Calling Foul …in the paradise promised by on-line dating

I feel my gut clenching as I begin to write this post. It is one of the most deeply personal stories I’ll have shared with you. It reveals a side of me that not that many people know about and a part of me that feels shy and vulnerable. I feel myself judging me; I feel you judging me. And I know that is simply my story of myself in flow. I won’t allow it to stop me. For I know that the process of writing will be helpful, healing and self-nurturing. I suspect that pressing the ‘post’ button will be even more challenging than writing this story will be.

It’s about my love life. And no, I won’t be giving you all the sordid details. Just enough to, hopefully, understand what it’s like to be an older single woman in today’s world and the toll that our on-line dating world can take on even an emotionally and psychologically robust person. It’s the story of a potentially positive relationship that quickly and abruptly went terribly awry.

Why is Paradise Necessary Anyhow?

©Gwen McCauley 2015

So some basic facts to set the stage. I left a 30 year relationship 8 years ago, clear that I wasn’t interested in men because I had so much to figure out about myself. And besides, who the hell would be interested in a fat old woman?  Crumbling marriages tend to take a toll on a girl’s self esteem. I then spent nearly 5 years completely on my own, oblivious to men except as platonic friends. Until a man courted me and stunned me into realizing that I was ready; ready for a man in my life. When that relationship didn’t work, I faced a reality that so many of us must in this day and age. It is damned difficult to meet someone when you work from home, have hobbies that are largely enjoyed solo, and your social network is primarily populated by other women.

So on-line I went and it’s where I have been for the past 3 years. Yeehaw. What a ride. My name for the on-line dating world is the ‘post-industrial wild west freak show’! Like most things in my life I took to on-line dating vigorously and proactively. I wrote detailed, honest profiles. Populated them with recent photos, many showing full body images (clothed) so there’d be no doubt what was on offer. I answered questionnaires, completed tests, searched profiles and contacted men rather than sitting back, waiting to be contacted. Over 3 years I joined 12 different sites/apps, not counting Facebook (which will never be a source of dating for me).

The Promise of Paradise

I’ve met and interacted with thousands of men in that time. Some have been really interesting and pleasurable to chat with and meet. Some (like the high tech sexual sadist) have shocked the crap out of me, and yet ultimately were informative and pleasurable interactions. Some have resulted in short-term relationships that ultimately didn’t have enough substance to stay the course. Some have turned into long-term friendships. One, for me, could have turned into love but the other person was dealing with psychological issues so wasn’t really available.

Scammers and bots were and remain incredibly plentiful. Sometimes I wonder how many profiles populating many sites describe real people and how many are fake. My guess is it’s less than 25%, the rest being either social bots placed there by the site itself to keep people chatting so that their numbers look better, or the much more malicious scammers/scammer bots intent on separating you from your money or gathering personal information for identity theft. On one profile where I admit that I’ve ‘sexted’ a number of men have approached me wanting to sext, as if it were a casual, all-comers invited activity. Haha. Dream on sucker. That’s an activity reserved for very special people under very special circumstances!

I’ve had many, shockingly many, guys who’ve wanted me to have cam sex with them, which I won’t because I find it a turn off, to say nothing of the potential of them taping what I’m doing and then using it for blackmail. I’ve had young guys galore proposition me, sending me unrequested ‘cum shots’ in the belief that it’ll somehow make them seem more desirable. In truth, it is a huge turn off! When I say young I’m talking as young as 17 or 18 years old raving about about how they’d love to have sex with an older, ‘mature’ woman.

I’ve interacted with innumerable scammers and was almost scammed by one. This dude (Russian sea captain Sergey, ya right) kept up a correspondence for 5 months – 5 months – before he hit me up for moola. Over the 5 months, I was highly suspicious and so held back a lot of information. When he asked for money, I blocked him immediately and reported him as a scammer and had no further interaction. Even though part of me saw the scam unfolding, another part of me felt gullible and foolish that I didn’t call his bluff sooner and end things. It felt like a very uncomfortable and no-win situation. It left me highly suspicious of others.

And then there are the guys in their 40’s and 50’s who claim that their first sexual experience was with an older woman and they have a fetish and want to have sex with someone significantly older than themselves.

Thankfully I’ve only had one or two messages from trolls. Guys who hate women, older women, fat women or some combination thereof with their revolting verbal puke of how I should be locked away because I’m disgusting to behold or that other awful things should be done to me.

Ghosts in Paradise

I’ve been stood up for dates.  I’ve had plenty of dates where it was clear from the start that this wasn’t going to work for either of us. I’ve had guys be interested in me when I wasn’t interested in them. I’ve been interested in guys who’ve made it clear that I’m not their type. I’ve been told that I should tone my profile or my personality down because I’m ‘too intimidating’ to guys.

But most difficult of all for me to deal with is being ghosted. That’s the modern day practice of simply disappearing from someone else’s life. Most recently I connected with a guy who claimed to be a retired financial sector guy of some wealth but who had a respiratory condition that meant he had to live in a warm climate. We had coffee, chatted back and forth and planned to get together for dinner. And then he disappeared. For weeks. Only to pop up early one Saturday afternoon to invite me to go for a Dutch treat dinner with him to a fairly pricey restaurant, if I could afford it. Turns out he had developed a chest infection and that was his reason for disappearing for weeks. So off we went for our dinner date. Which was actually quite lovely; the restaurant, the meal and the companionship. When he drove me back to my car I received lots of positive comments about how much he’d enjoyed himself, where we might go next time, etc., etc.  I got a rather chaste kiss farewell – and I’ve never heard from him again. That was over 6 weeks ago. Oh dear. Fuck you, buddy. I hope you have a good life.

That’s just a recent example of being ghosted. It happens probably 50% of the time when I’m interacting with men on-line. They just disappear. Nothing to say they are bored with the conversation, found someone else, that I’m not giving them what they want. Nothing. They become ghosts who have melted into the fog of life.

I share all of this so that you have a good sense of the breadth and depth of experience I’ve had and the range of both positive and negative experiences I’ve learned to deal with. It seems relevant to what I’m about to describe to you.

Paradise Found?

A couple of weeks ago Frederico showed up on one of my sites. Initially he seemed like a typical Portuguese guy, although his English was a damned sight better than most. He was low key, self-effacing, pleasant. It quickly became apparent that he was different in that he asked good questions, responded with detailed answers and seemed more worldly than many I’d interacted with. He said he worked offshore on a rig, which was a red flag to me because it is typical for scammers to have jobs offshore: rigs, mines, ships being favoured locations that offer the illusion of good money, plus access to high tech communications and enough remoteness so that they can cultivate a relationship without the pressure of being physically present.

We shifted to What’sApp fairly quickly which allowed for video as well as text connection. Frederico was, indeed, a real guy and it certainly appeared that he was working on a rig. (But you know, studios can very easily be set up to create the appearance of a specific destination, my cynical self was thinking.) We chatted effortlessly and seemed to share many interests and to be looking for the same things in life. There was an age difference but he never mentioned it and I chose to not bring it up. Frederico was due to fly home within 2 weeks so my concerns that he might be a scammer would soon be proven one way or the other. He seemed quite smitten with me and I was strongly attracted to him. As the date for his return came closer I could feel the tension rising in me. The 24 hours of his trip from the rig back to Portugal felt like torture because I was braced to receive a request for money (problems developing en route is a favourite scammer gambit). And then I’d have to admit that I’d been bamboozled again by another scammer. I was tense. Very tense.

Lo and behold, though, he was as real as real could be. We met and things were even more optimistic than our video chats indicated. I was quite smitten by Frederico and could see the potential not only of some good times but a serious, long-term relationship. He claimed he was madly in love with me. After all the creeps, lame ducks, scammers, ghostings, and misses I’d experienced I was elated. When he left to attend a family function, it was my understanding that he was planning to spend the next day with his adult daughters and that I might see him the following evening, for certain on the next day when we planned to go to an event I attend weekly.  I went to bed a very, very happy girl that night.

I awoke happy but mildly disappointed the next day because he hadn’t sent me so much as a short message. He had been very good while on the rig about saying goodnight each night and good morning each day. I heard nothing from him the entire next day and he neither showed up that night, nor was there any message from him. I could feel my stomach churning and the sense of dread that I was being ghosted, yet again, began to build. Simultaneously some friends contacted me to say that an event we’d all been looking forward to attending was happening the next afternoon and did I want to go with them. Of course I did. But I didn’t want to jerk Frederico around. So I sent him a message explaining what was up and letting him know I wouldn’t be around most of the day but reminding him at what time I typically leave to attend my Sunday evening event.

Paradise Lost?

By Sunday morning I was not only deflated but feeling gullible and naïve, once again. I had a knee jerk response and made a decision. I sent him a message letting him know that, for me, ghosting is probably the most hurtful way possible to tell someone you aren’t interested in them, wishing him a good life and telling him he wouldn’t hear from me again.

That afternoon I got a message from him that indicated he had read none of my other messages saying what a good time he was having with his family and that he’d drop by my place late that evening. Duh. So I sent another message reminding him I wouldn’t be home, giving him the address of my event and re-inviting him to join me if he wished.

That’s the last I’ve heard from him.

Was Paradise Even a Possibility?

Was I an idiot to react so quickly and forcefully to him? That, of course, was my Self judgement. Perhaps. A friend who is married to a Portuguese guy reminded me that, culturally, Portuguese guys often respond differently than I might expect. And I recognize that even in similar cultures a personal has to make allowances for different expectations.

So perhaps I’m making a mountain out of a proverbial molehill I wondered?  Perhaps I’m agitated, distressed and uncertain for no good reason? Perhaps also this may be a good thing to happen because I may not be up to dealing with someone who isn’t responsive to what I have to say or to my needs?

And what if my response has ruined a potentially spectacular relationship? Well, on that front I’m fatalistic. I’ll never know, will I? And what if my response has saved me from discovering the slow way that I’m involved with a guy who doesn’t give a toss about my needs, interests or priorities? I should pat myself on the back for my insightfulness, I’d say. Another good friend pointed out that perhaps he’s married and was just looking for a quick fling and being dishonest about it all.

Learnings on the Road to Paradise

But there are bigger questions at play here, I think. I know that Frederico, at some level, is the recipient of my built up frustrations over all the men who have lied to me, dishonoured me or otherwise treated me shabbily in this dating process. I need to face this distasteful reality and learn from it. I need to better deal with my romantic disappointments as they occur rather than letting them fester and boil over inappropriately. I know this is important because, in retrospect, it’s clear that I was angry without even realizing I was angry.

I also need to reflect seriously on the nature of the men that I choose to interact with. Am I making good choices for myself? Can I learn to be kind to myself if I don’t chose well from time to time, especially because I want to find a guy who is different than the kinds of guys I’ve traditionally chosen in my life?

I need to trust my gut instincts more, especially when they are guiding me away from something that appears to be superficially appealing. I’m great at trusting my instincts when they are affirming a positive response. I am less trusting when they are affirming a negative choice. I fret more. I second guess myself more.

I need to be extremely proud that I have a network of friends and confidantes with whom I can consult, when necessary, and who will ask me the tough questions and support me in my choices and decisions. That is worth its weight in gold. Everyone who is on-line dating needs to have such a circle of friends who help them retain balance, to shine a light into crevices and crannies that aren’t immediately obvious and who will provide support and guidance when needed. This is absolutely critical to remaining sane and healthy in the on-line world in my estimation.

So here I am, about 72 hours after making the fateful decision to challenge a potential partner on what felt to me like his dismissive and disrespectful behaviour towards me. This oh so new and vulnerable relationship that was still just blossoming suddenly stopped in its tracks. In those intervening hours I feel that I’ve gained perspective and learned to trust my gut instinct. Who knows if I’ll ever hear from Frederico. If I don’t, oh well, he wasn’t the man he portrayed himself as being and I’m better off. If he does show up, I already have my list of questions he’ll have to answer. The breaks have been put on an emotional freight train that might have been moving way, way too fast. And I’ve confirmed, yet again, that I have a network of amazing friends I can rely on through thick and thin.

On-line dating is definitely an approach to meeting potential people that is hard to ignore in today’s world. But each of us has to be awake and aware of the decisions we make, the vulnerabilities we face and the process of using this tool that works best for us. In addition to the supportive and nurturing friends I have, I also have friends who think that their approach to dating and relationships is the best (only?) way and who actually add to my stress by chastising me for my choices while trying to counsel me to just ‘do it their way’. As one said to me as if it were a problem “I’ve learned that you believe you are the best one to judge what you need to do next.  Damn right I do. It’s why my life is so great in so many ways. This experience with Frederico shows me that I need to let certain people know much less about what’s happening in my love life.


I’m glad I’ve written this article and am going to share it with the world. Too many of us think we’re the only one struggling to find someone. Too many of us think that we’re the only one who is uncertain. Too many of us think we’re alone in getting taken advantage of in both big and small ways, who get stood up, ghosted or put down. Too many of us question our judgement. Too many of us think we’re being too picky or not picky enough.

I say here’s to self-discovery. Here’s to the strength of character to know what works and doesn’t work for us. Here’s to our willingness to call bullshit when it is happening to us. Here’s to the courage to live full, rich lives whether solo or with another. And here’s to all the people who, despite the bruised and battered hearts and egos we acquire, know that having a significant other in our life is important enough that we continue our search despite the difficulties involved.  Here’s to you, fellow journeyers, who pick up the pieces and continue forward. May you find what you seek. May you grow from the process. May life be full, rich and rewarding. And may you remember, always, that that which doesn’t destroy you makes you stronger

Musings on life & math

I am very gruntled after listening to Michael Enright’s

Reflections in a Bay of Fundy tidepool

interview with Andrew Hacker, Professor of Political Science at Queens College in New York City about teaching advanced algebra in high school and college. In part I am delighted to have learned a new word – gruntle, opposite of disgruntle. How cool is that.

But let me focus on the conversation about algebra and why it might be a good idea to drop our insistence on advanced algebra in high school and college because it is the single biggest cause of students dropping out and not finishing their education.

I couldn’t agree more with the premise that we are wasting far too large a proportion of the intellectual capital of our young people by insisting on dragging forward old ideas about what constitutes a good education. Wake up people; start thinking differently instead of simply plodding forward with historical beliefs that are never re-examined.

When life is more than the sum of its parts!

I spent the first 30 years of my life being a math-phobe. I didn’t finish high school because I was terrified of having to do algebra and trigonometry in Grade 13. I had several math teachers who were horrific in terms of their inability to teach and their concomitant ability to humiliate those of us who were slow on the up-take. Except for Mr. Dube, my grade 9 Math teacher. I simply couldn’t cotton on to the notion of x and y. This poor man worked with me for 6 weeks before the light bulb finally went on. I am eternally grateful for his persistence because I may not have made it to Grade 12 otherwise.

University came late in life to me. I was 29 when I began my studies in the social sciences (39 when I got my BA) and I put off the required stats course as long as humanly possible. But having begun a degree on a part-time basis my work fortunes improved dramatically. I got myself a job as a manager in a major telecommunications organization. The horror was that I was hired into a department filled with statisticians, economists and systems analysts. One of my bosses thought it was pathetically funny that when I was presented with a graph with several lines on it my first response was to panic, followed very quickly by tears. Talk about embarrassment and feeling intimidated.

After several years of this nonsense I forced myself to take an introductory economics course. It was perhaps one of my most uncomfortable educational experiences but I persisted. I was fascinated by the assumptions made by this social science that pretends it is a hard science. And some of the math even started to make sense. At one point we had a take home exam which I did fairly well on except for one question that was worth a large number of marks. As the professor was reviewing the assumptions to the question I realized that I had read the assumptions quite differently. I found the courage to put up my hand and let him know that to me the question meant x, not y as he had stated it. He worked the numbers through based on my assumption and it turns out I had the right answer based on that different starting assumption. When he checked with the class, about 20% of us had read the question differently than he had intended. He was a big enough man to give us full marks if we had either an x or y response. Yay!

From that moment forward a huge portion of my math phobia fell away. Because I realized that what I had been calling ‘math phobia’ wasn’t that at all. I wasn’t afraid of numbers: I was afraid of looking like a total loser because I clearly didn’t understand and couldn’t play with them the way I could with words. My moment in Economics class showed me that I did understand; I just often started from a different point than more mechanically oriented brains seem to.

A couple of years later I could no longer avoid that dreaded stats course so I very reluctantly signed up. Lo and behold I got a young lecturer who didn’t believe that traditional statistical analysis were the only way to gain results. Sure we did a bit of stuff around chi squared, etc. but mostly we looked at qualitative rather than quantitative survey methods. What a brilliant course that turned out to be.

By then my job had migrated into the marketing domain and doing customer surveys was a big and important topic. This qualitative approach to stats was a massive benefit to me because it taught me how important language is to creating great, useful and bias free questions. I also discovered that it was okay for me to focus on that stuff and leave the actual manipulating of data to the statisticians who could do it with elegance and accuracy. In this course I also learned a saying that has stayed with me to this day. I think of it always when I hear ‘experts’ flogging their data to prove a point. It is:  If you torture numbers long enough, eventually they will confess.

By this time I was married to a man with an advanced degree in statistics and an undergraduate minor in English. Interesting combination. And he helped me to recognize that mathematics is a language where number combinations rather than letter combinations carry meaning. I am clear that it is a language that I have only the most rudimentary knowledge of, kind of like my knowledge of German. And yet, despite having only a basic understanding of the manipulation of numbers, I get many of the messages that math has to offer us. Before I ended my corporate career I had actually become quite formidable in the boardroom for asking tough questions about the math behind positions, policies and propositions people were putting forth.

I love Professor Hacker’s idea of liberal art courses on, say, the history of mathematics or what’s so important about certain mathematical concepts or even how qualitative and quantitative approach support one another. I’ve kept a small book by John Allen Paulos on my bookshelf for decades now. Whenever I begin to doubt my mathematical abilities I have a read of one of its chapters and it reminds me that I am far from a mathematical dummy. Get hold of Beyond Numeracy is you want to read about math in a way that makes sense to the non-mathematical mind.

I’d also like to thank my ex husband for helping me to understand this domain which used to terrify me so much. Greg is a part-time math tutor whose specialty is working with adolescent boys who aren’t doing well with their math studies. A big part of his success comes from the fact that he treats them as adults, but a bigger part comes from the fact that he finds out what their world is about and then finds ways to make math relevant to their lives or potential futures. I’ve watched as he’s helped steer many young men and women onto a productive and meaningful path after they’ve teetered on the edge of educational failure for some time. We need more math teachers like him.

So in closing I’d like to say that I agree that it is time that we take a long, hard look at the whole domain of algebra in our high school and college system. We’ve stopped demanding that kids know how to spell and write a proper sentence (and even to handwrite, it seems) and they still manage to find work and be productive citizens. Why can’t we lighten up around algebra? If it means that a greater proportion of our children make their way through the school system and actually graduate with some self esteem still intact, who knows how our society will benefit.

And that thought gruntles me very much.

Fear and Aging

Here I am on my balcony last summer. I let my gardening go this year so that I could spend more time solo camping.

I live my life relatively free from fear. I learned a long time ago that fearing the future means that my today is lived with less aliveness than is possible because some part of me is bracing against a negative future. As I often tell my coaching clients who don’t believe that they can envision a future for themselves: if you can worry, you are already adept at creating a vision for yourself. It just happens to be a negative view of what’s possible.

That isn’t to say that I don’t have certain concerns about my future, but I don’t fear it. For example, I’ve chosen to live alone in later life; what biological family I have all live over 1,000 miles away. I’m very mindful that this means that should I ever get sick or otherwise need the support one typically looks to family for, it won’t be there.

I was just chatting with a friend who has just come through a rather prolonged medical situation. She was surprised at just how much self advocacy it took to receive the best attention from the medical system. Those kinds of conversations give me pause to consider the future. Not in a fearful way, but in a way that invites creativity and an awareness that I need to develop alternative strategies for myself.

Making new friends with people younger than me is a key ‘self preservation’ strategy of mine! Sadly, Trish is from Ottawa so we really only spend time together volunteering at Stanfest each July

I don’t know what my answers for dealing with life’s inevitable crises will be, but I do have every confidence that they won’t be fear driven. Rather they’ll be considered and mindful, anticipating alternatives, just like I live my day-to-day life. One thing I’m very clear about, though, is that I have no plans to become one of those fearful little old ladies who sit quietly in their homes and apartments afraid of every knock at the door. I know that the best way to live the future without fear is to live today without it. I also know that the best way to live the future mindfully is to begin to develop plans and strategies today.

Hmmmm . . . .

Too busy living life

A sunset to stir the soul

Well, even with the best of intentions, it has been months since I completed my initial post. My only excuse is that I have been too darned busy living life to take the time to post.

Yet as I wrote that sentence I heard a little inner voice saying “fibber. look at how much time you spend watching TV and just staring at the view out your window. You could be writing instead”. That little voice can take a flying leap. Because every minute I’ve spent doing those ‘wasteful’ things is time well wasted in my book.

I know that one of the reasons I’m as creative as I am is that I give myself permission to hang loose, do nothing useful, chill, drift off, waste time . . .take your pick in terms of your preference for how you think about idle time. I like to think that I’ve let go of my judgements in this department, but clearly I still have a little rule somewhere deep inside that holds unproductive time as a no-no.

So I’m once again reminding myself of the value and benefits of downtime. And while I gaze out my window at the lush greens that are developing on the hillside across the bay, I’m going to take a deep breath and let myself appreciate all that I’ve created in my life. I’m also going to mindfully acknowledge that these times of drifting away are important to to my well-being, to my creativity and to my vitality.

What about you? What are the ways that you take a break from your busy life? Do you have regular down time? How comfortable are you with ‘wasting’ a bit of time each day?