Maria R Peter, 51 years old, lives in Manchester. She is a personal trainer with three kids, aged 27, 19 and 15.
I sat alone at a nice local bistro in Manchester, waiting for my date. It was our first meeting but we had been speaking on the phone for a few hours a night for the past week. He seemed funny, the conversation flowed and we appeared to have the same morals and outlook on life. He entered the restaurant and I waved at him. He walked over and, behind him, was his mother.
He had invited her to judge if I was a marriage prospect. He said, ‘hi, this is my mum’ and she shook my hand very limply. For once, I was quite quiet – I was in disbelief, I couldn’t understand why she was there. It kind of stilted the conversation because I didn’t feel free to talk and be myself. All we talked about was shopping in Selfridges and the benefits of Marks & Spencer’s. That was about the crux of it.
It turned out they were really close and told each other everything. The whole thing was very Norman Bates. The worst thing was that his mum did approve of me and he wanted a second date (which I went on but it was very boring).
But this was just the tip of the iceberg of the terrible Tinder dates I experienced when I downloaded the app at the age of 45.
I’d split up with my partner five years earlier, whom I’d been with for 10 years. We had two children together. The youngest one is severely autistic, which added a lot of strain to the relationship. It was overwhelming it got to the point where we were constantly arguing and couldn’t stand the sight of each other. When we broke up, I felt relieved.
I didn’t date for another five years. I wanted time to heal and find out who I was again. I’d become a Mrs, a mum and then a mum of a disabled child. I didn’t feel like I had my own identity. So I started going to the gym, getting drunk with the girls and reconnecting with people again.
But I was stuck at home most nights because my son is severely autistic, so we can’t go to many places because of sensory issues, and I couldn’t get a babysitter. I became isolated and felt trapped in that world, staring at four walls.
That’s when a friend told me about Tinder, in 2016. He said it was a way for me to build confidence and talk to people. When I was with him, I said ‘no, I’m not doing that – that’s desperate’. As soon as I got home, I set up a profile.
I became addicted almost instantly. On my first night, I got 130 matches, which built my confidence. Soon, I was on it every night. I’d be sat at home on my own, when the kids were in bed, chatting to people. I had missed intellectual conversation, with banter and silliness. It doesn’t matter how old women get – even when we’re my age and we’re menopausal – we still like to giggle like little girls at daft jokes. Tinder provided a weird company – you didn’t feel so alone.
I’d get approached by young men, who were 21 or 22, looking for a cougar. I’d think, ‘my son’s older than you!’ I found them funny and I’ve got an immature sense of humour, so I did actually get on with them. But I wasn’t interested in dating them and I’d tell them off for being so persistent.
My first Tinder date was just going for coffee. It was completely nerve-wracking and I nearly turned around about five times. I got there and I was like a teenager – fidgeting, picking keys up to play with them. I was totally unsure of myself, like a bumbling teenager going on a date in the park with a bottle of White Lightning.
On Tinder, and on WhatsApp, the man had seemed witty and intelligent and he ticked a lot of boxes. But, in person, he was so arrogant. He said he required me to be available to him at all times. I’d blocked him by the time I got back to my car.
After that I’d be going on about one date a month – because it took me that long to get over the previous date. A lot of men tried to impress me with their pretend wealth, like the guy who turned up and threw his Porsche key fob on the table – when he drove a Ford Escort.
Then I had a date with a gorgeous Irish man with intense blue eyes. The first thing he did was get a picture up on his phone of his ex-wife. He spent the whole time moaning about her, as they’d only split up four months ago. Then there was the man who tried to catfish me by pretending he was in the French army – when his photos showed him in a German uniform. When I pointed that out to him, he blocked me.
My married friends pushed me to go on more dates – partly for their entertainment, because they’ve got a sick sense of humour. But we were also at the point where they were having dinner parties and not inviting me because I was the only single one. So they wanted me to find someone.
My single friends wouldn’t go on Tinder because they were horrified by what I’d been through.
There is a darker side to Tinder. Men would find my Instagram and send me full-frontal profiles (‘dick pics’), and pictures from underneath. I was bombarded with it and I was like, ‘I’m an old woman!’ I felt shocked and found it offensive. I’d also think: why are you showing that off? It’s not even a good one!
It was worse when I received photos from men my age. I expect it from men under 30, who don’t understand how wrong it is, but a 40 or 50-year-old man should know better.
Some of the messages I got were really offensive and violating, too. I had a man tell me he wanted to rape me. It was horrifying, especially as he’d messaged me on my work Instagram (I work as a personal trainer). I got him blocked from the site. I’ve also had guys who asked me to defecate on them, and been approached about all kinds of kinks. I will never understand how a guy goes on Tinder and speaks to a woman in that way.
I did meet some really nice people, too, and I made friends. I met my plumber on Tinder, and the man who tiled my bathroom. But most people I met were not nice.
I came off the app last year. I got Tinder fatigue. The longer you’re on it, the more critical you become of people. You go, ‘no, he’s got a 5 o’clock shadow’ or ‘no, his bicep is 1cm too small’. You start thinking up ridiculous excuses not to like this person.
Now, I’ve written a book, influenced by tales of Tinder. It’s a mixture of fact and fiction but all of the characters are based on people that I’ve met, or stories I’ve been told. I wrote the book last year during lockdown and it was really cathartic.
I’ve not been on a date since I came off the app last year and I am 100 per cent happy being single. I’m at peace with it and I’m enjoying life. If someone came along and swept me off my feet, that’s great. But I’m not going searching for it.
Maria’s book, The Misdemeanours of Tinder, is out April 30.