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tara hardy The Globe and Mail

I've had headaches longer than my foray into online dating. Despite the bizarre encounters I had, I'm thankful I took the plunge.

My life is relatively quiet. I work full-time, go for beach walks, hike, dine with friends, watch Netflix and do yoga. After becoming a single woman in middle age I found sex was surprisingly easy to come by, but I wanted more. I longed for steady male companionship.

I had returned from six months of mostly solo travel in Southeast Asia and was ready to give online dating a try. A tipsy night with single friends had us collectively writing and posting online dating profiles.

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Day one. I began trolling photos of men, and found too many standing proudly beside monstrous fish and bleeding mammals; or driving a 4x4 encrusted with mud, looking pleased that they'd just trampled the pristine forest. I quickly clicked past a nice-looking economics professor with his five daughters – all under the age of 12. And men playing the: "Look how desirable I am" card, posting photos of themselves standing with one or even two buxom women. Sometimes faces were smudged out, but never the exposed cleavages that could consume small children.

Day two. My stomach flip-flopped as I looked around Starbucks. The man didn't include a photo in his profile, but he described himself as handsome. A paunchy, pock-faced fellow waved me over to his table. For 17 minutes, 23 seconds, he droned on about life as a horse-show commentator. (The last line in his profile had hooked the romantic Prairie girl in me: "Let's ride off in the sunset together.") I excused myself and skedaddled out of the café while he galloped behind me, begging for my phone number.

I was discouraged. And then it got worse.

Day three. I had a lengthy online chat with an environmental engineer who was well-travelled. After telling me about his latest trip to Spain, I asked him where he would next like to explore. His answer: "Your body."

Another man tried to reel me in by boasting that he had piercings "north and south of the border."

Day four. I was 51 at the time, so I was surprised to find a message from a 36-year-old electrical technologist. He was romp-around-naked-on-a-beach gorgeous. Dark chocolate-coloured hair in big, bouncy curls and glacier-blue eyes. I'm an attractive woman who has tried my damnedest to tame the middle-age curves – but I couldn't help wonder what this much younger man was looking for. I soon found out.

We chatted online about his work, my work, his vacation in Tofino, my travels and his desire to learn ballroom dancing.

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And then it came out like this:

He: I'm very attracted to you.

Me: Have you had many relationships with older women?

He: None, actually. Can I tell you something?

Me: Shoot.

He: There's something I really like to do … in bed.

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Me: Oh yeah?

He: I like to be spanked.

Me: Look, I never even spanked my kids, and I don't plan on starting now.

What message was I putting out there? I had a male friend scrutinize my profile. My head-and-shoulders photo was by no means provocative, and I was seated looking up to the camera. My buddy said that men get turned on by women in the submissive position. He also flagged my use of the word "intimacy" in my write-up. To me, it means emotional closeness, shared interests, great conversation, and yes, maybe even sex if the stars align. My buddy suggested that for some guys, intimacy means "this woman really wants to get laid."

Day five. There were flat conversations with other men that went nowhere. And as a writer-editor, the lack of attention to grammar and spelling was a serious turn-off.

And then a man in a polyamorous relationship wrote me to extol the virtues of a lifestyle where love has no boundaries. He assured me that sex wasn't the main focus, but rather deep relationships. His wife was on-board, and he kindly gave me her name and phone number.


Day six. A message from a guy who photoshopped a picture of himself with a flying saucer hovering above his head.

He: Wanna get jiggy?

Me: What happened to the requisite first coffee date?

He: Not into coffee. I'm a restless monkey … What do you say?

Me: I say… no thanks.

I was creeped out by his comments, but I've had enough life experience not to give up on the male gender. However, I was losing faith in leaving my love life in the hands of some algorithm.

Day seven. I was just about to delete my profile. And then appeared an engaging voice in the sea of banality and debauchery. He even wrote in complete sentences. Like Indiana Jones diving under the descending wall seconds before it's too late, he asked me for a coffee.

We shared similar interests, but there was little chemistry between us initially. On our fourth date, over a plate of sushi, I watched him self-consciously try to pat down a few strands of windswept hair. At that moment, I fell in love. Three years later, he still writes in complete sentences, although I've learned that he does use spell-check.

Leanne Baugh lives in Victoria.

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