Ah, (or should I say arrgghhhh!) Christmas! That wonderful time of year when everyone is happy and joyful and so excited about spending time with their families, indulging in roast chestnuts and passing round the sherry. For a single female private investigator, it’s certainly a busy time. Last year, we had a record number of women contacting us with requests to keep their partners under surveillance and so far this year is following suit. What is it about Christmas and New Year that’s so damnably exciting and naughty?! I for one don’t find it particularly exciting: especially the re-runs of Back to the Future and everyone being blown up in Eastenders. Having to find presents for people you feel obliged to buy for, wincing when you open presents from others in case you don’t like what’s inside (dreading having to put on the fake ‘delighted’ face yet again....). It’s not such a joy for me, but then again I am single and have no children, and that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Family life, romance and children?

But according to some of my current cases, family closeness is the last thing on many people’s minds in the run-up to Christmas. Is the case of the cheating partner a Christmas epidemic? In many ways, I’m tempted to dismiss the idea: surely, if people are going to cheat on their partners, it would just be too obvious and conspicuous and downright silly to cheat at Christmas, when everyone’s work routines vary and one’s movements are more likely to be tracked? But unfortunately, a lot of cheating men simply are obvious and conspicuous and downright silly. This is why they cheat, and also why they end up being suspected and caught.

Christmas parties are often blamed for the onset of many extra-marital affairs. The wine is flowing, the emotions gushing and it’s just too tempting for many to resist the mistletoe. Even I will admit, Christmas can be romantic: the snow, the dark evenings, the closeness and kindness between people (except in the Boxing Day sales, where the savageness erupts big time). But as well as being romantic, Christmas and New Year can also be a strain for people in flagging relationships. I often moan about being single at Christmas, but how much worse to be pushed and pulled in all directions, bombarded with expectations and the feeling of having to live up to the fairy-tale romance seen in all the films. At Christmas, many people who are in flagging relationships pin all their hopes on it being perfect. With such high expectations, it’s no wonder some people go a bit off the rails. This is not to excuse anyone who makes that decision to cheat (and whatever cheaters may say, it IS a decision). It’s cowardice and sheer laziness on the highest level and it breaks hearts in the most cruel way. Blaming Christmas for cheating is nonsensical, but for someone who is frustrated and unhappy in their relationship, the pressures and the excitements of Christmas and New Year can just tip the balance......

But as well as the breakdown of relationships, the festive season can also be a time for blossoming romance and the emergence of steadfast love......... Hmmm. Not sure about this. I have taken the plunge and signed up for two very different dating sites. It’s an experiment, but it’s also an attempt to change my life and shake things up a bit: as my namesake James is always saying: ‘Shaken but not stirred.’ So is it shaking up my life? Do I feel stirred? Hmmm. Yes, hmmm again.

Before I go on, I want to make it clear that this article is not going to be a platform for me to deride the (I’m sure) well-meaning men who kindly send me messages, and I want to maintain my integrity and not mention anything specific that anyone says (even if I am sorely tempted!). This article is solely about me and my experiences, to hopefully help like-minded women on their journey. Without sounding all ‘Women-who-run-with-the-wolves’, women can pass down knowledge and wisdom to those who come after them. And I am hoping that if I do learn anything and gain wisdom about things (for ‘things,’ read ‘men’) I can pass it on like a hand-me-down dress. (I’m a firm believer in recycling and charity shops, after all....re-use and re-new!).

So, thus far. I am surprised at how many messages I have received. One of the first was about 30 seconds after I’d put up my profile, from someone 10 YEARS younger than me! Very flattering, but a bridge too far, I think. It’s astounding just how many people are out there looking to connect with someone. When you’re single and in your thirties, it can feel like you’re the only one (boo-hoo). But there are literally thousands of people of all different shapes, sizes and persuasions searching for someone special. To be honest, I haven’t even started searching yet, just answering messages(or not, as the case may be). I have spent half an hour over the weekend browsing the profiles of the men who have messaged me, only to find that:
a) I don’t find them physically attractive (Shallow?Presupmtuous? Or just plain realistic?)
b) They are looking for ‘nothing serious’ which makes me yet again wince and make ‘Hmmmm’ noises
c) Are into sport. I didn’t think it was PC to say ‘Oh and by the way, I am absolutely morally against any form of athletic exercise,’ but maybe I should have done. There is literally NO WAY I am standing outside in the cold watching someone battling a canoe or parade around a field. (I do seem to be writing a lot of CAPITAL LETTERS in this article: I think internet dating is actually making me more assertive??!!)
d) Some are in the age range which makes me feel angry that they’ve even presumed to message me. Ten years plus is just not cricket, is it?

I have come to the conclusion, based on my first weekend ‘online’ that the old 20/80 rule applies to dating on the net. Out of 100 men who contact one, 80 will be no-go straight away, and perhaps 20 will be a good prospect (not sure that ‘prospect’ is the right word; I’m not digging for gold, after all). It really is like going shopping online: you type in vaguely what you want, using some key words, you browse the pages and pages of goodies the search throws up, you try and decipher it from the foggy, blurry pictorial representation, you look at customer reviews and wonder if they’ve been fabricated just to sell, then you make the commitment and order, or just think to yourself ‘Maybe I’ll just go down the traditional route and nip into town....’ and look in some good old-fashioned shop windows.

It’s easy to get carried away when you sign up to internet dating, so I have written myself some mental ground-rules to stop me going insane: Now I’m writing them down, it’s going to be more difficult to break them (here’s hoping!):
1) I am not under any circumstances to check my messages every day (consecutive days are allowed over the weekend). Only check messages when I’ve got nothing better to do (such as undertake private investigations, see friends, cook, clean hob and have a nice bath)
2) I am not to feel obliged to reply to every message just so men who have got in touch with me don’t feel left out or ignored: being ignored is part of the whole experience (Once I pluck up the courage to make the first point of contact, I am thoroughly expecting to be ignored on a regular basis....)
3) I am not to be under the false illusion that if I have met someone once, then I know them inside out and just KNOW that we are destined to be together.....
4) This is meant to be light-hearted!!!! Ha Ha!
5) If they don’t get in touch again, don’t you DARE chase them! Simply take it on the chin and move on
6) Maintain dignity at all times
7) Put one foot forward (Yes, dear, that is ONLY ONE at a time)
8) Try not to have a plan. Plans are good when it comes to designing one’s bathroom layout, but don’t really work when it comes to dating: there are just too many variables
9) Don’t give out any personal details until you know them quite well: this includes my home address, home ‘phone number, where I work, my surname, my e mail address etc.
10) Don’t fall for sob stories (think I’ve already cracked that particular nut, but, like all seasoned list-writers, I like to slip one in that I’ve already done to make myself feel top drawer....)
I think ten is enough to be going on with for now. This dating lark is like a full-time job! Writing and altering one’s profile, checking messages, inspecting their profile pics to see if they are anywhere near the sort of person one could go for, wheedling out those who are just looking for flings, asserting myself against flattery. It’s exhausting! Glad I’ve got some good old-fashioned private investigation cases to restore my cynicism in humankind.........

Next week:

Have I managed to find anyone yet with whom to go ice-skating (and more to the point, am I sticking to my self-imposed rules?). How do men and women manage to maintain their self-esteem when they are indulging in internet dating? Am I feeling shaken or stirred?





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