, you are somehow beholden to reply to any and all messages within about five hours. For the record, my profile did not say ‘Hey, send me a message, any message, as rude as you like, doesn’t matter how unmitigatedly shite your profile is, I will reply within 45 minutes because I am hooked up to this site 24/7 and have no job, nor indeed a life.’ Even more depressing to me is the fact that I’m betting sometimes Cornish Bloke’s tactic actually works. There will be someone out there whose self esteem is low enough that she will send him a message back saying ‘Oh I’m so sorry, I should have replied sooner’. For all profiles are written so that they will both attract and repel – the trick is to write yours so that it attracts people you might find half-way interesting. Oh heck, let’s go mad. You might want to attract someone who is all-the-way interesting.

 The profile was one of the most difficult pieces of writing I’ve had to do. (Well word for word it was, the PhD was more difficult, but there was a lot of it and it took 4 years). I’m not good at selling myself, it doesn’t come naturally, and internet dating is about nothing if not selling yourself. You have two choices, a bland and potentially boring but rather safe profile, and a more interesting but potentially more divisive and offensive profile. No, I’m not giving you a prize for guessing which I chose. By going for the more dangerous option I did risk putting off potentially good matches but I figured that if they were intimidated by my profile, they really wouldn’t cope with me in the flesh. 

Dating profiles have codes and in the end, almost anything you write is open to interpretation and you might, unwittingly, pick the wrong code. Most sites use drop down menus for some things. The site I was on offered me various options for describing my body type. Well now, I’m neither ‘thin’ nor ‘skinny’. I would describe myself as slim, or possibly willowy, but those weren’t available. They offered ‘fit’, ‘athletic’ and ‘average’ as well. Of those, the first two are possible but not ideal if you’re trying to attract a heterosexual male. I don’t consider my body to be ‘average’. There was also ‘curvy’. Now I have 36 inch hips and a 26 inch waist, there isn’t a part of me that doesn’t curve. But ‘curvy’ is internet speak for ‘overweight’ and I’m not overweight. I considered reclaiming the word but it seemed too much effort, and put the wrong emphasis on appearance. I plumped for ‘fit’ and put photos up instead.

I still have no idea how to write a good profile. I have to confess now that I took the profile down after a couple of months. During this time very few people even viewed it (you’re given lists of who did), so essentially I wasn’t showing up in people’s preferred searches. Of those who did look, the majority did not send messages. Of those who sent messages, most were spam of the ‘High sexi u look gr8, I want to get 2 no u better’ variety. I don’t respond to the barely literate (though I do make allowances for anyone with dyslexia). This may make me snobbish, but that’s my choice. I managed the sum total of zero dates because no-one asked me out and no-one I asked out responded. So, from a position of not knowing what the hell works if you are a straight female, here are a few of the things that did not work for me, from profiles written by men searching for women. Note, these didn’t work for me – somebody else might find them divine and adorable. Or, you know, not.

I appreciate the irony of someone who can’t sell themselves commenting on how others sell themselves. But I will say this—this was not to do with people viewing my profile and thinking ‘nah, don’t think so’. This was to do with people not even viewing, and personally I think there’s another reason that happened.

I’m looking for someone honest and caring.

Really? I’m looking for a dishonest bastard myself. Or not. The problem I had with statements like this was that so many people said them that they became pretty much meaningless. We all, unless we’re masochists or have very low self esteem, want someone honest and caring. And I’m unlikely to think ‘Well I lie and don’t give a shit, so I won’t contact you’.

I am critical and very demanding

Good for you. So am I. And I demand someone who isn’t critical. More seriously, I can’t see who this would attract, however honest it might seem. Being critical isn’t something most people generally look for in a partner, and it may be something you want to a A. Lie about or B. try to tone down a bit, generally.

 Regarding photos, do not include a photo of yourself with someone who is obviously your ex, or quite possibly current, lover. And don’t just photoshop them out or cut the photo so that we can see your face and a bit of her arm. We all know that most people on there will have had relationships in the past but really, just get another photo.

 When picking a name, anything along the lines of DevonBloke, or, as I like to think of it, ‘I Just Looked Out The Window And I Have No Imagination’ were a bit off putting. I’d rather get a sense that someone has put some effort into a profile. ‘JustANormalGuy’ and co didn’t score many points with me either. I don’t want a normal guy, I want someone a bit different.

 I hate filling in these boxes

It’s a dating site. Everyone hates filling in these boxes. Some of us have the brains not to say so. (Don’t worry if you have said this. You may be the millionth person to say so, but someone kinder than me will just think ‘aw, I hated filling them out too’).

 I am tall, with brown hair, blue eyes

Yes dear. So are about 25% of the male population. Put a photo up. Use the words to a bit more purpose. I don’t choose my partners based on height, hair or eye colouring. They’re very superficial qualities.

 I am a bit difficult, that’s why I’m still single.

Well that and the fact that you make a negative feature of it rather than trying to do something about it or using it as a selling point. In what way difficult? If you have an odd sense of humour, just write your profile in a way that showcases that oddity—there will be someone out there who shares that humour and doesn’t find it difficult. If you mean you expect your partner to do 200 sit ups before breakfast, stop it. If you mean you need therapy, have the therapy and then come back.

 I’m misunderstood

Good for you. And what do you mean, incidentally?

 I’m quite boring really

Now in places I have paraphrased what people said so you get a feel for the meaning, without me breaking any kind of confidentiality. But I did come across a profile that started with these very words. I didn’t read to the end. OK, that’s a lie, I did read to the end, out of morbid curiosity and to see if he really was boring. The end was this:

 Remember one thing, I won’t put up with any nonsense or lying, any of that and I’m out of here pronto

Frankly, if you’re going to say stuff like this, you might as well hold up a flashing neon sign saying ‘my ex screwed me over and I can’t get past that’. It’s a warning sign that you’ve got Trust Ishoos. It’s also counterproductive. Anyone likely to lie to you won’t be put off by it, because they won’t be self aware enough. Anyone decent and honest will in all probability be put off by your ishoos and your making odd demands of them.

Here is my shopping list of qualities you should have

That’s not even funny. Ok, it would be funny, if you hadn’t actually followed it with an impossibly demanding and quite serious list. It’s better to showcase how funny, lovely and intelligent you are than to demand those qualities in other people, without giving them a single clue about what you’re like.

 You must be full-figured

Well now I’m not going to chop a leg off to achieve some sort of 7/8 figure, am I? What does this mean? What? What? Oh I give up.

 About you: You will be aged 25-38 and will have had either no relationships or one relationship, because you’re serious about finding the right guy.

This was written by someone in his 40s and provoked a definite ‘eh, you what?’ from me. Personally I would argue that if you’re serious about finding the right guy, you might well have had 4 billion relationships because you know, unless you’ve tried every guy on the planet, how would you know you’ve got the right one?

 I am 40 and looking for women aged 25-35.

Oh cock off, you ageist twat. I’m younger than you and yet you still think I’m too old. Can you not see the problem there? And realistically, when you have a comb-over, grey  hair, a paunch and look every one of your alleged 40 years, what do you think a 25 year-old woman will see in you? Or do you hope your wallet will be enough. In which case good luck, but don’t come whinging to me about gold diggers.

 I am 45 and looking for women aged 18-40.

Now I do actually fall into the category 18-40. Still, why would I be interested in someone who has just declared that he cannot cope with women his own age?

 And in the end, it was those age-limiting demands that prompted me to leave the site. I was left with the impression that women below the age of 35 were perceived as OK. Those over 45 were perceived as OK by some, generally older men. Those aged 35-44 might as well have been encased in a sandwich board yelling ‘I have left it too late. I want babies. I want babies now. Babies. Give me babies. My empty, gurgling womb is yearning for them. I will steal your sperm. Your sperm I must have. Give me babies now or I will nick one from the nearest maternity ward’.

 Now I can well appreciate that many men on dating websites want to start a family and would rather go out with someone a bit younger because they have a greater chance of being fertile. Fair enough and good luck to them. They should probably bear in mind that some 25 year olds don’t want children or might actually be infertile whereas some 40 year olds might be both fertile and want children, but age is a handy filter if you go by statistical probabilities alone. However, what really struck me was how many men demanded that the women they date be younger than them, whether or not those men wanted to have children.

 Let’s be clear about this – I’m not making a statement about female behaviour. This is not to do with younger women selecting older men. It is older men quite clearly stating that whilst they will consider a woman 10 years younger than them, they will not look at one even a year or two older. It is a common and well-known phenomenon on dating sites. It’s not about a dislike of age gaps, since 10 years is an age gap, it’s about only wanting someone younger. Unless that man wants children, and arguably even then, I’ve yet to hear a good reason for it. ‘I have a youthful attitude’ won’t wash, since if you can be youthful in outlook at 45 or whatever, it would help if you realised that other people your age could have a similar outlook. ‘But young women are interested in me’ doesn’t work either. If you set your age parameters to include only those younger than you, it’s not that surprising that you get messages from people younger than you. ‘Why should I bother with older women when younger women will send me messages’ is just ageist and offensive.

 I’ve dated men older than me and I’ve dated men younger than me—their age and their maturity did not correlate and their age and their attractiveness certainly didn’t. Set your age parameters too narrowly either side and, in my opinion, you risk missing out on someone wonderful and perfect for you. I considered lying about my age to see if that attracted more interest and it was at that point that I deleted my profile. I won’t lie, or pander to prejudice, as this merely serves to reinforce it.

 But then I was faced with a conundrum. Away from the internet, men are attracted to me regardless of my age, probably because they can’t work out how old I am beyond ’30-something’. So, am I better off meeting men in real life, when they don’t know how old I am and therefore judge me for who I am, or am I better off meeting them on the internet, where their ageism is declared and I can avoid them and it? In the end, I decided real life was better. I had tied myself up in knots trying to avoid the judgemental, and in the end had become rather judgmental myself. It was not a pleasant place to be.


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