It was January 2010 and I never imagined or planned that I would enter the world of 'Single Parent', but I had!

I was going through the biggest change of my life. My ex-partner had moved out of the family home, leaving me in charge of the TV after a day of CBeebies and CITV. I no longer had to consider another adult in plans and the responsibility was all mine, gulp!

There was also another huge shift for me: I had left one unhappy and toxic relationship to suddenly think… oh, I want another one! WHY?!  Admittedly, I felt fine when my boys were with me but on the one night a week they would go to their dads, I felt lonely and scared of being ‘left on the shelf’.

So I started my search for Mr Right. Prior to having children and meeting my ex, my search for Mr Right usually meant going out on a Saturday, buying a new outfit and then hitting the town that night. Things were a little different from then, money was tighter (much, much tighter), the world didn’t revolve around me. My friends were not free when I was, they were all married, had a life and (just like me), going out and drinking body weights in alcohol didn’t appeal any more.

As my choices were limited, I thought… dating websites it is then. It’s important to remember that I am talking 10 years ago here. Online dating wasn’t really talked about much or as acceptable then.

Nevertheless, I entered the world of ‘SMOOCH’, yep the name says it all. But, I was very careful, my mum would have been proud. My aim was to meet someone as friends in the beginning, get to know them and then hopefully start a relationship.

I was so naive that when I put ‘friends’ on my profile, who would have thought that ‘FWB’ or ‘Friends with Benefits’ would signal lots of one-night stands. Well I am a quick learner.
Sharon

However, not to be deterred from finding Mr Right and knowing that it must work because I have heard success stories, I continued my quest on ‘SMOOCH’.

I was asked to join a swinger group, and found many married men who justified their profiles through "being unhappy in their relationships" and honestly, I was shocked at how honest these men were. Well, at least with me… maybe not their wives.

One of the finer moments included a gent that contacted me, with no profile picture, suggesting we could meet in the middle of the night. I was given directions but suffice to say, I did not go.
Sharon

This nonsense continued until I met ‘Daniel’ (name has been changed as he may still be on SMOOCH, 10 years on).

Daniel had a profile picture, tick. He could type a short paragraph of good conversation, tick. He also spoke about his family – tick, tick, tick! The ‘Brucie Bonus’ was that he had the look of Ali Campbell from UB40. A young Ali… swoon!


Look-a-like of Ali Campbell 

As textbook online daters, we messaged via SMOOCH and in time swapped numbers, progressing to phone calls. He had a distinctive southern accent and he seemed very nice. We arranged to meet and being a good girl who’s read the guides, I decided Oxford Road in Manchester outside the old cinema was a safe option.

At this point, all felt good and leading up to the main event of meeting we spoke in the evenings when my children were in bed.

In my mind this was going to work, I was jumping forward thinking about getting married, getting the big embarrassing proposal, which (we learn from the films obviously) leads to happily ever after!
Sharon

Two days before the main event I got a phone call. Daniel told me he was feeling conscious and was worried about his wisdom teeth, as they had been playing up and his glands had swollen (seriously, this is the truth). We discussed the possibility of cancelling but he was against it, which said to me he was eager. He called again the day before, with more urgency in this voice… his glands were even bigger, but we kept to the plan.

The day of the main event arrived. So, I did the obvious - showered in my best Christmas shower gel, did my make-up, hair and put my best clothes on. I got the tram and off I went into Manchester, texting my friends on the way to let them know where I was going (safety first!).


Destination for the date.

On arrival at the now closed down cinema, I waited, I waited, and I waited. I then heard a familiar voice across the road.

I turned around to find the voice was coming from a man with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, who shall we say… looked nothing like a young Ali Campbell.
Sharon

Now, I am no oil painting myself but as I said, 2010 online dating was very different to it is now and I was shocked to see someone I didn’t recognise. I even scrunched my eyes, titled my head and thought “I don’t think swollen glands change your appearance this much”.

As he approached, he did the old James Dean and flicked his cigarette, which I presume was attractive in the 1950s, but didn’t quite have the same effect in 2010. As he sauntered towards me I commented - “you don’t look like your profile picture”.

He was shocked. Shocked that I would bring up such a small matter of looking, well… completely different to what he had portrayed to me. He shrugged it off and said, “let’s go for a coffee anyway”. I felt ignored and you know what? I was about to go but I stopped dead in my tracks and told him – no. What he had done was wrong, he didn’t seem bothered, he didn’t address it. I felt deceived… I had been hoodwinked!

It hurt because, in my mind, I was already in a relationship with this guy and meeting him was just to confirm it. I was annoyed – he had ruined my imagined relationship.

I could have easily walked off with him, ignored the red flag staring right at me, simply because I didn’t want to feel lonely anymore and just wanted to be like everyone else.
Sharon

 But, I didn’t… I walked away. If he started off by lying about this, what else had he lied about? If he wasn’t going to address this… what else wasn’t he going to address? My concerns not to trust him felt confirmed, when from behind me he screamed in the street, I wouldn’t sleep with you anyway!”.

Great, I thought as I got on the tram, not even a catfisher would sleep with me. I pulled out my phone, deleted my profile and blocked his number. In a way I felt sorry for him, he had to pretend to be a person he wasn’t for me to like him, because he felt inadequate. This got me thinking… I have never felt so insecure as I had done on dating websites.

It’s a fickle business, someone talks to you until someone better comes along. Either you’re not tall enough, pretty enough, funny enough or just not enough of being enough to catch someone’s attention. I was looking at social media too much, wanting to be like everyone else and not liking myself. I found myself in ASDA filling up the trolley with chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate.

When I went home, sat down with my second block of Cadburys (other chocolates are available) and realised how lucky I was to be able to identify a red flag and walk away.

I understand ‘Daniel’ clearly felt embarrassed, maybe he was vulnerable and seeking the same things as me, but you still need boundaries. Lying was a big no for me, he’d broken that. The shattered expectation of the future marriage was on me, but lying and not even caring… that was on him.

This got me thinking about how many people lie on their online profiles; from harmless white lies, to changing their whole identity. Those thoughts have echoed in my mind for the last 10 years.
Sharon

I recently spoke to some other colleagues about this, which prompted a conversation about relationships, deception and even something called ‘Cuckooing’. We all work in a sector which takes safeguarding incredibly seriously and when it comes to online dating, or any dating and opening up your life, your home and yourself to another person, you can never be too careful.

Years on from this dating disaster, I started working in my current role. Little did I know this experience, which planted a seed in my head about safety, would contribute to training material for STRIVE.

As part of equipping volunteers to visit homes, we teach Clare’s Law – a Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme available for men and women, which gives you the right to ask the police about a partner’s potential history of violence.

So, thank you Daniel, for my lesson all those years ago and for the excellent training material. It turned out okay for me, but this is not always the case.

Let’s do what we can to look after ourselves, look after each other and whilst we’re on the lookout for Mr or Ms Right, remember to stay safe.

If you are affected by any issues in this article and you like to talk to someone, you can book in here.

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