So, for Date 16, I'm back on normal websites. Or should I say "normal" websites.

For this one, I was using a website called "Plenty of Fish" (or POF, as it's known in the trade). It's one of the bigger, and more popular dating sites; it was certainly one of the first. However, unlike say, Guardian Soulmates & My Single Friend, I didn't know anyone who'd used it successfully. A few people I know from online dating had described it to me in very negative terms - "Plenty of Freaks, more like", was one veteran's take on the site.

Indeed, I must say this accorded with my own experience. While there seemed to be a huge amount of profiles on the site, very few of them seemed active. Whether this was because they were profiles people had made and then forgotten about (presumably because they'd found "the one") , or whether they were fake profiles, I wasn't sure. However, once I started being messaged by a woman who bore a startling resemblance to a famous porn star, I started to get suspicious.

Obviously it wasn't the porn actress. It was either a.) someone real foolishly using a salacious fake photo or b.) an out and out scammer. I decided to play along for a couple of days, and yes, surprise surprise, she was based in Prague at the moment, and if I could just wire her the money for an expensive plane ticket, she'd pop over and go on a "sex-date" with me. 

Yeah, of course she would. Now, of course, it's possible I have turned down a sex-date with a hot slutty Czech babe, but it occurs to me that if a person wants to go out with you, they probably don't ask for the fat cheque (Czech?) first. Or if they do, it's not really "dating", is it?

After a few weeks on Plenty of Fish, I started habitually google image searching any picture of a woman I was attracted to; and sure enough, many of them came from things like magazine shoots and so on. It seems like the absolute mecca of fake internet dating profiles. Why? Well, it's absolutely free, and the profiles are very low effort to create. It's just box-checking, and then uploading a picture, so minimum scammer effort. Simultaneously, it's pretty huge, so there must be a decent supply of marks you can con out of plane tickets and cash.

After a little while, I managed to get a date off the site. She was a lawyer, at a big firm, seemed nice on the internet. We arranged to meet in a lovely cafe in Holborn, at lunchtime. I arrived five minutes early, as is my habit, and sat down. I didn't order anything, because on these dates, it's always better to wait for the other person to arrive before ordering. 

So, I sat at the table, with a copy of "Business in Great Waters" by John Terraine in my hand, and sat reading about U-boats, waiting for my date to arrive. 10 minutes passed, still no sign. I was now in the weirdo position - I was giving every woman who walked in a quick look up and down, thinking "Is this her?", and smiling at them, like a loon. Ten minutes later, with her being twenty minutes late, I began to tweet friends about how late she was, asking if they thought she was late or was standing me up. 

After about 40 minutes, I gave it up for lost, ordered a massive home-made organic scone, and carried on a twitter conversation over lunch with a comedian who knew a surprising amount about U-Boats & a lovely lady novelist, so it wasn't a total loss. Indeed, between the two of them they were a pretty great date...

I messaged her again, asking what happened, and she gave me an excuse that sounded deeply unconvincing. Over the next week, I asked her a few questions about what she did, where she worked, googled her, made a few calls, and surprise surprise, the person who had been messaging me didn't match up to her work profile picture - and when I dropped an email to the solicitor at Linklaters she claimed to be, that lady had never used online dating - mostly because she was married.

I have to say, after this experience, I was pretty much done with Plenty of Fish. The site was clearly full of fake profiles, and scammers. It's also badly laid out and full of bad copy like asking you to "sum up your personality in one word' and then offering you 'Hopeless Romantic', 'Starving Artist' and 'Music Snob' as ahem, "one-word" suggestions.

Then, out of the blue, I got a message from a very pleasant sounding lady. She was another Guardian reading Tory (there's three of us, it seems) and get this - also Jewish. She was an undergraduate at Cambridge, who had worked for a big campaigning charity that I wholeheartedly approved of before leaving to go back & do the university thing. If I'm honest, it all seemed a bit too good to be true. Nervous, I arranged for us to meet at a pub in Chiswick, near where I work.

Struggling blinking into the light out of an edit suite, I arrived about 15 minutes early, and sat reading my book (The Military Experience in the Age of Reason, by Christoper Duffy, in case you're interested). 25 minutes passed, and I was looking at my watch and thinking, "Bloody hell, not again". 5 more minutes ticked by, and I started writing an angry "Why do you think my time is worth so little?" email.

5 more minutes, and I literally packed my books into my bag, and was getting up to leave, when in walked the lady, looking flustered and apologising profusely for being late. She was, I'm glad to say, exactly as advertised - entertaining, mildly right wing & Jewish enough to be killed by the Nazis, but not Jewish enough to say no to bacon sandwiches. It was, to all intents and purposes, like dating a fascinating, younger, female version of myself.

We sat down, and starting ordering drinks. She confessed fairly early on that the reason she had come on the date was because her brother, who is a fan of the blog, had begged her to track me down & date me "because he is desperate to have you as a brother-in-law". So, no pressure then...

We got talking, and had a great chat about favourite novels, writing fiction in general, the way your own experience shapes your writing. I'm firmly of the opinion that if Tolkein said "it's just a book about goblins", then yeah, it's just a book about goblins, but she argued back that everything is in the eye of the reader, really, and I'm almost sure's the first person to convince me there's some merit in the argument. It was one of the best conversations I've had on a date - certainly the most intellectually stimulating.

Of course, being an Oxbridge undergrad, she got around to asking me the inevitable "You *seem* clever - why didn't you go to Oxbridge?" question. So I told her the story. It's a good one - there's a Nazi war criminal called Baron von Mullenheim in it - but I don't really have space to tell it here. The lady in question was entertained. Maybe if you go on a date with me, you can hear it too:)

She admitted she'd never been on a "date" before; she saw dating as something pretty antiquated, like steamboats, top hats or jousting. She was, she said, much more the sort of copping off with someone in a club type. Of course, that's the nub of the whole issue. 

Once you're at the age where you realise it's ok to admit you think nightclubs are shit, once going home at ten PM to watch Game of Thrones DVDs under a duvet sounds better than staying out until dawn talking to a Scandinavian blonde who's fallen down a K-hole, then you have to find other ways to meet people. 

Hence, online dating.

Anyhow, after a fun evening, and a great deal of gin, we parted company. Just goes to show, there are great people on online dating sites, even on POF (Plenty of Fakers), and that as ever in the online dating world, persistence pays off. She's a lady I'd love to see again; I'm sure I'd have seen her since if she didn't live among the dreaming spires, and wasn't in the middle of exams. I may live to make her brother a happy man yet.

Next week, as it's Easter, I try Fundamentalist Christian dating, through Missionary Dating (tagline: Flirt to convert), and meet a Cosplay fan through

Date 15: The Psychic

Back when I started the date blog, I signed up to a huge number of very odd dating sites, in the vague hope that someone from one of these sites would contact me and arrange a date. I was quite excited by the idea of dating a Circus performer, a Goth, a Dwarf, a Naturist or a Biker. Although, of course, that could all be the same person.

I must say, I've largely been disappointed, and as yet, no tiny naked trapeze artist has roared into my life on a Harley-Davidson, to take me off to a Sisters of Mercy gig. I think it's for two reasons - one online dating is to a large part about effort. You get out what you put in. If you sit back passively and wait for someone to come to you, you are likely to be disappointed, especially if you're on a site where your gender is in  the minority. 

Equally, as I discovered from a comment on the blog (yes, a GOOD comment - as a Telegraph journalist these feel as rare as hen's teeth), if you go on a random site, you may infact just be signing up to a giant white label dating database, that filters you by niche. The comment reads: 

"I recently had an interesting conversation with a web developer who runs dating sites, and he explained to me that many sites actually run off the same back end database (for example, and developers simply pay for access to the database and build their own front end, filtering the results according to whatever niche they are catering for. So you can end up exchanging messages with someone who actually signed up to a completely different site. For example if you happen to have red hair your profile could end up on here ( I always wondered how there was enough demand to keep so many highly niche sites in business, and this goes some way towards explaining it. Whitelabeldating appears to be pretty respectable, but I'm sure there are sleazier "white label" databases out there."

A bit of digging finds that, for example, this dating site for people looking for French partners shares a database with sadomasochism dating site I mean, I assume if you draw a Venn diagram between "French" and "Bondage", there will be a reasonable crossover, but not *that* much. Some French people don't like bondage. I assume. Ahem.

I must admit, I was pretty sure that the bulk of these sites were therefore unlikely to deliver the, for example, psychic of my dreams. I mean, I'd made a profile on a psychic dating site, but it seemed to be just one of these white-labelled front ends. The site was relatively amusing - for example, it allows you to look for people aged up to 120 years old; I assume in case you're looking for a Macbeth-esque wise woman, or a Biomancer who had successfully delayed their aging by the use of their chi, or whatever. But yeah, never thought a real live psi would want to meet me, a humble mundane.

Thus, I was pretty damn surprised by the message that appeared one day, titled "Star of a Strange Dream":

Dear Willard,
I am an expat, so my life in London is dotted of strange things, strange people, strange feelings.
But last night I had a remarkable over-strange dream, in which we were dating each other. We were in an old fashioned yellow motel, eating pancakes. Everything in the room was slightly dusty but we didn't care.
Then I woke up thinking "I have to write this guy" and I sent you an email. We met in a totally different place, a dark bridge, and I recall observing that you weren't so short after all.
Then I woke up again.

"I have to write this guy."

It's one of the more charming, and more strange messages I had ever received. It did but me in a bit of a quandary. I mean, on one hand, the lady in question was able to write lovely and charming messages. On the other hand, she did think she had dreams where she saw the future. It could have been bad: I mean, I'd seen the 1980s classic movie Scanners

Still, I figured worst case scenario, at least my head being telekinetically shattered would be quick & painless, and best case scenario, she could tell me next week's winning euromillions draw numbers, and started looking for a nice place to go for a date. 

My housemates were very sceptical, and if I'm honest, so was I. That said, Divination is the best psychic power chart in Warhammer 40,000, so how bad could it be? I'd never date a pyrokine, on that basis...

Anyway, I decided I'd find a hotel with yellow walls, where they served lovely pancakes, and decided to do that rare thing, a breakfast date. The weather on the morning was absolutely dreadul; freezing with driving rain. Both myself and the charming psychic just happened to rush through the doors of the place at exactly the same time. Fate, obviously (or was it?). Anyway, after five minutes of drying off and shivering, we sat down for and ordered lovely pancakes, with spiced apple & raisin compote, and honey mascarpone. It was, I must say, one of the best breakfasts I've had in years.

The psychic was lovely - extremely smart, well educated, and very attractive. She worked in science, which made her prophetic dream an interesting quirk. We talked about her home country, which she'd left because of the amount of corruption there got her down, and she felt women weren't taken seriously there. We discussed how dreadful politics was in her country - frankly, for all of my occasional bitching, we can't really compete with our southern european neighbours. She had an exotic accent, and the typical quirk of people who are brilliant at language of insisting that her English wasn't that good when in fact, it was better than mine.

So, smart, beautiful, different, politically active - and all from someone I had been leery of dating in the first instance. I walked her to the tube in the rain, gave her a kiss on each cheek, and we've since arranged to see each other again. I guess one of the most interesting things I'm learning from the experiment with online dating is that my prejudices are just that - prejudiced. Maybe I should be more open minded in the future?

14 Dates in, why am I still single?

I haven't found Ms.Right yet, but equally, I haven't yet had another bite wound (although I have had a second injury, but more about that in a later post). For those of you have wondered why I haven't settled down with one of the lovely ladies I've met, well, a good first date, doesn't automatically lead to a good second date. I think the best story I've ever read about a precipitous drop between the expectations you create on a superb first date that are then shattered by a tragic and terrible second date is this one, by Ali Waller, writing in Jezebel.

It certainly rang true for me, especially the bit where "after the delightful first date, I decided this would be the perfect situation: we'd date casually but exclusively, I'd stay focused on my career, and we'd meet up on weekends for movies, dinners and make-outs. In this (totally made-up) scenario, he was unscathed from his divorce and I was miraculously able to sleep with him without getting attached or distracted. Also, our sex was flawless. This was exactly how it would play out." Seriously, it's great - read it - there's a link and everything.

Did you read it? Really? Good. The truth is there have been several second dates, third dates (and even one lady who I considered dropping the blog for) - but it hasn't worked out. I suppose what it encapsulates is not only is online dating a long process, but it's hard. You not only need to find people you like, you need them to like you back and want the same things, and it all needs to work physically, you need to be sexually compatible and be at the same stage of your life.

My three part criteria for what I want a woman - that she needs to be funny, sane and "not evil", are also surprisingly hard to fulfill. Why do I have those criteria?

Well, thereby hangs a tale.

It's a long story.

No, seriously. This is a proper Willard story. The sort that requires a cup of tea and a comfy chair. The sort that's kind of entertaining, but also hair-curlingly horrendous at the same time. Lots of my stories are like this if you think about it. Usually, any time a story starts with "Well, this one time in Israel/North Korea/GW Bristol..."

So get a cup of the heated beverage of your choice, and then carry on reading.

It was 2002. Combat trousers were an "in" look, The White Stripes were an underground buzz act that only cool people liked, invading places seemed to be working, and despite that, no-one thought Dubya would get a second term. I was reading for a Masters in International Criminal Justice; some of the people reading this blog were still in school.

Right, all of this aside, I was going out with this girl I met on the debating circuit.

She was pretty, and very, very clever. But, she was also mad and a little bit evil. And I know what you girls are thinking, it's not me saying "She was crazy; occasionally she expected me to call her!". She was crazy in an authentic, take off her facemask to reveal a writhing mass of tentacles, Cthulu cultist, end of the world by the power of the Dark Star-gods way.

Just so to establish her mentalist credentials, here are some examples.

She was concerned that I might not be faithful to her,so she got one of her friends to come on to me. Of course, I was a bit shocked, and rejected the friend, explaining I was a bit shocked, as she knew I was seeing her friend. However, I was still the bad guy, as when I rejected the friend, the girlfriend was angry with me because I didn't tell her the friend had cracked on to me.

Also, she used to do things like keep spreadsheets of MY finances (oh, and hers of course), so when I bought us a valentines holiday in Paris, she refused to go because I couldn't afford it and would be better saving the money. For the record, I took the money and spent it on a giant model tank.

Oh, and this is just the highlights. There were all kinds of crazy mindgames, tearful fits because I beat her on tabs at debating, etc etc She once threatened to dump me by Point of Information in the semi-final of a debating competition at the Inner Temple. Everyone in the audience laughed, assuming it was a joke; I didn't. She never joked.

So, I've established her nutter credentials, right? Ok, the other important other thing about her was she had a life plan. Her whole life was planned out to the age of sixty.

It was on a wall calendar, in her room. I didn't even know you could get ones that go 45 years ahead. In case you thought I was joking about the Cthulhu cultist thing, this one really was waiting for the Stars To Be Right.

(I realise, by now, you are probably wondering why I went out with her; the answer is, I don't really know:)

Anyway, on the calendar, she was allowed to have 8 boyfriends before she got married. Why? you ask. That's such an arbitrary number. Well, otherwise, she wouldn't be young enough to be well established as a barrister before she took a career break to have her first child. It was eight boyfriends of six months each. Six months to prove your worth.

Anyway, I got to the six month window. She walked me to a little church in her village, and told me that as a little girl, she had always dreamed of getting married in that very church. And then she turned to me, and asked me, "Where would you like to get married, Willard?"

What I didn't realise at the time was that there was a wrong answer to that question.

Unfortunately for her, my response was "Well, I'd always rather fancied getting married under the big top of the Moscow state circus, by the Arch-Mandrite of the Russian Orthodox Church".

This was my jokey way of saying, "Lets not talk about this; we're 22".

Not the right answer. She ran away crying, which was a bit of a shock; I remember thinking, "that Orthodox joke was pretty good...wasn't it?". I didn't run after her; in her eyes, this was death death Death. I had failed the final test; oh, yeah, this was the last in a series of tests including the faithfulness one; another included forcing me to ostracise a close friend.

So, she'd decided that I was not "the one", but, this put her in a dilemma. It was my finals; she was obsessed with success and exams. She couldn't imagine dumping me during my finals,but, the calendar's merciless ticktock was still going on in the background, and she had to move the relentless grind of boyfriends on.

Her solution was to start fucking one of my friends behind my back. The reasoning was she could dump me after my finals, no damage to my exam chances, and satisfying her need to keep within the strict timetable.

Sadly, there was a problem with this other wise brilliant plan.

The problem was, well, I went to my doctor with a small problem; now, bear in mind my doctor is a sweet old man with a bow tie, who I've known all my life, who used to give me lollipops when I was five, to imagine the awkwardness of this.

My doctor looks at my problem, and says "Have you been sleeping with Nigerian prostitutes?"

I looked shocked.

"Of course not!" I replied.

He looks at me, very embarrassed, awkward, very English, wearing his cheery bow-tie and says, "Come on Willard, it's important to your treatment you are honest with me..." And I reply I'm in a committed relationship, totally monogamous, etc etc.

To which he replies, "Well, she obviously isn't as committed as you are".

So, yeah, he, through her, had infected me with a rare and potentially hideous disfiguring African genital parasite. They managed to kill the damn thing by freezing it off with Liquid nitrogen; that's the stuff they use to kill the T-1000 in terminator 2. Some people say they have scars from their relationships; I have frostbite scars on my genitals from that one.

So, I was disgusted, appalled, horrified, betrayed. So, I call her, we row, and I break it off.

Now, at the time, we were the fucking golden couple of university debating. So us splitting up was massive, massive gossip and next week, at an Inter Varsity Debate, someone says "I hear you and X broke up; I can't believe it; is it true?"and I say,

"Yeah it's true." And they ask what happened.

And I tell them. In excruciating, hideous, African parasite detail.

And then, she goes totally berserk. I'm the bad guy. How DARE I tell everyone the private business of our relationship. To which I reply, how dare you have unprotected sex with one of my sluttiest friends?

So, is that the worst breakup story you've ever heard? I don't think it's a coincidence that in the aftermath, I grew an American Civil War beard, an afro that was cool on Black men in 1974 and stopped studying Law to become a music journalist.

Anyway, after that relationship, I developed a criteria for what I want in a woman. She has to be the diametric opposite of that girlfirend; that is to say, she has to be:

1.) Funny

2.) Sane

3.) Not evil

That's it. You'd think it'd be easy to find:)

Sadly, that woman has proved elusive. The trouble is, most women who actually want to date me are 2/3 at best. It's not an iron-hard criteria. It's just as soon as a woman starts playing mind games, or I realise she has no sense of humor, she becomes terribly unattractive.

Women who do, of course, meet all three criteria, are hard to find. And when I do come across them, they almost never want to date me, for some ludicrous reason, like they don't find me attractive, or I embody all they despise in society.

I'm not sure if blogging it makes it harder or easier. On one hand, I get licence to vent at you, dear reader, and tell everyone about the dates I go on, be they good or bad. On the other hand, I have to go on a lot of dates, and  while individual nights are fun, looking at your diary and realising, yes, you are going out on a date every night this week, is grinding and tiring in of itself.

Unlike most people who are doing online dating, I have to come and write notes, which I then have to type up later and then make witty and amusing. Yes, it may come as a shock, but often my first drafts are quite dull and sound like I'm feeling sorry for myself. Sort of like this whole post, really.

Date 14: The Other Date Blogger

So, 14 Dates in. Halfway through the marathon.

My smug married friends often wonder out loud at me how I put up with it - along with pondering what's so wrong with me to still be single at 33, of course. My sister phoned me up the other day to tell me my problem. The real problem, she suspected, was that as well as being a journalist being off-putting, all the girls I date sound too thin, and my sister thought I should date more fat girls. "You're fat. Only a fat girl will want to go on more than one date with you," she said, only sort-of joking. The evil body fascist that she is.

It's actually an article of faith in my family that people below a size 14 are basically not to be trusted. Once, after I was hospitalised with bad lungs, my mother took a then-girlfriend out to dinner, to say thankyou for being generally brilliant about the whole situation. As soon as my mother picked me up from hospital, I could tell the (thin) girlfriend had made some dreadful faux-pas. I finally got it out of mum. "I took her to the nicest restaurant in town, told her to order whatever she liked. And do you know what she ordered? A SALAD. It was like she was calling me fat to my face."

Body shape aside, I must say having gone on 13 dates and not yet found "the one", I was starting to look at myself in the mirror and think "What is wrong with me?" Most of my friends who have really good experiences with online dating tell me things like "Oooh, I went on 8 or 9 dates with freakish monsters or nice but boring folk but then date 10 was my beloved wife/husband". 

I was coming close to the point where I was beginning to wonder if I *was* the boring weirdo freak in other people's stories. It would be a wonderfully Lovecraftian twist ending to the blog, if nothing else. You already know the drill: mind-melting shock, a sudden congealing of all the apparent facts into a terrible revelation, and possibly most important, the shocking one-liner of truth revealed in italics.

Thus, when a twitter follower suggested I should go on a date with another date blogger, I quite fancied the idea of going on a date and maybe getting some feedback. So, I asked the lady out, to see what would happen I didn't really know what to expect - she's a journalist for Britain's most popular tabloid, and I read several posts on her blog, and she was absolutely brutal -in the way only a hardened tabloid hack can be - to some of the men she dated. To be fair, they did sound absolutely dreadful. At the end of the day, honesty was what I wanted. Was I a fat boring monster? I guessed I would hold up a text-based mirror to myself and find out. It seemed worth it even if that led to an article entitled WILLARD FOXTON: MY BORING FAT DATE SHAME.

We agreed to meet in a lovely wine bar near London bridge. It's the sort of poncy and pretentious place I really love, where they rotate their wine cellar to let you try out a different couple of bottles of wine each week. Each bottle comes with a "wine passport", telling you where it came from, what it's about and enabling you to order the same wine again, at a vastly inflated price. In the name of epicureanism, I usually try whatever the wine of the week is. It was at about the point I was reading that the wine I was drinking was "grown from a kind of grape enjoyed by the Romans, long thought extinct, but recently rediscovered growing under a florentine villa" that something struck me. 

Bella, the other date blogger, had recently written a post despairing about the kind of pretentious guys she met on Guardian Soulmates. Men who said they liked astronomy & 17th century harpsichord music. Men who described their interests in terms like "I love traveling, but I'm no tourist. I've been known to land in New York for a week and never leave Harlem." I started to wonder "...Am I that guy?" as I sipped my Roman tribune approved wine. I realised that being on the other side of a date blog - of knowing you will be discussed and dissected in detail - is a weird experience. Was the fact I was blogging making it harder to meet "the one"?

Anyway, Bella arrived, and, no doubt to my sister's dismay, is very pretty, but no more than average sized. We got to talking. Within about five minutes of her arriving, we were laughing away, drinking more and more Roman wine and I totally forgot that I, or indeed, she was supposed to be writing it up. We compared notes on how dreadful the whole process of online dating was - I think she was slightly surprised that as a bloke, I got almost as many weird and sleazy messages as she did. Maybe we are more sensitive to this than most, but we lamented the fact that grammar and spelling had gone from a basic skill required in a person to something that had become a desirable trait.

She told me about a dreadful date she'd been on where she thought the bloke was being seriously weird and rude. I realised he was in fact trying to use the tips and tricks from nightmare misogynist dating guide "The Rules of the Game". I'd learned via my perma-tanned former housemate Higga, the particular kind of nasty cod psychology behind this book.

Essentially, it equips you with a limited toolkit of Derren Brown-esque mindtricks, which aim to pretty much fool women into sleeping with you. The promise the book makes is it will turn you into a kind of rapey Jedi, for only £9.99. It's fair to say I'm not a fan. It certainly hadn't worked on Bella, anyway. Maybe Murdoch's employees (minions?) are immune to Jedi mind tricks.

We both felt freed up by the fact we both had a ton of experience of online dating. The was no pretence, no "game" - we talked and talked, and got on to the thorny and dreadfully honest subject of why two clearly entertaining, fun, successful people were still single in our early thirties. We decided that two wrongs made a right, and shared our experiences of the exes that had left us in the wasteland of online dating. Unlike the last occasion I ended up talking about my baggage, I was able to tell the stories with a glint in my eye and a smile on my lips. 

4 hours flipped by in what felt like five minutes, and we parted with a smile and a hug. Then, about a week later, her review of the date went up online. She'd had a good time; it seemed, I was a decent date after all (phew), but, sadly for Ms.Battle, I was sadly, not "the one". 

So, at least that's one worry out of the way, but I'm still looking for Ms.Right. But with 14 down, and 14 to go, it's really starting to feel as if I can get through this - and I'm starting to realise, even if I don't find "the one" in 28 Dates, there are plenty of lovely women out there, going through the same sort of thing I am. 

I just have to find the right one.

Date 13: The Sleazy Hookup

So, I've always maintained - this is a dating blog, not a sex blog.

But, the mission is to explore the wild wastelands of online dating, and lets face it, a huge amount of the people who are dating online are in it for the sexy-times, and many of the websites are overtly sexually weird and/or sordid. It's become a regular pastime of mine to open emails from friends that make my jaw drop, as they find new, more extreme "dating" sites that they want me to try out. Actually, the sexually strange ones - like,"The internet's largest adult baby personals site", worry me less than the really sordid "normal" ones.

Probably the most sordid site I've seen is I mean, where do you have to be in your life to look at yourself in the mirror and think, "Yeah, I am a slag, I live in a small town. I suppose I am, therefore, a local slag! I'll register on that website!" 

I mean, I'd want to be a Global slag ("Your online portal for all things slag-related" is quite the tag-line) or a Europe-wide slag at the very least. Maybe I'm just too ambitious.

 I did create a profile on LocalSlags (sister site - Granny slags, for when your Local slags are just too damn young), but the messages were so unbelievably grim I never replied to any - although at one point I was offered the sex act of my choice, as long as I was willing to "dog" in a particular Croydon bus-shelter, which is not something many other people can probably claim. Or depressingly, probably something absolutely loads of people can claim.

So, online hookups - even more sordid and weird than online dating, and that is really saying something. But, of course, that brief look didn't leave me with a date. At the shallow end of the creepy waters of the online hookup pool is Facebook dating app Bang with Friends

The core concept of this is that plenty of us have friends we would like to sleep with. I'm sure we've all been in that situation where you have a crush on someone you know, and then years later you find out that they had a thing for you at the same time, but now you're both with other people.

You can't help but wonder "what if?" though. It all sounds like a reasonable idea, apart from the fact that the app itself is almost indefeasibly sleazy & chock to the brim with UniLad style casual misogyny. For example, the website logo, basically speaks for itself:

The "how to use the website" page features directions for using the site, with accompanying illustrations of how to put on a condom. It's the kind of thing you can imagine that three fratboy dudebros came up with in their college dormroom, hi-fiving the whole time, occasionally shouting "AWESOME!", "YOLO!" and then headbutting each other and chanting "PSI-ZETA, PSI-ZETA!" The tagline is "Skip the chatting, get to the smacking". Ahem. It's classy like you wouldn't believe.

The way it works is, you load the app, and then you select the gender you are "down to bang" with (yes, that is the site terminology). It then gives you a full list of all of your friends of that gender, and you click a big button under their portrait that says "DOWN TO BANG". Nothing happens, unless they also have the app, and click you, in which case you both get a message, informing you both that you are into each other.

So, I fired it up, (just to have a look, you understand). Here's what it looks like:

You'll note that prominent among my allegedly heterosexual female friends is Mr.Benjamin Paul James Williams. His female heterosexuality will probably come as a shock to his lovely girlfriend, for a start. It seems the app isn't very good at identifying gender, which is even more mystifying in Ben's case, as he has not one, but four male names. I suspect it must have seen him dancing. 

Now, other than the problem with spotting genders (which, lets face it, is important), the other problems include the fact that the app claims to be completely confidential, but a bit of playing with facebook's code certainly lets you see which of your friends have it installed. 

It also only works if both sides have it, and men outnumber women on it about twenty to one, for fairly obvious reasons. I circumvented this problem by ticking literally every  friend I had on Facebook. (yes, even the ones where their profile pic is them in a wedding dress, their cute child, the male ones, my boss, literally everyone), and then announcing I was on the app. There's actually no search function I could find, so this seemed to be the "best" way to do it.

Aside from the obvious messages from male public schoolboy friends trying it out to see if I was serious ("Foxman, this is Sambo. You down to Bang? LOL!"), there was little fanfare, and I pretty much forgot I had it switched on.

That is, until out of the blue, I got a message from a female friend on it. She was indeed exactly the sort of person I'd always had a thing for - a foreign lady, who I knew from university debating, who now works overseas, who I see about once every other year. Whenever she's in London, we usually go for dinner, catch up, but nothing has ever happened. So, I was pretty taken aback by the message - indeed, I initially assumed it was a joke, just her trying out the app.

However, before I could write her a message asking her if it was indeed just her trying things out, she sent me a facebook message, telling me that she was going to be in London in a week's time - but also that she'd always had a bit of a thing for me, and could we make it a date? I must say, I was immensely flattered, as she's extremely attractive and incredibly successful, exactly the sort of person I'd always considered out of my league. I must admit, I consider 95% of the women I've dated as part of this experiment "out of my league", so maybe I'm overly harsh on myself.

Anyway, I met her at Kings Cross Station, and we went to the champagne bar upstairs for drinks. It's actually lovely, although frighteningly expensive (£13.85 for a Gin & tonic). Fortunately, the very large, very evil organisation indeed (tm) that she works for was picking up the tab. We talked through old friends, how her career was going (short version: well), compared notes on old times. We decided to go on for dinner, and went to a lovely gastropub nearby. I regaled her with tales of what I've been doing over the last few years; she told me about a few fun adventures she's had. We compared notes on the horror of living in hotels, having your whole life in a bag; I'd traveled around the states for a couple of months during the recent election, so had a tremendous sympathy with her plight.  

We agreed that if we were both single and both living in the same country, we'd love to date. Of course, that brought the issue to a head - while we were both single, I live in London, but she's totally rootless, and travels all over the place. She'd been on three continents in the preceding four weeks; and she claims that the only furniture she has in the actual flat she is supposed to live in is an ikea bed and a champagne fridge. We skirted around the issue of what would come after dinner.

We were having a great time - the date didn't feel unnatural or weird at all. It was fun - all the things that make her an appealing friend were present, but there was a fun flirtatious edge to the proceedings, as we both knew we were interested in being more than friends. 

I mean, isn't a lasting relationship at its core a really good friendship with added attraction and sex? Indeed, I think there is something in the concept of hooking up friends who have crushes on each other - I just think Bang with Friends is probably just a bit too misogynistic to be the answer to this problem. 

Anyway, as the evening drew to a close, she asked me to... well, like I said at the beginning - dating blog, not a sex blog. Again, use your imagination!

Next week, 28 Dates Later dates another Date Blogger (who has already written me up, so you can get an idea of what I am like on a date...) and then gets weird with Beyond Psychic Dating...

Date 12: Crazy Bland Date

So, for this post, I did high-tech, mass market dating through the OKCupid "Crazy Blind Date" app. As regular readers can probably imagine, I'm at heart much more of the sort of organic, free range, farmer's market type at heart, so I was a bit nervous about this one, and not just because the last girl I met through OK Cupid tried to gnaw my finger off.

It's all a bit odd. The core idea is your smartphone is better at finding the love of your life than you are. I was sceptical, but it's certainly better at finding its way around London than I am, so I was willing to give it a go. 

The phone uses your OK Cupid dating profile - where you answer a huge amount of questions, to get your views on certain subjects - to match you with other people using the app. You then post up that you are willing to go on a date with anyone, at a particular time, at a particular place.

All you can see about the other person is one sliced up photo of them, and your OK Cupid match percentage. Hence, "Blind Date". Unfortunately, what adds the "Crazy" is the fact that the match percentage is a somewhat blunt tool, and you know *literally nothing else* about the other person. For an example of how wrong that can go, here's an example of conversation between two people who are (in theory) 92% matches:

Now, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to meet the man in question, and fortunately, the normal online dating process prevents this, because, you know, he comes across as a psychopath in the chat messages. The smiley face after describing someone as a "Feminazi misandrist whore cunt-slut", makes me seriously worry that this bloke has pile of skulls in his house. That he talks to.

Of course, with Crazy Blind Date, you could get a variation on this bloke every week for a month (assuming you survived). Still, for you dear readers, I pressed on. After a week or so of trying to arrange a date, I had no-one interested. It's an oddly cold experience - even colder and more mechanical than normal online dating, as the amount of human interaction is cut to an absolute minimum. 

This is online dating as I imagined it before I had tried it. Chill, clockwork and weird. 

While using the app,I found myself wishing I was just doing normal, regular, real dating, with a person I met by chance. On that note, one of my favourite, most touching stories, of how people met their partners, is from one of my devoutly religious friends. After a bad romantic experience, he found himself in a new church - he'd just moved house - and he got on his knees that Sunday, and literally prayed for a lovely girlfriend.

He then headed home from the church, and started to unpack and move in properly. Anyway, under the bed in his new room, he found a fairly large box. Opening it, he found a pair of what can only be described as kinky, thigh length, leather sex boots. Obviously, this was a little eyebrow raising for a good church-going boy, but at that point the doorbell rang, and he went downstairs to answer it, and standing at the door was a gorgeous woman, who sheepishly said she was the former tenant and she'd realised she'd left something under the bed in her room. Could she come in and get it?

He invited her in to return her kinky sex boots to her, offered her a coffee - and three years later, they are living together, and blissfully happy. Turns out, she's exactly the same kind of Anglican he is, and everything. Just with added kinky sex boots. It's the most convincing proof of the existence of the Divine I've ever seen. Sadly, as an atheist, I was having to rely on technology to fill that role in my life.

So, after a week of using the app, I was getting nowhere, and with a rare free Saturday night, I decided to head to the O2 to watch a film, as it was (somewhat randomly) the only convenient place in London that was showing this particular low-budget indie movie. Anyway, while out at the O2, my film buff "date" for the evening (a good female mate) asked me how the blog was going, I told her, and showed her the app while we were on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), a monorail that goes out to the East End of London.

We were at the point where the DLR goes from skyscraper shrouded future monorail, to monorail through blasted post-apocalypse wasteland picked over by mutant biker gangs, and it was exactly at that point that my friend noticed a lady who was an 81% match with me was looking for a date at the O2 that night. Cajoled & given permission by the cinema friend, I messaged the Crazy Blind Date lady, and we arranged to meet. Alarm bells rang as soon as she said "Lets meet in the Harvester - they do lovely food there".

So, while my chum went off to watch a movie I quite fancied, I went to the O2 branch of Harvester to meet someone my iPhone thought I had an 82% chance of liking. We met up - she lived locally to the O2, went to loads of live shows there. She was there that night to see Plan B. Anyway, we chatted pleasantly for about an hour, and then went our separate ways. 

She didn't like film ("why would you go to the cinema when you can see it on DVD in a couple of months?", loved english white rappers & X-Factor winners to the exclusion of all other types of music, wasn't interested in politics or current affairs and, final nail in the coffin, hated cooking ("Ugh, all that washing up - makes the kitchen so messy"). It wasn't that she was in any way nasty - she wasn't the the skull worshiping psychopath of my nightmares - just we had almost literally nothing in common, apart from really liking an unlimited (and surprisingly good) salad bar.

In short, 82% match, my arse. 

You'll be pleased to learn I made the 9pm showing of the movie, though:) Anyway, see you again on Friday morning for sleazy Facebook/Linkedin Hookup app Bang with Friends... where I manage to find a use for Linkedin!

Date 11: The world's only other Guardian-reading Tory

So, for date eleven, I went on one of the country's online dating powerhouses - Guardian Soulmates. 

The site, run through Britain's most hand-wringing, lefty-liberal newspaper, is absolutely massive, and tons of my most loveable right-on, dope-smoking, Quinoa-eating marxist chums have found love on there. Obviously, none have them have got married, but that's presumably because marriage is like, totally a misogynist cage, man. 

I'll confess to always having had a weakness for women with multi-coloured hair, piercings, and copy of something by bell hooks in their badge-covered rucksack, so I was looking forward to this one, and had joined it at the same time I joined OK Cupid, back before I was writing the blog.

 The tagline of the site - "where like minded people find love online" - gave me pause though. One thing many of my commie-coddling pinko female chums had mentioned as something they find terribly, monstrously unappealing, is if a man is a Tory. 

It was pretty clear from my hit rate on messages falling through the floor on this site, that yeah, admitting you're a Tory on the Graun dating site is not the way to go; so it seems lots of men hide it. "It's horrific," one friend said to me. "You go on Soulmates to *avoid* men called Toby who work for Goldman Sachs & think cherry-red trousers are cool. One managed three dates with me before I even realised." 

No Guardian reader considers this an ideal man.
Now, while I am the sort of Tory who likes feminism, and multiculturalism, and is excited about my gay friends getting married, I'm still probably right-wing enough to repel the sort of woman who goes on anti-cuts marches. I do write for the Telegraph, after all, and you basically get a set of scarlet chinos with your welcome pack doing that. So, with that in mind, I decided to go looking for a horse in a field of zebras - I decide to try to find another Tory on Guardian Soulmates. I figured this was probably the best way to meet the sort of socially liberal Tory that I am. Anyway, it took quite a bit of searching, which is why this is date eleven rather than date two!

So, after a month or so of looking, a lovely young Tory lady messaged me back, and fancied arranging a date. She seemed lovely; very cultured, she fancied doing a late night Gallery viewing at the Tate Modern, where she was a member. The one problem was the word "young". You see, I wasn't just being patronising in the first part of this paragraph, I genuinely hadn't realised until she messaged me back that she was 23 - almost ten years younger than me. Could I go on a date with someone that much younger than me? One of my personal nightmares is being that  56 year old man with the 18 year old girlfriend people mistake for his daughter. Still, we got on well by email, and a quick bit of arithmetic revealed she fit within the hallowed "half-your age plus seven years" rule, but I still went on the date with butterflies in my stomach. 

We met at the BFI, with the plan of meeting for a quick drink before sauntering down the South Bank to the Tate. One mistake may have been going through two bottles of wine before we even left the bar, but we were getting on brilliantly. She's very politically involved - comes from a working class background, grew up in a very deprived area, and really wants to become the MP for the place she grew up, to make things better for the local community. You know, one of those rare people who want to get into politics for the right reasons, as opposed to "I did PPE at Oxford, and it's my most natural career choice after Law. By the way, do you like these scarlet trousers? That's real velour, you know". 

It's a very strange thing when two people who are really nerdy about politics, who really agree, get together, drink and chat. There was lots of excited gesticulating, and "yes, yes, of course!". I'm slightly ashamed to admit we high-fived at one point talking about housing policy. It was the wine, I swear. Anyway, about 9 o'clock, we headed for the Tate. Once inside, she demonstrated an encyclopedic knowledge of modern art, and ticked me off on my habit of reading the cards by the works before looking at them. "Art is supposed to make you feel, not think".

Anyway, that night, there happened to be an installation going on, whereby performers would flood spaces with dry ice, giving the exhibits an odd cast in the smoky light, and changing your perception of the work. It does occur now that aside from the fact we were both self-confessed tories, this was in many ways the archetypal Guardian reader date. 

Anyway, while shrouded in smoke, we ended up kissing, and it was sufficiently enjoyable as a kiss that by the time the cloud cleared, we had a small appreciative audience giving us a polite round of applause. As we were heading out of the Tate, holding hands, she looked me in the eyes and said "I want to do something really fucking shameful. I feel like I've really impressed you with all the art and politics chat...but... I really want you to take me... to Nandos."

Seems you can take the girl out of working class East London, but can't take the working class East London out of the girl:)

Laughing, we ended up eating at 10.30 near Liverpool Street, in Britain's premier greasy, spicy, piri piri chicken place. It occurred to me that we were on what my pretentious 16 year old self would have considered the best date ever - art, a kiss, and spicy chicken! It doesn't get any better than that, does it? 

It turned out, the age thing wasn't really a problem at all. She's a bit more mature than her age suggests; or I'm massively immature. Either way, we got on really well. Completely randomly, in this East End branch of Nandos, we bumped  into an old mate of mine - a male model who has changed his name by deed poll to "Jefferson A-Bomb McDeath: Urban Destruction". Yeah, he has a colon in his name. Pretty cool, huh?

Jeff is a beautiful and charming fellow, and I was always his fat funny friend at University - it was odd being in the situation where a girl had eyes only for me, rather than him, I must say. We all got on like a house on fire. I went to the bathroom, and returned to find Tory girl demonstrating to Jeff the fact that she could put both her legs behind her head, much to the amusement/horror of the late shift of Nandinos. Later, when she moved away from the table, Jeff looked me smoulderingly in the eyes (think Magnum from Zoolander) and said "She's perfect for you mate. And she wants you. Badly." 

Anyway, after we left Nandos, pretty drunk, and having had a great evening, we bid Jeff farewell, and I walked her to her bus-stop. What happened next? Well, as I've always said, this is a dating blog, not a sex blog:) Use your imagination, you terrible people!

Next week 28 Dates goes hi tech - The OK Cupid Crazy Blind Date App, and then the bizarre sleazy Facebook/Linkedin Hookup app Bang with Friends

Date 10: The Cougar

Back when I was starting the blog, I asked friends to email me any strange dating sites they might have seen or been on. Obviously, this was all on Facebook, and a huge list of dubious dating sites presented itself fairly rapidly -  especially from my more, erm, alternative friends. I can't even remember the name of the most disturbing one, but it definitely was for people who get turned on by smothering each other in baked beans. But this was suggested by a man who lives year-round in a camper van and has a proudly open relationship. I mean, normal people don't do that sort of thing, do they? 

Thus, I was rather surprised by one very stylish older lady who I once worked with suggesting "Have you thought about Lots of the divorced women at Jessamy's playgroup swear by it". She claimed it was a haven for divorced London ladies who lunch - the sort of Sex & the City woman in her late thirties who are looking for younger men for a bit of a fling. Now, I'm hardly the 19 year old Brazilian bartender /model I'm sure most of these ladies are looking for (the site divides you into "Cougars" or "toyboys"), and I'm not really looking for a fling but it seemed worth a roll of the dice. For the research, like.

I'd dated older women before - notably the farmgirl recently - and one of the big issues is always children. Once, in my mid-twenties, I'd dated a woman who had a teenage daughter, and it is weird, having a person with real opinions who you befriended as you date their mum. That particular relationship had a very embarrassing moment where the mum in question asked me to do her doggy style while she watched Pride & Prejudice, which would be bad enough anyway, but then having to talk to the depressingly worldy teenager the morning after was, as you can imagine, excruciating: "I heard Mr.Darcy last night. You got lucky then?"

That said, Samantha is definitely my favourite character in SATC, so I took the plunge. I'll confess I was a little bit sceptical - most Cougar sites I've seen look like fronts for identity theft, or pure sleazy hookup sites. I've always been adamant that this is a dating blog, not a sex blog (I'll leave that to Girl on the Net), so I wasn't really looking for a one-time sex thing. That said, my ex-boss assured me it was full of women just like her, and she's totally a woman I'd love to date, if it wasn't for her sexy handsome husband. So, on the basis of "no-one who wears Laboutins & loves independent film could be wrong" , I fired it up, created a profile, and had a look. 

It's quite unusual, in that it's very location based. You can turn on a map of your local area, and it will show how many "Cougars" are around you at that given time. It's the closest I've seen to a heterosexual version of notorious (and amazing) gay hookup app Grindr. So, I turned on the map. If what my wise ex-boss had told me was true, Chelsea should have been a hot zone. I waited for the map to load, confidently expecting to be disappointed. But oh no. Once the mapping app got going, it lit up like the motion tracker in the film Aliens.

As you can see, there are literally *hundreds* of women using this in Belgravia alone. Now, it was just a matter of finding one who'd go on a date with me, rather than just pin me down & milk me inbetween the nanny leaving and her husband getting home. 

It's very clearly a fairly sex-oriented site - lots of the pictures are overtly sexual, with stockings, suspenders, and low cut tops a particularly common trope. After a morning of looking and messaging, I spotted a lady with a very artful set of profile pictures, where she'd cleverly obscured her face with a variety of large vintage cameras. I dropped her a line complimenting the photography, and we started chatting.

We agreed to meet up down on the London waterfront, at a lovely pub called the Blue Anchor on the Hammersmith waterfront. The weather was unseasonably nice for February, so we sat outside, talked and she smoked. She was very attractive, funny, and very thin indeed. She had white wine, I had cider. We talked about her career - she had a fascinating job in the creative industries, that I can't really talk about as it would identify her all too easily. She had seen a bunch of the documentaries I had made, so I treated her to a couple of tales from the good old BBC days, which had her "laughing until her face hurt".

We talked about previous relationships - she'd read the blog, so asked for the full details on my disastrous previous form, and I filled her in on the details. I asked her how someone as successful & lovely as her had managed to dodge the wedding bullet. She was in her early forties, so well within the bracket of maybe a bad "starter marriage", or a long relationship with a guy who wouldn't commit. You know the sort, the 33 year old "professional saxophone player" who has been with her since she was 23, and has never held down a real job, because "he's an artist, man".

She said no, she'd rarely had relationships over six months long - and that usually the bloke ended it because she didn't want kids. She then said her smug married friends had always been taunting her that she'd change her mind as she got older, and she was enjoying proving them wrong, and watching them get divorced. 

We talked about how the people we'd known at university had aged, got married, had kids, got divorced. I am just entering the phase of the first round of friend's divorces, but my facebook newsfeed if printed out would be pretty much a wedding-baby-wedding-baby montage for about 14 feet. It's got so bad I've recently installed a thing called "Unbaby me" which replaces images of children with images of the Associated Press' best photographs of the day.

This occasionally leads to disasters when I see a friend has posted a photo of a man skydiving into a volcano wreathed with lightning, comment "awesome pic!" and they say "I know! She's just got her third tooth!". The Cougar found this idea hilarious, and I sent her the link to it there and then. We got onto the thin ice territory of why she didn't want kids - she fairly matter-of-factly said she liked the *idea* of children, but thought as someone who'd struggled with anorexia all her life, she'd find it impossible to go through pregnancy. It was something that as a bloke with a healthy (probably too healthy) relationship with food had never occurred to me as a reason not to have kids, but I totally get it.

She really liked me, and we emailed & texted a bit over the next few days. She is a bit put out that I didn't want to "lead her on" and do more romantic dating with her because I want kids. She said something that made me feel very sad, when she said "Good men always want the meat, only dogs get left the bones". We've chatted more since, and agreed that because I wanted kids, and she didn't, it probably wasn't going to work as a romance, but we are on very good terms, and have seen each other since.

She's exactly the sort of woman I could see myself with if I'm single and 50; but, sadly, I'm single and 32. It's just a shame we want different things. What can I say, I'm a sucker for a woman who knows her way around a Leica:)